Don’t Get Mad, Get…Forgiving

prodigal-rembrandt

Luke 17:3 “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.”

No part of the Christian life is harder than the part Jesus describes here. First, he asks us to rebuke sin when we see it. Do I have the moral authority? After all, I have been guilty of the same things at some time. But Jesus doesn’t want us to rebuke sin because we are better. He is not condoning a better-than-thou attitude. We rebuke sin because we love the person. Only when our rebuke comes from love is it likely to be accepted.

What if we lose our relationship with those we rebuke? That is a real possibility. But then let’s not pretend we are keeping our mouth shut because we love them too much. That kind of love isn’t love for the others. It’s only a love for what we might lose, a relationship we enjoy.  That amounts to a love for myself. Jesus’ words remain, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.”

As hard as it can be to rebuke sin, forgiveness can be even harder. When someone hurts us, we get mad. We get bitter. Our sense of justice kicks into overdrive. “That’s not fair.” “That isn’t right.” “What did I ever do to deserve this?” When someone hurts us more than once, it may be more than we can stand. “That’s it. I’m through. See if I ever talk to him again.”

To understand what a horrible sin it is to be unforgiving, it helps to review what horrible things unforgiveness does. Look at the damage it causes. How many marriages haven’t been ripped apart because a husband, or wife, or both refuse to forgive the little irritations or the inconsiderate behavior of their companion? They keep dredging the same old hurts and resentments up over and over again. How many families don’t live in perpetual bickering and complaining because brothers and sisters and in-laws turn every slight or criticism into a personal attack for which they refuse to forgive? How many churches don’t work under a cloud of gloom, tension, and suspicion when brothers and sisters in Christ won’t confront each other in love, and forgive from the heart. Perhaps they imagine their pain somehow makes holding a grudge defensible. Isn’t unforgiveness a miserable way to live? It makes us sour, sullen, short-tempered and sharp-tongued. Our sinful flesh might find some kind of twisted pleasure in it, but unforgiveness is a sin which wreaks havoc on our human relationships as well as our relationship with God.

On the other hand, is there any blessing like forgiveness? That God should make you or me a little ambassador of his grace, who can forgive my friend when he sins, because Jesus forgives him when he sins, may be the most joyful service he has given us. That others should love me so much that they will forgive me even when I have been a dunderhead, or just plain mean–because Jesus loves me so much that he forgives me, and even suffered the punishment that I deserved in my place–is one of the sweetest gifts we will know this side of heaven. When you and I are offering each other forgiveness, in our own little way we are sharing the gospel with each other. What a blessing if we should have the opportunity to assure someone, “Jesus forgives you and so do I.”

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