"Not forgiving is like swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die."
Forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32)
"Not forgiving is like swallowing rat poison and waiting for the rat to die" from the book Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
A Soft Place to Fall: The Adulterous Woman
But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning, he came to the temple courts again. All the people came to him, and he sat down and began to teach them. The experts in the law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught committing adultery. They made her stand in front of them and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone to death, such women. What then do you say?" (Now they were asking this in an attempt to trap him so that they could bring charges against him.) Jesus bent down and wrote on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in asking him, he stood up straight and replied, "Whoever among you is guiltless may be the first to throw a stone at her." Then he bent over again and wrote on the ground. Now when they heard this, they began to drift away one at a time, starting with the older ones, until Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up straight and said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She replied, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you either. Go, and from now on do not sin any more." (John 8:1-11 NET)
Jesus was not only the revealer of grace and truth but also the author of the law they touted (John 1:14,17). The Pharisees had met their better! Jesus was the only one qualified to throw the first stone (i.e., the only perfect one! 2 Corinthians 5:21) Jesus demonstrated that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13) Nevertheless, He commanded her to stop sinning (i.e., adultery is sin (1) (Exodus 20:14)). (2)
Unpacking our Bags
Forgiveness and acceptance are the detergents of body life that allow us to live free of the past. We all need a “fresh start” when we mess up. Jesus constantly forgave others and encouraged them to do the same. We can only forgive others in proportion to our perception of God’s forgiveness in our lives (Luke 7:47). Every sin we commit is first and foremost a sin against God alone (Psalms 51:4). (2)
"For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him. Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.' The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. (Matthew 18:23-27)
(1 talent) x (75 pounds/talent) x (10,000 talents) = 750,000 pounds x (16 ounces/pound) x ($1200 US/ounce of gold today) = $14,400,000,000 or 14.4 billion US dollars
This is, more than anyone could make in a lifetime of work – an impossible debt to pay!
After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him one hundred silver coins. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe me!' Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will repay you.' But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. (Matthew 18:28-30)
The typical worker's wages were denarii a day; therefore, 100 denari would be about a third of a person's annual salary. A large but payable debt.
When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, 'Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?' And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart." (Matthew 18:31-35. Matthew 6:15)
The slave did not comprehend that the debt forgiven him was infinite; therefore, he was not willing to forgive a fellow slave a large but payable debt (Proverbs 28:3). Failing to forgive others of their sins against us is a sign that we “do not get” the infinite debt forgiven us at the cross of Calvary (Romans 3:23). The debt for rebellion (sin) against a Holy God was impossible for us to pay; therefore, we faced eternal banishment and torture (Romans 6:23). However, Jesus took upon Himself our debt, paid it, and cancelled it! (Colossians 2:13)
We are to pray for, not prey on, our brothers and sisters in Christ when we see them stumble (1 John 5:16 a). God will then give them mercy in spite of what justice demands (i.e., God will give them additional opportunities to repent beyond what they deserve because of our intercession). Remember, mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)
If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. (1 John 5:16)
Could a sin leading to the physical death of a Christian be unforgiveness? Realize, unforgiveness blocks your forgiveness from God (Matthew 6:15. John 20:23. 2 Corinthians 2:10,11)
For every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. For this reason, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world. (1 Corinthians 11:26-32)
An unworthy manner would include:
- Not forgiving others that have sinned against us while partaking of the Lord’s Supper
- Not receiving the benefits of the New Covenant by faith when partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Hebrews 11:6)
God's Discipline is the Result for His Children:
Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline? But if you do not experience discipline, something all sons have shared in, then you are illegitimate and are not sons. Besides, we have experienced discipline from our earthly fathers, and we respected them; shall we not submit ourselves all the more to the Father of spirits and receive life? For they disciplined us for a little while as seemed good to them, but he does so for our benefit, that we may share his holiness. Now all discipline seems painful at the time, not joyful. But later it produces the fruit of peace and righteousness for those trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7-11)
Competition subtly weaves its way into our friendships whenever we think we have to earn God’s approval by our own will and effort. We start norm referencing (i.e., I am not perfect, but I am better than 90% of the Christians around me) (2 Corinthians 10:12). Fellow Christians then become competitors. We judge our Christianity based on our intentions but others based on their performance. We exaggerate the weaknesses of others. We rationalize our weaknesses.(2)
A Truly Safe Place
Forgiving and accepting others simply means that we won’t hold them accountable to us for their failures. We continue to respond to them with love and grace. It does not mean we become doormats for everyone to walk over or ignore their actions. Forgiveness frees us from the destruction others cause. (2)
We can forgive someone who is abusive without continuing to subject ourselves to that abuse. Forgiveness does not mean we should keep silent if that person seeks to hurt others. Forgiveness does not absolve people of their responsibility to us. Forgiveness does absolve people of their accountability to us.
We are a soft place to fall when we love people through their failures and hurts as God draws them closer to Himself and transforms them from within. We still speak the truth firmly but with gentleness and patience. Remember that “hurt people hurt people and are easily hurt by others”. Be quick to forgive realizing that love melts pain. Be ready to accept others where they are. Be willing to walk with them on their journey. (2)
Forgiveness protects our relationships from the damage of the past. It frees us from the demand of perfection as it overlooks faults and offenses. If we are constantly receiving the forgiveness of God, we will naturally stop holding others to a standard they cannot meet by themselves. Realize, forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things. Forgiveness frees others from my judgment, vengeance, and desire for retribution. Forgiveness frees me from bitterness and overcomes hurts others have caused. However, forgiveness does not absolve from sin. Forgiveness does not have anything to do with future trust. Consequently, the offer of forgiveness does not mean that trust has been restored. In most cases trust has to be re-earned. Consequently, a forgiven person may still be an untrustworthy person. Reconciliation is a process of healing between the offender and the offended. Reconciliation demands that the offender recognizes their offense, understand the pain it caused, offer restitution and assurance that the offending pattern will change. Reconciliation is not always possible. Nevertheless, we can still forgive. Remember, Jesus forgave from the cross - Father forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). (2)
Do not be discouraged when forgiveness does not come easily. Forgiveness is less of a choice than a process. We must choose to forgive; however, God must work in our hearts to remove the bitterness and pain which may be hidden in layers (like an onion). Consequently, our choice to forgive may be contrary to our real, deeply buried feelings. Therefore, we must choose to forgive every time one of these memories surfaces.
Then Peter came to him and said, "Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times! (Matthew 18:21,22)
We are to forgive until there is no emotion attached to the memory of the wrong done to us. If we by faith chose to forgive each time the memory returns, then God will cause the memory of the hurt to fade until it is gone (Genesis 41:51).
Wrongs from fellow church members hurt more than those from people of the world (Psalms 55:12-14). Nevertheless, we are PROMISED conflict in the local church so that the genuine Christians are revealed (1 Corinthians 11:18,19).
Accepting One Another (Romans 15:7)
Accept people as they are, trusting God will change them. This does not mean we condone their behavior or beliefs. It means you respect their humanity enough to let them work through the process. People run from those that are always trying to change them into what they think they should be. People open their lives to those who accept them the way they are. (2) Respect is to be given to all unconditionally while trust is earned.
Bearing One Another (Ephesians 4:2)
People do not need us to fix their problems. People simply need us to be there with them.
A little girl who was late coming home for supper. Her mother made the expected irate parent’s demand to know where she had been. The little girl replied that she had stopped to help Janie, whose bicycle was broken in a fall. “But you don’t know anything about fixing bicycles,” her mother responded. “I know that,” the girl said. “I just stopped to help her cry.” (Romans 12:15)
Two Kinds of Judgment
There are two types of judgment, according to:
- Appearance and accusation of evil (condemnation)
- Truth and mercy (righteous judgment) (John 7:24)
The measure which you use for others is the very same measure which will be used for you (Matthew 7:1,2).
The human heart is a judgment seat before which everyone passes who is seen or thought of. All day long we are seated as a judge in the court of our unseen heart. Unseen that is to man, but not to God. Judging others - ceaselessly all day, day by day, and sometimes by night. Judging, judging, measuring everyone and everything. We do not always need full and sufficient evidence because we love ourselves and in that self-love, we think that we know.
When we judge others we are judging God, is the servant’s Master not able to “make them stand”? (Romans 14:4)
Realize, we do to God what we do to others - for good or evil (Matthew 25:40)
We judge by whims, and feelings, and fancies. By what we like and by what we do not like. We are the center and judgment is according to what people do or not do in our favor and for our glory and satisfaction. We judge by appearance. Failing to give mercy we are given no mercy! If we judge according to mercy, we will find mercy increasing in our lives (Matthew 5:7). If we use on others the measure of mercy that God has used on us, then that mercy will be measured to us and increasingly so. Mercy is the only type of judgment you want, or are able, to bear. We must become doers of the word of mercy. Every time a thought of a person passes through our heart we must choose to “mercy” them by a simple prayer to God:
Heavenly Father, please flood with mercies the one I am thinking of to fulfill all their needs.
When you pray for FLOODS of God’s mercy to fulfill the need of anyone, we are judging and measuring that which takes away our own weakness and blindness and fills us with the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of Mercy! (James 2:13,12)
Remember: WITH YOUR OWN MEASURE YOU WILL BE MEASURED
There are three basic ways that people respond to conflict. These responses may be arranged on a curve that resembles a hill. On the left slope of the hill, we find the escape responses to conflict. The right side are the attack responses. And in the center, we find the peacemaking responses. Moving from left to right on the curve also involves a move from private to public and voluntary to forced solutions (4).
The three responses found on the left side of the slippery slope are called the escape responses. People tend to use these responses when they are more interested in avoiding a conflict than in resolving it. These responses are used to create an illusion of peace (i.e., peacefaking) and not the reality of peace (4).
Denial - One way to escape from a conflict is to pretend that it does not exist. Or, if we cannot deny that the problem exists, we simply refuse to do what should be done to resolve a conflict properly. These responses bring only temporary relief and usually make matters worse (Genesis 16:1-6; 1 Samuel 2:22-25) (4).
Flight - Another way to escape from a conflict is to run away. This may include leaving the house, ending a friendship, quitting a job, filing for divorce, or changing churches. In most cases, running away only postpones a proper solution to a problem (Genesis 16:6-8), so flight is usually a harmful way to deal with conflict. Of course, there may be times when it is appropriate to respectfully withdraw from a confusing or emotional situation temporarily to calm down, organize your thoughts, and pray. Flight may also be a legitimate response in seriously threatening circumstances, such as cases of physical or sexual abuse (1 Samuel 19:9,10). If a family is involved in such a situation, however, every reasonable effort should still be made to find trustworthy assistance and come back to seek a lasting solution to the problem (4).
Suicide - When people lose all hope of resolving a conflict, they may seek to escape the situation (or make a desperate cry for help) by attempting to take their own lives (see 1 Samuel 31:4). Suicide is never the right way to deal with conflict. Suicide is a permanent non-solution to a temporary problem. Tragically, however, suicide has become the third leading cause of death among adolescents in the United States, partly because so many children have never learned how to deal with conflict constructively (4).
The three responses found on the right side of the slippery slope are called the attack responses. These responses are used by people who are more interested in winning a conflict than in preserving a relationship. This attitude is seen in people who view conflict as a contest or a chance to assert their rights, to control others, or to take advantage of their situation. Attack responses are typically used by people who are strong and self-confident. But they may also be used by those who feel weak, fearful, insecure, or vulnerable. Whatever the motive, these responses are directed at bringing as much pressure to bear on opponents as is necessary to eliminate their opposition (4).
Assault -Some people try to overcome an opponent by using various forms of force or intimidation, such as verbal attacks (including gossip and slander), physical violence, or efforts to damage a person financially or professionally (Acts 6:8-15). Such conduct always makes conflicts worse (4).
Litigation - Another way to force people to bend to our will is to take them to court. Although some conflicts may legitimately be taken before a civil judge (Acts 24:1-26:32; Rom. 13:1-5), lawsuits usually damage relationships and often fail to achieve complete justice. When Christians are involved on both sides, their witness can be severely damaged. This is why Christians are commanded to settle their differences with other Christians within the church rather than in the civil courts (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Therefore, it is important to make every effort to settle a dispute out of court whenever possible (Matt. 5:25-26) Litigation is often nothing more than professionally assisted denial and attack (4).
Murder - In extreme cases, people may be so desperate to win a dispute that they will try to kill those who oppose them (Acts 7:54-58). While most Christians would not actually kill someone, we should never forget that we stand guilty of murder in God’s eyes when we harbor anger or contempt in our hearts toward others (1 John 3:15; Matthew 5:21-22). There are two ways that people move into the attack zone. Some resort to an attack response the minute they encounter a conflict. Others move into this zone after they have tried unsuccessfully to escape from a conflict. When they can no longer ignore, cover up, or run away from the problem, they go to the other extreme and attack those who oppose them (4).
The six responses found on the top portion of the slippery slope are called the peacemaking responses. These responses are commanded by God, empowered by the Bible, and directed toward finding just and mutually agreeable solutions to conflict. The first three peacemaking responses may be referred to as “personal peacemaking,” because they may be carried out personally and privately, just between you and the other party. The vast majority of conflicts in life should and can be resolved in one of these ways. When a dispute cannot be resolved through one of the personal peacemaking responses, God calls us to use one of the next three peacemaking responses, referred to as “assisted peacemaking.” These responses require the involvement of other people from your church or Christian community (4).
Overlook an offense - Many disputes are so insignificant that they should be resolved by quietly and deliberately overlooking an offense. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11; Proverbs 12:16; Proverbs 17:14; Colossians 3:13; 1 Peter 4:8). Overlooking an offense is a form of forgiveness and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger (4).
Reconciliation - If an offense is too serious to overlook or has damaged the relationship, we need to resolve personal or relational issues through confession, loving correction, and forgiveness. “[If] your brother has something against you . . . go and be reconciled” (Matthew 5:23-24; Proverbs 28:13). “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently” (Galatians 6:1; Matthew 18:15). “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13) (4).
Negotiation - Even if we successfully resolve relational issues, we may still need to work through material issues related to money, property, or other rights. This should be done through a cooperative bargaining process in which you and the other person seek to reach a settlement that satisfies the legitimate needs of each side. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4) (4).
Mediation - If two people cannot reach an agreement in private, they should ask one or more objective outside people to meet with them to help them communicate more effectively and explore possible solutions. “If he will not listen [to you], take one or two others along” (Matthew 18:16). These mediators may ask questions and give advice, but they have no authority to force you to accept a particular solution (4).
Arbitration - When you and an opponent cannot come to a voluntary agreement on a material issue, you may appoint one or more arbitrators to listen to your arguments and render a binding decision to settle the issue. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-8, Paul indicates that this is how Christians ought to resolve even their legal conflicts with one another: “If you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church” (1 Corinthians 6:4) (4).
Accountability - If a person who professes to be a Christian refuses to be reconciled and do what is right, Jesus commands church leaders to formally intervene to hold him or her accountable to Scripture and to promote repentance, justice, and forgiveness: “If he refuses to listen [to others], tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17. 2 Thessalonians 3:14,15). Direct church involvement is often viewed negatively among Christians today, but when it is done as Jesus instructs - lovingly, redemptively, and restoratively - it can be the key to saving relationships and bringing about justice and peace (4).
The question is do we love people enough to tell them the truth? (Proverbs 27:6) It takes a leader who cares little about their own peace to bring true peace to the team. Much is at stake for a peacemaker. Many Peacemakers are entering dangerous situations with only one goal in sight...to MAKE peace where no peace exists (Philippians 1:27,28).
To be continued...
(4) Adapted from The Peace Maker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict, 3rd Edition by Ken Sande (founder of Peacemakers Ministries and Relational Wisdom 360 Ministries), ISBN 0-8010-6485-6,