It is a time of ‘offendedness’ in America. Grievances are constantly rehearsed. A ‘cancel culture’ is erasing names of people, even those long dead, whose offenses are considered too big a stain to recognize their place in history. The sins of many, real and imagined, are headline material. I am not naïve. There are real issues in our society with which we are wrestling, and I agree that it is both right and good to refuse to overlook the sins that wound others, that oppress some, that bring pain.
Christian, we cannot afford to live an ‘offended’ life, nor is that the will of the Lord for those who walk with Him.
Among the ‘works of the sinful nature’ listed in Galatians 5, we find these- “jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions.”
Wisdom words of Proverbs 19:11 teach us that “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
Jesus says (Matthew 6:15) “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Instructions to the church include this – “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31) Go back and re-read those lines.
It is wrong for individuals to feel pressured to sweep sins and mistakes of others, of society, of the government, of church leaders under the rug, covered up and forgotten. The Scripture holds real confession, heartfelt repentance, as the pathway to healing and reconciliation. We can, we must, speak honestly to abuses of the past, to failure of others and to the sins committed against us.
But, if we are like our Savior, our desire is to find redemption, to seek restoration, to meet repentance with forgiveness. Is this a costly choice? It surely is. Will some abuse the words of God to justify themselves or to refuse genuine change? Yes they will.
We cannot, as the people of God, hold onto offense or pretend that somehow we can perfect ourselves by making pariahs of those who have been flawed. We do better if we consider the sin, recognize the result, learn how to do better, offer forgiveness, and seek a new future together. Just about everyone of us can remember a time when someone failed us, disappointed us, sinned against us. If we make that moment the defining one for the relationship, it will dissolve and, most likely, bitterness will set in.
For each of us personally, Jesus taught a better way. “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17, NLT)
Before you go to Facebook, go to the person. Before you decide to tell 4 friends, speak to the individual. The exception to this is when the one who has offended has power over you, such as an abuser. Then, you should bring in an advocate who can protect you. But, the principle remains – face to face, one to one, first! Woven into Jesus’ words is the desire for reconciliation, not retribution. We go to the one who has hurt us, or misused us, or spoken untruthfully about us with a desire to make things right and win back relationship. Why? Because as Christians, love is the highest value, a love like God’s love for us.
In our personal offenses, the majority of issues can be dealt with, one to one, if we courageous, prayerful, and honest. Often we are none of those things. We are just mad, offended, and want to exact some kind of revenge. We may not actually say it, but simmering in our anger, we just want to ‘make him pay!’ Our idea of justice triumphs over reconciliation, restoration, or relationship.
If the offender is unrepentant, we find trusted, wise friends who will go with us. No, we don’t line up the BIG GUNS on our side. Jesus’ wisdom was that we should find people who are also interested in healing. As much as possible, they are impartial, able to ‘speak the truth in love’ as we are taught. That may mean that we, the offended, are challenged about our understanding of the situation.
Ultimately, if we hang onto hurt, we lock ourselves into a cycle of anger. That is why Jesus tells us to forgive, which does not mean we say, “Oh, forget it. It’s not a big deal.” Sometimes that might be the right response when we get over ourselves. True forgiveness is modeled on God’s forgiveness of us.
The Scripture tells us that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) It seeks the offender! Moreover, true forgiveness bears the cost. Yes, it is costly to let go of our pain, especially when we have been terribly misused by another. The heart of Christian forgiveness is understanding that justice is found in God and He is perfectly just. When we place the offense and offender in His hands, giving the debt owed us to Him, we are set free to live.
The word from the Word is lengthy, a story Jesus told about forgiving. May it shape us, heart and mind, to be like Him.
“Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” “No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!
“For this reason, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife, his children, and everything he had be sold to pay the debt. But the man fell down before the king and begged him, ‘Oh, sir, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then the king was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt could be paid in full. “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him what had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison until he had paid every penny.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters in your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35, NLT)
Jesus what a friend for sinners
Jesus lover of my soul
Friends may fail me foes assail me
He my Savior makes me whole
Hallelujah what a Savior
Hallelujah what a friend
Saving helping keeping loving
He is with me to the end
Jesus what a strength in weakness
Let me hide myself in Him
Tempted tried and sometimes failing
He my strength my vict’ry wins
Jesus I do now receive Him
More than all in Him I find
He hath granted me forgiveness
I am His and He is mine
John Wilbur Chapman