Friday, February 22, 2019
Luke 6:27, 35-36 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
As we conclude our study on forgiveness, we need to carefully look at the words of Jesus in Luke 6 – words that challenge our natural instincts with supernatural responses. Our natural instincts are for retaliation and restitution of our own reputation. But Jesus challenges those instincts with the response of forgiveness, which is the restoration of relationship.
Relationship is of utmost importance to God the Father. It was because of our sin that we were not in relationship with God, yet God initiated the response that corrects the relationship. His actions were not simply a required response: they were the manifestation of His true heart. His provision of forgiveness was based on His love for the offender and His desire to restore the relationship that had been destroyed by the offense. None of us has ever been hurt so deeply as God was hurt by our sin. Yet His love for us as sinners was manifested in the gift of His Son Jesus so that we might be forgiven. There was nothing artificial about what God did. He did not act out of obligation to anything but His true nature. Forgiveness isn’t pretending nothing has happened, or pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. Forgiveness springs from a pure and sincere heart of love. Forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship.
That’s how we are to forgive others as well. To forgive someone involves three things. First, it means to give up the right to strike back. We reject the urge to repay gossip with gossip and a bad turn with a worse turn. Striking back is of no value in restoring relationships. Second, it means replacing the feeling of resentment and anger with good will. We must choose to let our hearts be overwhelmed with the love of God so that we truly seek the offender’s welfare and not their harm. Third, it means the forgiving person takes concrete steps to restore good relations. We become the initiators of actions that model love rather than resentment.
The following story is from an article titled “Your Daffodils are Pretty,” (Christianity Today, March 2, 1979, p. 18), in which Josephine Ligon tells of a family in the town where she grew up who preached and practiced forgiveness. Their name was Parsons. On one occasion, Mr. Parsons watched young Josephine get swatted by the broom of a mean old lady in town who didn’t like the neighborhood children getting too close to her property. He stopped Josephine and told her, “Go back and tell Mrs. Brink that you forgive her for hitting you.” Josephine replied, “Say, ‘I forgive you’ to Mrs. Brink?” Mr. Parsons smiled. “Forgiveness comes in many forms,” he said. “You don’t actually have to say, ‘I forgive you.’ A simple smile will do. You might just tell her that her daffodils are pretty.” It seemed dumb to young Josephine, but she trusted Mr. Parsons’ advice. She went back and mumbled something to Mrs. Brink about her daffodils being pretty. Mrs. Brink looked shocked, but it was the last time Josephine ever felt her broom. On another occasion Josephine and several of her third-grade friends put a handful of pencil shavings into the Parsons girl’s sandwich, just to be mean and to make her mad. But she didn’t get mad. Instead, the next day, without any sign of repentance from her persecutors, the Parsons girl brought everyone in the class a large, beautiful, delicious, hand-decorated cookie which said, “Jesus loves you.” Years later Josephine Ligon still remembers that demonstration of forgiveness more than any sermon.
Forgiveness is more than words; it’s action! We may claim to have forgiven those who have hurt us, but if there are no real attempts to restore the relationship then forgiveness has not been fully granted. For forgiveness to be real the reconciliation of the relationship must be pursued with actions of love. Granted, some people won’t accept our attempts at reconciliation, just as so many are rejecting God’s offer of forgiveness. But their response is not an excuse to stop acting in a loving way towards them. God has not stopped loving or pursuing the unrepentant person and neither should we. We are not excused from seeking to restore broken relationships because the other person rejects our attempts. If we think we are, then forgiveness is nothing more than pretention, and is not motivated by the love of God in our hearts but rather by a love for self.
Imagine what would happen in your church and in your community if God’s people began forgiving others the way God forgave them. Imagine what would happen to the reputation of Christians if the restoration of relationships was our highest priority. We are called to be the ambassadors of reconciliation, showing people how they can be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) Maybe it’s time we modeled that reconciliation in our personal relationships so that the world can see the reality of God’s forgiveness.