"Be kind to one another, tender hearted,
forgiving one another,
even as God For Christ sake has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32
Loving like Jesus loves is our desire as believers, but it’s tough! Yet, it’s the trait that sets us apart from the world. Jesus said, “The world will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another”(Jn 13:35)
Are there exemptions to His Words throughout Scripture? Could He mean “love, unless – someone hurts or disappoints us? Instead of a command, is there a caveat with exceptions – where we don’t have to follow by loving if another believer (or non-believer) has wounded us deeply?
I will say that over the last couple of years, I have been taking and re-taking loving/forgiving 101 from the Holy Spirit. Fun, Fun! When people mistreat you, or lie and exaggerate the truth to gain ground professionally or personally in some way while tainting your reputation, or the reputation of someone you love, that is a bigger pill than I would choose to swallow. Then, I hear God’s voice in my head – “Love your enemies. Pray for your enemies. Love those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:43-48), Be angry and sin not.” (Eph.4:26) In the midst of our emotion of hurt and anger how do we “sin not?” How do we truly love a person who has hurt us deeply? Is it impossible?
In some situations, in the midst of our betrayal and hurt, it is easy to rationalize as to why we don’t need to love or forgive. But, instead of blinding ourselves in our own rationalizations, or the bad advice from a well-meaning friend, let’s soak in the truth of the Gospel – God’s truth on this topic of loving and forgiving others. Specifically loving those (believers and non-believers) who have hurt or wronged us.
What does “Be angry and sin not” (Eph 4:26) mean exactly? How do we stand for truth, while having humility, submitting to God and remembering He is the believers’ (our) Defender?
Answering these questions and many other questions concerning our Spiritual growth and ministry, is a matter of the heart. Does your heart recognize and grasp the message of the Gospel? How often do we forget the weightiness of this in our lives? I hope never, but we must continually preach these truths to ourselves especially when persecutions come. While I am not minimizing hurt from an offender, we do tend to forget that we too were enemies of God, lost, wretched sinners. We were never “basically good” before Christ. We did nothing to deserve God. Jesus in the book of John (John 15:12-17) even says, He chose us.., He called us….then reminding us that because of this great love in our salvation, we are to love others. Romans, Ephesians, and all through Scripture, we are reminded that it is through His grace alone we have been saved through faith — His gift – NOTHING I have done makes me righteous. His utmost grace and love even while we were sinners, and even while we are sinners now, displayed at the cross and the abundant forgiveness offered is the filter of which I bring the offenses of others and find the strength to forgive. Because of the Gospel I can trust Him and know that His way (by His grace) is also for my good. His way is for me to submit my anger, my hurt and my bitterness to Him and trust Him fully as the Avenger (Rom 12:19), and the only worthy judge. Not only am I then free and forgiven from the sin of un-forgiveness, and the decaying results of bitterness, but I am open and trusting of Him as my Defender and Healer of my wounds.
While certainly this is a heart issue, if we are surrendered to His will, our life is marked by obedience to Him. In the midst of being hurt by others, the very last thing I want to do is swallow my pride and pray continually for the offender, but our Lord’s instructions here are clear (Matt. 5:44) and He lovingly leads us through these waters of forgiving the “unforgivable”. Because of God’s great love for you and me, the greatest offenders, we live the gospel in our relationships with others. We are a conduit of God’s grace! Certainly pray for them, their heart, pray for justice yes, but also pray for your own heart, pray that the Lord helps you to forgive, and then seek time in thanksgiving as you seek His merciful forgiveness of your sin – in the moments of not-so-righteous thoughts of anger toward this person, or gossip about this person. Also continually preach the Gospel to yourself and be reminded of His forgiveness of your life of sin and your rescue by the blood of Christ. This is a part of living out the gospel in your own heart and with others. Forgiveness is a big deal, not something you pick and choose to whom we deem deserving. To love as Christ loves is to forgive, and then to forgive again, and then when the thoughts of the past are replayed again, we kneel and seek His help and grace to yet, forgive again just as He forgives our sinful wayward ways.
I know this is long, but hang in there — I need to add one quick word of caution—- Forgiveness doesn’t mean there are no boundaries. Forgiveness neither means “forget” nor that I am minimizing sin. Remember, heart motive and submission to His will and way over mine is key here. Sometimes boundaries are nessesary in abusive situations or when there is co-dependency, continual lying, and manipulation. But, boundaries are also not when I decide based entirely on my own comfort. Biblical forgiveness and Spirit-led discernment in these cases is the goal.
I’m so thankful for His truth in His Word, my husband, and other godly friends who continue to encourage me in this journey. Loving others, and forgiving is a continual process. Seeking a humble heart by the grace of God is His Work and His will for you and I.
Perhaps today, the Spirit is reminding you of an area that needs surrendering in regards to loving a particular person with Christ’s love, forgiveness and grace. He is faithful to meet you in your anger, insecurities, and wounds. He is faithful to heal, and forgive your sins as you confess, and restore you in His love so that you too can love and forgive others.
Take comfort in His love for you and be thankful that your strength in forgiving others is rooted directly to His forgiveness and mercies in your life made full and complete in Christ. Trust that forgiving someone does not “let them off the hook” of whatever consequence of their sin from God. No, but it gives up your right to repay. Forgivness frees your own soul of bitterness, giving you the freedom to truly love and live out the Gospel of Christ that by His grace, should thrive in your heart and in your life!