Learning to Forgive

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
(Matthew 5:38-42)

In our verses for today Jesus clearly teaches that we are not to be retaliators of evil. The law of retaliation presented in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy was given to protect the innocent and to make sure that the retaliation did not go beyond the offense. The punishment was to fit the crime and not to exceed it. In Deuteronomy we read:

You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (Deuteronomy 19:19-21)

Jesus, however, teaches us we are not to be vengeful.

“Make me into a rock which swallows up the waves of wrong in its great caverns and never throws them back to swell the commotion of the angry sea from whence they came. Ah! To annihilate wrong in this way–to say, ‘It shall not be wrong against me, so utterly do I forgive it!’” -George MacDonald

We are to avoid and resist evil as is necessary for our own security, but we must not harbor a grudge, avenge ourselves, or seek to get even when wronged. In the Old Testament the rights of the innocent were protected by the Law, yet Jesus says the righteous need not necessarily claim their rights. Indeed, Scripture teaches us we are to repay evil with good. Paul tells us in Romans:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)

Forgiveness when wronged demonstrates the divine miracle of grace in one’s life and points to Jesus. Forgiveness is supernatural and flows against the flesh which is desirous of retaliation. Forgiveness costs and it is marked by mercy and love–its origins are in God Himself. We are never more Christlike than when we forgive when wronged. Like Jesus, we are to entrust ourselves to the One who judges justly. Christians are to bear a striking resemblance to their Master. God sees every slight against His children and it is His to make right. Peter writes of Christ’s example:

“Forgiveness saves us the expense of anger, the cost of hatred, the waste of spirits.”
-Hannah More

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.
(1 Peter 2:23)

Christians are to think kindly, speak kindly, and do kindly. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. Those who have experienced the grace of God and are thankful for the forgiveness of the Lord are to be quick to forgive. If we have been privy to have heard the words of forgiveness spoken to our own hearts we will want others to hear them too. Returning good for evil is Christlike.

“Be God-like, then; and in all ways and by all means, so live that all may say of you, ‘You have been with Jesus.’”
-Charles H. Spurgeon

Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8-9)

Take It to Heart

“You never touch the ocean of God’s love as when you forgive and love your enemies.” (Corrie ten Boom)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)