Gospel-Driven, Undying Forgiveness
Forgive Those Who Have Wronged You
Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:19-21)
In the course of a year, it is possible to build up many offenses and personal grievances at others. Left unaddressed, these grievances fester and grow. They turn the heart black and the body weak. They foster a spirit of vengeance and misguided self-righteousness. The short of it is this: Unforgiveness leads to bitterness. Bitterness curdles the mind and the spirit.
Fresh starts and new years should begin with forgiveness for others. Having a genuine spirit of forgiveness towards those who have wronged us is a mark of biblical Christianity. It is an evidence that we have been redeemed, and that we are praying lawfully: “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).
Successful Christians are men and women who are free from bitterness. They have learned the principle modeled by our Lord Jesus Christ who, while suffering death at the hands of people he had never wronged, was able to say “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24).
I have a dear preacher friend with a sterling reputation who was once grievously slandered. When asked about the wicked actions of the slanderers, he replied something to this effect:
Oh you don’t understand — I am far, far worse than my detractors realize. They may have gotten a lot of the specific facts wrong, but I am just thankful they don’t know how bad my heart truly is. God have mercy on me a sinner.
This man had victory over bitterness.
My father is another man who always appeared to have victory over bitterness. In fact, from my earliest days to the present, I have watched lesser men “twist the truths [he’s] spoken to make a trap for fools.” [i]
Early in my life when I was still in government schools, I would listen to my own teachers criticize before my class the work my father was doing for the President to dismantle a government agency which was at war with the family. I read untruthful articles and saw derogatory comics on the pages of the Washington Post picturing him as a caveman for his “prehistoric” views. When my father was a leader in the Republican Party in Massachusetts, a gangster repeatedly threatened the life of his family. I remember being a boy and having my father shield me from homosexual picketers and protesters that would follow him and our family around at public locations.
Most painful and difficult for many to forgive is betrayal and dishonor. But that is a mistake. Betrayal and dishonor probably exist in the lives of most men. And why should any Christian be denied in their lives what past generations of Christians — and our Lord and Savior Himself — patiently endured? To our shame, most of us have been on both sides of that coin. From a son’s perspective, however, it is highly instructive to watch a father act honorably in the midst of such conflict. It has been a great blessing in my own life to observe my father nobly respond even in the face of barbs from former allies and friends, once loved and nurtured by him.
Eternally optimistic, Dad would always say: “Never be bitter. Life is too short. Thank God for your blessings. Press on!”
Bitterness comes from being unwilling to forgive. Bitter people are small people. They are unsuccessful people. They are people who cannot move forward. They are people who believe that the personal wrongs against them are so great that they — the offended — are entitled to do to their offenders what they pray the Lord Jesus Christ will never do to them: refuse to forgive.
Here is my recommendation: Think through every grief, minor and major, caused by others to you in the year 2009. Now add to the list any other personal offenses that continue to linger from past years. Write these down as bullets on a sheet of paper.
The first thing you will likely realize is just how many offenses are polluting your thought life and, probably, your spirit. This is a sign of latent bitterness. Bitterness will kill you. It renders you completely ineffective.
Now prayerfully walk through the list — bullet, by bullet. With each offense, remind yourself that the most despicable action taken against you by another utterly (and infinitely) pales in comparison to the least of your offenses against the Lord Jesus Christ.
And yet He has forgiven you.
Before 2010 begins, adopt a spirit of forgiveness towards your insensitive friends as well as your hateful enemies. Forgive your imperfect father for whatever it is you need to forgive him for (and pray to the Lord that your own children someday forgive you for your failures). Quit devoting untold precious hours to commiseration, mental replay of the wrongs done, and thoughts about just how badly you were wronged. Stop blaming everybody but you for your problems. Look to yourself. Once you start chronicling your own sinful attitudes and crimes against God and man, you simply won’t have time to worry about the wrongs done to you. You will stop being bitter, and you will start being thankful.
Wipe the slate clean. “Press on.” Forgive.
As 2009 comes to a close, take time to remember and to say “thank you.” Take time to examine yourself for bitterness. Forgive others. Finally, as you love God with all your heart, soul and might, trust Him, too. Really trust him. Trust God with all your heart, your soul and might. You and I can not solve every problem. What we can do is be kind, forgiving, and patient before the Lord. We can not “fix” everything that is broken. Only God can do that. In His time and His way, the Lord can not only bring peace, but He can give you the very desires of your heart as you seek Him with integrity. He can redeem the years the locusts have eaten, and He delights in blessing his faithful children. “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it” (Proverbs 10:22).
It is appropriate that we stop and thank God at the birth of a new year. Remember that God gave man the stars on Day Four in part so that he could order and structure his life based on a clock/calendar system of days, seasons, and years (Genesis 1). He tells us to “remember” acts and to “number” our days. In Scripture, the formal act of remembering providences of God in our life is linked to hope, honor, and generational success (e.g., Psalms 44, 78, etc.). By February 2010, the year 2009 will be a distant memory. Strike now while the iron is hot. The opportunity to remember and to say “thank you” may never come again. And can you afford even one more day in which your prayers are hindered — because you were refusing to forgive? Trust the Lord. He is in charge: “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5)
~ Doug Phillips, President of Vision Forum