What do you do when someone wrongs you–when you’re in a situation in which someone has mistreated you but you feel powerless, either because of the fear of retaliation or because it simply won’t change anything? Do you allow resentment and unforgiveness to build up, or do you bring your pain to the Savior’s feet?
“Finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:10)
Selfishness is inherent in the sin nature, and when someone hasn’t relinquished his life to God, it can compound to genuine abusiveness. Clearly, the offender needs to repent, but being at the receiving end of such a situation can create spiritual problems beyond the pain of the actual offense.
Being in an unfair or even abusive relationship which we feel powerless to change can tempt us to become unforgiving, even resentful, and this repressed injustice can build up inside of us into something genuinely frightening. Yet that is not how we, as the people of God, are to handle offenses.
The first thing we must realize when we are wronged is how incredibly guilty we ourselves are before God:
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, ‘Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’ So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?’ And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matthew 18:23-35)
We may not feel as if our sins before God are greater than our offender’s against us, but even if we have not done anything as bad any offense against the holy and righteous God merits eternal death and punishment. “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2b) We have no choice; we must forgive those who wrong us.
The second thing we must understand is the strength of the sin nature:
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal [human] sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do…But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Romans 7:14-23)
If even those of us who know the Lord struggle with our sin nature, how are they who are without the help of His Spirit to resist? I have found that when you’re in the middle of something and it’s hard to forgive, it really helps to recognize that if the person wronging you knew Christ, they wouldn’t be acting that way.
But what if the offense seems too great–if your mind wants to forgive, but your heart simply doesn’t feel able to do so? The answer is that those of us who are in Christ have power available that others do not. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) Because of the strength He gives–in Him and through Him–we can do what we otherwise could not.
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [so many people who have gone before us and persevered–not given up] let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12:1-4)
Because others who have gone before us have made it to the finish line and not given up, because Jesus set us on the eternal path when He called us and will confirm us in glory at our death, and was Himself our ultimate example of unjust suffering–because of all of this, we can respond as He would have us and place every wrong at His nail-scarred feet, forgiving even the unforgivable.
Today’s verse instructs me to find out what is acceptable to You, but Your Word says that forgiveness in the presence of injustice–even grave offense–is not only acceptable but commanded by You. Because of this I forgive, through Your power! Amen.