This blog is the last in a series on relationship rescue. Have you ever tried to identify the ten most important New Testament principles for healthy relationships? Pastor Tim did and here are his Ten Commandments of New Testament Relationships.
Mention relationship issues and we instantly think of marriage conflicts, disagreements among friends, or run-ins at the office. But those aren’t the most difficult relationships for most people. I would submit that the most dysfunctional relationships for the majority of us are those with people who hate and resent us. That’s right! I’m talking about your enemies; to which you might say, “But my enemies don’t count as relationships! They aren’t people I love!” And God would reply, “Oh, really?”
In Matthew 5:44, Christ directs his followers: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Later, he explains that we prove nothing by simply loving people who love us. Even pagans do that! Jesus People are supposed to love as our heavenly Father loves. That is, he loves people who hate him, ignore him, and disrespect him. He sends sunshine into their lives and rain for their gardens anyway.
Sometimes I act as though it’s incredibly difficult to forgive a loved one who wrongs me and eventually apologizes. That just shows how little practice I have doing the really hard stuff: forgiving people who wrong me and never apologize! Remember that famous prayer Christ uttered on the cross? “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” We call that an “example.”
#10. Thou shalt love thy enemies and pray for people who dislike you.
I’ve found that church people tend to have a very distorted view of forgiveness. When Jesus concludes the parable of the unforgiving debtor, he reminds us that we too must forgive people who fail to keep their promises; and we must forgive them from the heart. (Matthew 18:35.) The Greek word translated “forgive” can also be interpreted to divorce, to renounce, or to send away. In regard to the offenses and failures of others, forgiveness means I must simply set them aside and refuse to harbor ill will or act on feelings of anger. It means I refuse to resent; I declare peace.
Notably, forgiveness doesn’t mean that I must forget what has happened or treat the offender as I treat my closest friends. After a husband’s third affair and subsequent apology, a long suffering wife may forgive him completely, yet she may decline to continue the marriage. Christ commands that she must put away the hard feelings and pray for God’s will in his life. The same is true of a friend who deceives me by squandering money he had promised to invest for me. Should he finally ask for forgiveness, I am under orders to set aside my anger and resentment. If he’s utterly bankrupt, I must forgive the debt. But I am not obligated to trust him with my kids’ college fund.
On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of assuming that an apology is the same thing as repentance. Americans in 2012 offer bland apologies for everything: I’m sorry you feel that way; I’m sorry for my little mistake; I’m sorry things worked out the way they did; etc. The Bible nowhere recommends apologies. Look it up in your concordance sometime. Instead, the Bible prescribes “repentance” in response to wrong doing. True repentance has fruits that spring from it. Repentance means I accept responsibility; I am ashamed of my behavior; I make no excuses; I blame no one else; I will wait patiently while you find it in your heart to respect me again. Repentance is humble and patient.
Most Americans know little or nothing of authentic repentance. We prefer to paper things over with noncommittal words of apology. That’s too bad. But when failed human beings bring those apologies to you or me, we are obligated to put away the anger, renounce our rights to revenge, and give them another chance to live in peace. Revoking anger and choosing to live in peace with someone who wronged you is the essence of Christ-likeness. It is precious and uncommon. It borders on the miraculous.
Lift up the cross!