Jump Start # 3090
Ephesians 4:31 “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice”
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about forgiveness. And, it seems that whenever one writes or preaches about that topic, many questions surface. This forgiving stuff is hard. Our culture and society doesn’t encourage forgiving. Commercial after commercial on TV are about lawsuits. Been in a car wreck, call this attorney. Taken this medicine, call this attorney.
One of our readers asked me to write some additional thoughts on the topic of forgiveness. In Luke 17, which was the basis of the earlier Jump Start on forgiveness, Jesus said if someone sins against you seven times in a day and repents, forgive him. Now, the question before us, “What if the person doesn’t repent?” Or, “what if they vaguely repent,” such as, “If I have hurt anyone I apologize.” “If?” So, I suppose if no one was hurt, then the person doesn’t apologize. What are we to do if a person doesn’t repent? What is our response if a person doesn’t apologize?
Let’s put some thoughts to this:
First, the way I hear some present this, one gets the impression that they hope the person doesn’t apologize. It seems it gives them a right to not be nice. Forgiveness is a choice. Although it is commanded by God and expected among His people, it remains a choice. Some things are easier to forgive than other things. It helps to understand what forgiveness is NOT:
· Forgiveness is not denial. Just putting the pain out of your mind doesn’t mean you have forgiven the person. Refusing to talk about the incident, or take the steps to make things better is not forgiveness.
· Forgiveness is not reconciliation. It takes one to forgive. It takes two for reconciliation to take place.
· Forgiveness is not avoiding or ignoring a person. I’ve been with a person in a store when he saw someone coming down the isle that he had an issue with. He turned and went the other way. That’s not forgiveness.
· Forgiveness is not saying, “It’s alright.” It’s not alright. A sin was committed and you were hurt. That’s never right. It’s not right with you and it’s not right with God. Not wanting to deal with confrontation has led many people to just suffer silently.
Second, our verse today, well illustrates what happens to us internally when we do not forgive. The pain consumes us. It messes us up on the inside. We can’t move on and we can’t move past what happened. We feel compelled to tell others. Bitterness, anger, wrath are the natural results that comes from a heart that has been hurt. It takes forgiveness to heal. It takes forgiveness to move on. Let’s be honest. There are many bitter Christians today. They are that way because they have never forgiven. It’s hard to worship when someone a few pews away has hurt us. I’ve known folks who purposely go out other doors of the church house just so they do not have to encounter the person that hurt them. And for some, this goes on for decades.
Third, the choice of forgiveness lies within me, not the person who hurt me. If I say that I can only forgive you if you repent, then what happens if you never repent? NEVER. That means you continue to control the situation. You continue to hurt me. It’s on your time table. Whenever you decide to repent, it is then that I must forgive. And, during this time, bitterness, anger, wrath remain within me. One writer described forgiveness as a key. And when he unlocked the door, he found that he had been the prisoner all this time.
Now, the problem with this is that some will say that God doesn’t operate this way. If we do not repent, we will perish, is what Jesus said. There is no forgiveness from God if there is no godly sorrow on our part. Yet, how can I say that it is possible for us to choose to forgive if the other party will not repent. I say this because of our verse today. I say this because I refuse to let the hurting party continue to control the situation. I say this because it is driven by love. I say this because I do not want bitterness and anger to fill my heart. I say this because I want to move on.
So, here is a person and they will not apologize. They refuse to repent. They will not admit that they did anything wrong. Arrogantly, they say we have the problem, not them. There is no change in their life. What are we to do?
First, I’d forgive. I’d let it go. I would put that pain in an unmarked grave and I would not revisit it. Clara Barton, the early advocate for women nurses, was torn apart by a scathing editorial. She was attending a banquet where that editor was going to be. A friend reminded her of this. She replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.” Forgiveness is a choice. You can keep picking the scab or you can let the wound heal.
Second, I would put some distance between me and that person. Being unapologetic, I would not give him another opportunity to hurt me further. I will pray for him. I will care for him. I can even worship with him. But his heart is not right and for now, I need some healing. Some people you can only love from a distance because of the way they are.
Third, I’d pray hard for myself that I do not think evil, allow bitterness to consume me and have a hard heart towards this person. Time, forgiveness and prayer are great medicines for a hurting heart. As you heal, try to do more with the hurting person. I have found that kindness and love can melt a hard heart. I’ve known some, years later, who with tears running down their faces, came and apologized for being so cruel to a person. They could not understand how the victim continued to be kind, thoughtful and helpful.
These things are hard for us. In a perfect world, no one would hurt anyone. And, it that happened, immediately the person would apologize and beg for a second chance. Forgiveness would be offered and everything would be great. But our world is not perfect. We hurt each other. Sometimes we do not realize that we have hurt others. When we do, we must be quick to make things right.
Do I have to forgive someone who won’t repent? Forgiveness is a choice. It is to choose healing. It is to choose Christ. It is to choose making things better. What’s the other option? Thinking badly towards someone? Leaving a congregation? Telling others? Revenge? None of those choices are good.
Put all bitterness out…forgiveness is the door which opens and allows bitterness to leave.