53. Forgive? You Don’t Know My Story!

by Mar 25, 20242024

Think for a moment – who is it that really “rubs you the wrong way”? Perhaps it is your spouse or your ex-spouse. Maybe it’s that person in your church who spoke unkindly about you… or about one of your children. Perhaps, it’s that snarky neighbor who knows how to get under your skin and seems to relish doing so. It’s easy to appreciate God’s forgiveness when we consider our great need. It’s also easy to understand – in the abstract – our duty to forgive others. But it’s often one of our greatest challenges to truly forgive as we ought – unconditionally, with grace and love – that one person who seems to “push our buttons”.

Rather than attempting to lay out a thorough doctrine of biblical forgiveness, I wish to zero in on what it means to forgive that one difficult person.

Forgiveness Is Not Only Commanded, It Is To Be Our God-Ordained Vocation In Life

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, makes it clear that we are to forgive others’ sins against us just as the Father has forgiven us. After giving us His prayer Jesus doubles back to underscore the theme of forgiveness. “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15, NIV). Pretty serious stuff. While Jesus was not pinning our eternal salvation on our human efforts to forgive others, He is making it clear that we will be out of fellowship with the Father if we refuse to forgive. Jesus is telling us that forgiveness is a primary characteristic of our discipleship. It is to be the mode and hallmark of our “vocation” as Messiah followers. “Hold it right there”, you may be saying. “I thought love was to be the hallmark of being a Jesus follower.” Yes, that’s true. Jesus said that we will be known as His followers if we love. Further, He tells us that the greatest commandments are to fully love God and, in turn, our neighbor.

The point is – agape, God’s unconditional love, is demonstrated – not by loving those who are easy to love. It’s demonstrated by loving our enemies – those whom we don’t like (and who most likely don’t like us in return). Jesus makes it clear that giving this kind of love – the forgiving kind – is to be our vocation. This is what Paul was referring to when he said,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come! Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18, CSB)

Being representatives of God’s reconciliation means that we have been given the vocation to love others as God loves us. This type of love does not expect to be reciprocated in kind. We may find that others hate us all the more as we seek to show forth God’s love and forgiveness.  This is why forgiveness will continue to be a mode for the entire Christian life – or at least until Christ returns, when forgiving others won’t even be necessary. Not only are we to love others (our neighbor) as God loves us; we are to forgive them as He has forgiven us. This is our vocation.

Forgiving Others is Hard; In Fact – Even Painfully Hard. And That’s Okay

So, we have our “marching orders”. Now think about forgiving “that one person” who knows how to “push your buttons”; the one who hurt you deeply and perhaps continues to hurt you. This, my friend, is your “neighbor”. This is the person you are commanded to forgive; commanded to love. Easy? Not at all. In fact, loving and forgiving such a person is a trial. As such, it is suffering. Still, you and I are commanded “you shall love your neighbor as yourself”.

Our western brand of Christianity distances ourselves from most forms of suffering. Strangely, Paul says that he did “his share on behalf of (Christ’s) body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1: 24b, NASB1995). That’s probably a startling statement to many of us who believe that Christ suffered so we don’t have to. Certainly, Paul understood the sufficiency of Christ’s death for our salvation. But Paul also understood that all Christians are thereby enlisted in Jesus’ ongoing “Kingdom project”. This involves loving, forgiving, and the suffering that often results. Again, it’s part of our job.

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10, CSB).

So, this is not simply Christian masochism, this is manifesting the “life of Jesus” – the true vocation of Jesus – in an unforgiving world. Forgiveness given to the unforgiving is what Jesus’ ministry of self-giving love was all about. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like today when it interacts with a sinful world.

So, embrace the challenge. Remember what James writes: “Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials… so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2a, 4b, NASB2020). Consider the “hard to forgive” one. Bow before your loving Father and be comforted in His forgiveness and grace. Then, in obedience (and with a joyful understanding that it’s your privilege to be part of His Kingdom) forgive as the Father has forgiven you.

Learn to Forgive Well. Learn the Simple Scale of Notes for Love’s Symphony

Many of us are familiar with Paul’s famous “love chapter”, I Corinthians 13. Here we have a comprehensive portrait of what agape love and forgiveness looks like:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (I Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV).

Within this sinful, selfish world, this type of love is most often manifest in our forgiving others. Patience, kindness, not being easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering. This is a snapshot of Jesus’ “forgiving love”. It should also be a picture of our forgiveness extended to the one who “rubs us the wrong way”.

At the end of the chapter, Paul acknowledges that we must grow in our love. We must learn to put aside childish ways and mature. Furthermore, he indicates that one day we will all be in a symphony of 1 Corinthian 13-type love. It will be the symphony in which we all participate. I believe that Paul would say to us today…”learn to play the basic notes”…”practice the scales”. In other words, begin to extend this type of love and forgiveness today. You’ll get better… but start today.

You know the person to begin with…