Most of us probably know about the most important commandment in scripture. Jesus was asked which one was the most important and he answered like this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:38
I’ve contemplated that message many times over the years. It has been a driving influence on me since my childhood.
But, have you ever considered what might be the most DIFFICULT command in scripture?
I’ve been thinking about that this week since writing my post about “Poisoned Church.” Sometimes, I think it might be the command to maintain a pure mind…especially in today’s world of rampant sexual messages. Or, maybe it’s the idea of serving others…since most people seem intent on tooting their own horns most of the time. Could it be something along the lines of being faithful? After all, it is awfully easy to be distracted into any number of other interests these days. Hmmmm.
I think…after much consideration…that it just might be….
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
One thing that is overwhelmingly true about people is that they are going to hurt us. Some of the hurts are little. Some of the hurts are huge. Some slip away quickly, but others hang around, and around, and around.
Another thing that is true about forgiveness is that we all expect others to forgive us, but we often don’t feel quite compelled to be forgiving ourselves.
I’ve had a couple of occasions in my lifetime where the pain of the hurt lingered. I wrote extensively about one in a previous blog post and I have mentioned the other in the Poisoned Church entry.
The first one happened to me in 8th grade where a boy named Jimmy bullied me continually for about three months. As a Christian, I tried over and over to let that go. To not hold a grudge. To forgive. But, the pain and the shame would always return. The second happened when I was serving as a young volunteer leader in a church. As part of a leadership meeting, I was severely berated by the ministry leader and subjected to intense “discipling” for nearly an hour where all of the other members of the group were expected to pick me apart. Again, the pain of that event lingered for years afterward despite my attempts to “let it go.”
It is hard, so very hard to forgive.
In each of the examples I’ve mentioned, I was able to finally forgive. I ended up running into the former bully in a restaurant as a middle-aged man. He shared with me how he had lived a rough life but that he was changing because of his relationship with God. I told him that he had been pretty tough on me when we were kids, to which he replied: “I’m really sorry about that.” That was all I needed. A sense of forgiveness swept over me. It was over...finally.
As for the church leader, eventually I found myself in a setting where I told him how much he had hurt me. Again, he looked at me and said: “I’m very sorry, Mike.” Boom! Pain was relieved. The sense of forgiveness swept over me.
It is nice that those instances of forgiveness happened to me. It relieved a great deal of internal tension. What bothers me though is that it took apologies to get my heart to really forgive.
Jesus expects us to forgive:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Luke 17:3b-4
I can get that. That matches my model above. They sinned against me. They said they were sorry. I forgave.
And it’s not really optional….we MUST forgive:
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14-15
Here’s where it gets hard for me….where I am truly challenged….Oh, God, please lend me more grace as I try to embody this….
Jesus on the cross!!!! Blood draining from wounds on his head, his hands, his feet. The flesh of his back torn to shreds and sticking to the rough wood as he pushes himself up to breathe. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
There is no record of someone looking up to say they were sorry. They were busy casting lots for his clothes. No one was yet feeling any sense of remorse. The mocking comments were still echoing in the wind. His blood was still pooling at the foot of the cross.
“Father, forgive them.”
Based on Jesus’ example, I MUST learn to forgive BEFORE anyone ever apologizes.
Now, that truly is a hard command modeled for me in an even more difficult example. Jesus forgave not just before they apologized, but WHILE they were hurting him.
I must raise my personal level of expectation. I must learn to follow the leadership and example of my savior. I must learn to forgive…before they even realize what they have done (or are doing) to me.
May the Lord give me the strength. May I be willing to accept the challenge. Will you join me?
May we all reflect HIS spirit and rely on THE SPIRIT as we deal with one another in this world of conflict.
Finally, may His peace that passes understanding rest on you. Amen.