Forgiving When It Hurts
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People are capable of committing major offenses against others and even feeling justified in doing so. It is amazing at times to hear people justify their obnoxious or destructive behavior. Yet that is so typical of the world system we live in, which is dominated by self-centeredness (pride).
Even a minor offense leads to another in the form of retaliation or anger. Even unintentional offenses can damage relationships, and the offender may even wonder why the person is angry with them or suddenly cool toward them.
The problem is the desire within every human to protect himself. Some people withdraw to avoid being hurt again. Others use rage as a protective mechanism: “If I make it painful enough for them, they won’t hurt me again.”
Offenses happen. People get their feelings hurt. Misunderstandings, unfulfilled expectations, careless remarks and other similar experiences in life can cause offenses. So how should you respond when it happens to you?
The world system, which in reality is Satan’s kingdom, functions as the exact opposite of God’s kingdom. As a result, you can often identify the godly or proper action as the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. What is the natural response in a particular situation? Do the opposite. This obviously is not a principle you can use in every situation because you are renewing your mind to conform to God’s and because you are allowing God to develop his character in you. But it might surprise you how often you can be right by doing the opposite of what comes naturally.
Keep this in mind the next time someone offends you or imposes their will on you. What is the natural response in that situation? Get angry, defend yourself, retaliate. What is the opposite of these responses, simply not doing them? No, the opposite of getting angry, defending yourself or retaliating is responding in gentleness and love, then forgiving the person who offended you. Do not hold them responsible for their action, or try to make sure they “get what’s coming to them,” or even “turn them over to God” so he can avenge you. Turn loose of the offense and let it go.
You choose to forgive, regardless of the severity of the sin against you. Your willingness to forgive is very important to God, as we see in Matthew 6:14-15. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (NIV). That couldn’t be much clearer. There is a direct correlation between God’s ability to forgive you and your willingness to forgive others.
Who and what was Jesus talking about when he referred to forgiving men when they sin against you? Earlier in the same teaching he talked about people insulting you, persecuting you and falsely saying all kinds of evil against you because of him (Matt. 5:11). He referred to someone who strikes you on the face, which is a very offensive place to strike someone (Matt. 5:39). He included those who want to sue you and take your possessions, or force you to serve them, or borrow something from you (Matt. 5:40-42). He said you are to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44). That list includes just about everyone who might give you opportunity to forgive.
Jesus taught his disciples about forgiveness on several occasions, including the following incident. “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matt. 18:21-22).
Jesus was not specifying a numerical limit of 77, so you have no excuse for telling someone, “Okay, that’s 76 times. You only have one more to go, so watch out!” He was using numbers to make a contrast that is easy to remember. Love “keeps no record of wrongs,” so a tally of someone’s offenses is out of the question (1 Cor. 13:5). In a sense, when you forgive everything someone has done to you, their next offense is the first, so you never have more than one to forgive.
After Jesus stated that we should forgive more than just seven times, that is, virtually an unlimited number of times, he told a relevant parable to demonstrate his point. The story is a familiar one about a servant who was unable to repay an enormous debt to his king, but begged the king to be patient with him. In response, the king was more than patient; he canceled the servant’s debt.
The servant immediately found another servant who owed him a meager amount and began choking him, demanding that the man pay him. When the man asked for patience, the first servant refused and had the man thrown in jail. When the king heard about it, he called the servant in and reprimanded him for not extending mercy to the other servant as he had received from the king. The king then had the unforgiving servant thrown in jail. At the end of the parable, Jesus states his main point about forgiveness: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matt. 18:35).
Before telling the parable, Jesus essentially said that you must forgive a brother as many times as he sins against you. Then after the parable he states very bluntly that if you refuse to forgive them, your Father will not forgive you.
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The phrase, “as the Lord forgave you,” suggests he expects you to forgive others to the same degree he forgave you — completely.
Peter had asked Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother, that is, a spiritual brother, another Christian. Ephesians and Colossians refer to forgiving each other, which means other believers. As we saw earlier, you are to forgive those who are not believers, too. So whom do you forgive? Believers and nonbelievers, regardless of what they do to you.
You can forgive others because God forgave you; or stated differently, God’s forgiveness of you enables you to forgive others. There are two significant aspects of your relationship with God that enable you to forgive others. One is understanding your need to forgive so you can receive God’s forgiveness. Another is your faith in God’s care for you, because if he’s taking care of you then you do not need to protect yourself from offenses or retaliate for them.
Let us take that second point a little farther and state that God can work every incident to your benefit, including every hurt and offense. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). People may deliberately injure you and cause you harm, but God is in control and can cause their efforts to benefit you. Consider, for example, Joseph’s evaluation of his brothers’ actions: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
You can forgive because you know that God is causing everything to work together for your good. If you believe that every harmful thing someone does to you is actually benefiting you, you will forgive them and maybe even be thankful for the opportunity.
Maybe you assume that whoever writes a book has mastered whatever they write about. I can assure you that is definitely not the case with this topic or any other topic in this study. When someone offends me, even unintentionally, any ungodly attitude I have wants me to get even with them. I can even disguise my desire by re-labeling it as a need to help or teach the offender, or whatever. But my self-centeredness is obviously my motivation; they offended me and I want to make sure they don’t do it again. Even if I see the person offending someone else I may want to intervene simply because they offended me in the past. Do you see how cleverly pride can disguise itself?
One reason you need to forgive others is to enable God to forgive you, as we stated earlier, but that is not the only reason. Should you forgive someone because they did something to you and they need to be forgiven? No, because your forgiveness does very little (maybe nothing) for the offender.
Stop and think for a moment about what part of you gets offended. Your carnal attitude. It is self-centered and responds to certain experiences with hurt, anger, self-pity and other emotions. The emphasis is on yourself, protecting yourself because you don’t want to get hurt again, or avenging yourself for what they did to you, or even justifying your feelings of anger and resentment. It feels good when you protect or avenge yourself; it feels natural and right.
Jesus taught that you should have a very different response, however. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also” (Matt. 5:38-39). The word translated “resist” means to stand against or in opposition to; to oppose or resist. It is a very active and forceful word. The phrase, “evil person,” refers to whatever evil causes pain or sorrow; actually, the word “person” is not in the Greek text.
So Jesus’ teaching appears to mean that you should not protect yourself from whoever would try to harm you. The idea is not to allow only a second blow, then respond any way you want, any more than Jesus’ teaching about forgiving 77 times means to count a person’s offenses. The emphasis of Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek is on not protecting yourself.
The issue of forgiveness is about how you respond to your own carnal attitudes. The issue is not the offender’s repentance or their punishment, rather it is how you respond. God requires you to forgive those who hurt you, whether they did it intentionally or unintentionally. Your worldly attitudes motivate you to respond with anger, hurt and other emotions. Forgiving others is an excellent way to crucify that kind of thinking.