Forgiveness—It’s Harder Than You Thought
If you are like me, you have found that you can believe in forgiveness and even teach it to others, but when you are offended it’s hard to perform. The Greek word for resentment is “to live it over again”. This is what comes naturally—to relive it in your mind until the anger and bitterness causes you to lash out or at best be miserable. Richard Hoefler’s book has an illustration of how sin enslaves and forgiveness frees. A little boy visiting his grandparents in the country was given a slingshot that he was eager to use. While firing away, his rock hit their pet duck in the head and killed it. The boy hid the duck, but his sister was watching. After lunch, sister Sally whispered that she would tell if he didn’t do her chores. So the boy washed the dishes, and helped cook dinner and cleaned Sally’s room. After several days of doing his chores and hers, he couldn’t stand it anymore. Finally he confessed to Grandma. “I know, son,” she said. “I was standing at the window and saw you. Because I love you I forgave you. I wondered how long you would let Sally make a slave out of you.”
How Do We Get Rid of That Stubborn Resentment?
Based on my reading of the many passages in the New Testament, I would suggest the following :
- Be committed. Make the decision that you will do it. It is the right thing to do for many reasons. We are commanded to, and it is therapeutic for us to release resentment and replace it with peace.
- Remember the biblical motivation given is that we have been forgiven much more than we have to forgive. Human nature is an amazing thing. We expect grace and mercy for ourselves, but want justice for others. The parable Jesus taught in Luke 7:41 makes it clear that our willingness to forgive hinges on our realization of how much we have been forgiven. The woman that prompted the parable had great appreciation for Jesus and thus great love, but the Pharisee was self-righteous and had no appreciation or love.
- Be filled with the Spirit according to Ephesians 5:18. We must serve somebody, either our fleshly desires or the Spirit who indwells us. This is a matter of control, so who runs your life? “Filling” pictures a sailboat, when the wind hits the sails they are filled which moves the boat, empowers the boat. Be filled is a passive command to let this happen to you by faith. Trust the Holy Spirit to empower you beyond your normal ability. It is like writing a check based on your belief that the money is there. The result is Christ likeness. The Spirit fills you with the life and character of Jesus.
- You need the attitude of love and peace which is a “fruit of the Spirit”. When you are being controlled by the Spirit of God, you will bear fruit as is stated in Galatians 5:22, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control”. These “fruits” are attitudes in us that the Spirit produces as we yield control of our life. This is complicated by the conflict of our fleshly desires which tend to be selfish. Paul states it in Gal.5:16-17, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit…for these are in opposition to one another”. Therefore, it is a turning away from selfish desires like revenge, and a turning to the control of the Holy Spirit. Loving your enemies isn’t natural to man, only Jesus could do it. Allow His Spirit to work in you.
- This whole process requires a lot of prayer. You may try and fail, but keep praying. Every time the resentment tries to well up in you, pray. Remember Phil.4:6-7, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
Contrast of the Arrogant to the Humble
In 1 Corinthians 4:6-14, Paul admonished the believers at Corinth because they were too haughty to forgive each other and be reconciled —“so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other”. Paul used his humble circumstances and self sacrifice as an example to shame them. In v.12 he said, “when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate”. The point was that he had a higher calling to serve Christ than to just consider his own rights. In 2 Cor. 5:14-21, Paul continued this line of thinking saying, “the love of Christ controls us…Jesus died for us so that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for Him… Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation…Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ…”
Peter also espoused the same way of thinking in 1 Peter 3:9-10, “be harmonious…not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead”. Peter went on to say that in doing so “you might inherit a blessing”.
Our calling as ambassadors for Christ is to represent Him well. It is to make Him look good. The natural thing to do is to live for yourself, demand your rights, and expect consideration for every wrong suffered, but this is not the way of Jesus. The Apostles represented Christ well because they didn’t live naturally but supernaturally—“it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).