When you pray, say: Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation….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. (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:14-15)
The Lord first loved us by sending Christ to save us, then He commands and enables us to love Him back and to love neighbors as ourselves. God tells us and shows us His love all through the Bible and 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 gives us Fourteen Essential Factors in Love that we are studying. I number them for ease of discussion. There is overlap and repetition in my comments since I have used sections at different times and places with different people.
9. Jesus-like Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs and Is Not Resentful.
Here’s where Christian doctrine ought to help us live right and love right. Christ says, “I blot out your transgressions and I will not remember your sins….I will again have compassion on you, and I will cast all your sins into the depths of the sea.”1 Because of Jesus’ sinless life, His atoning death, and His powerful resurrection from the grave, all of His believers’ wrongs are transferred to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to us. God the Father treats Jesus’ followers as if we’d perfectly obeyed all His law all our lives, because that’s what Jesus did as our Mediator, the Author and Finisher of our faith. What a Savior!
Do we really understand that we have eternal forgiveness in Christ, beloved? Then how can we hold grudges? How can we count up, recall, and remind people of offenses they’ve committed? Love doesn’t keep a list in our mind of bad things others have done to us. God isn’t keeping a record of Jesus’ followers’ sins. So why should we? We demonstrate Christ’s gospel when we forgive the wrongs we have suffered. Scripture says: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”2
Forgiving others is easy to talk about, but hard to do. This story illustrates Christians forgiving others to help us put this teaching into practice.
Katie and Rick’s Story
In 2002 Katie was violently assaulted. She was only 18-years-old and a freshman in college. She was too humiliated to speak about what happened, even with her family. Katie switched schools and tried to move on with her life. But the scars of the trauma festered in her soul. She withdrew from family and friends, developed an eating disorder, and lost so much weight that her health was in danger. Finally Katie told others her sad story. And after a year of prayer and counseling, she began to overcome her pain.
Katie’s father, Rick, was fighting his own battle. He wanted retaliation. Rick was obsessed with revenge and planned to kill the man who hurt his daughter. Every day he got up, went to work, and thought about the plan, then he’d try to forget about it. At night Rick tried to sleep, but he dreamed about the plan. He was going to wait in the campus parking lot with his rifle until the young man walked by. And then—bang!
Rick spent his free time in his getaway room of guns and the sports channel. Methodically, everyday, he cleaned the rifle he planned to use to kill Katie’s attacker. One day his son, Thomas, came in and asked, “Whatcha doing, Dad? Can I help?” Rick was rocking in his recliner with the gun on his lap and looked up. Father and son’s eyes met, and both of them broke down in tears. Thomas knew all about Rick’s plan for revenge.
Rick stopped polishing the gun and laid it down. He opened his arms and Thomas wrapped his arms around his Dad, tight as a cobra. Rick thought: My son’s love is stronger than my hatred. Thomas knocked down my rage, like a sledgehammer breaking a wall, chip by chip. Rick prayed, “Sweet Jesus, what have I been thinking? My job with Thomas is not finished. Forgive me. Thomas isn’t raised yet. If I go to jail, he won’t have a father. God, help me. Forgive me my sins, as I forgive the boy who sinned against us.” Rick locked up his gun and made a choice to forgive. He prayed, “Lord, help me let go of this hate. It’s killing me. I came so close.”3
Lesson: All of us have been hurt, beloved. Some of us more than others. All of us have been hurt and we will be hurt again. It goes with living in a fallen world. And we all have the same choice Rick did: Hate and get even; or forgive as Christ has first forgiven us. That’s what Jesus-like love does.
On the cross, Christ prayed for His murderers and their accomplices, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Bonus: In addition to forgiving, sometimes love and wisdom cause us to avoid conflict and yield when we can.
Martin Luther’s Story
Luther told the story of two goats who met each other on a narrow bridge above a stream. They couldn’t turn back; they couldn’t pass each other. There was not even an inch of spare room on either side. If they fought one or both of them would fall into the water and drown. So the first goat lay down and let the other one pass over him. Once the second goat was safely on his way, the first one could rise and continue on. Because of the wise accommodation of the first goat, both of them were able to get where they wanted to.4
What’s the lesson? Maybe we worry too much about allowing others to walk over us. About being a doormat. Jesus said, “My Father loves me, because I lay down my life for the sheep. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again….The greatest love is to lay down one’s life for his friends. And you are my friends if you do whatever I command you….A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another….Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”5
Conclusion: All of us have been hurt and taken advantage of by others and it will happen again, until we die or until Jesus returns, whichever comes first. We can cling to our rights or lay down our lives for others. Thank God, Jesus’ love poured out into our hearts helps us let go of our self-interest. Praise the Lord, He crumbles our selfishness, chip by chip. He changes us and makes us more like Christ who gave Himself for us!
To be continued
Notes (various translations): 1 Isaiah 43:25; Micah 7:19. 2 Eph 4:32-5:1. 3 Story adapted from Rick Garmon, “My Secret Hate,” Today’s Christian (May/June 2006), p. 35-36. 4 From The Life of Philip Henry, p. 89. 5 John 10:17-18; 15:13-14; 13:34-35; Eph 5:21.