The methods Jesus used in resolving conflicts and those taught in the Old Testament seem to be at variance. The Jewish traditions defined the resolution of conflicts in terms of equal reciprocity, i. e. an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. It clearly frowned on escalating the conflict with more severe measures than was originally meted out.
Before writing this message I took a tour through the Old Testament to see if there was any form of encouragement or command requiring a person to forgive his offender. Although there were abundant references of God’s forgiveness of man, the only time forgiveness was specifically mentioned between persons was when Jacob pleaded with Joseph that he forgive his brothers. There are illustrations of forgiveness such as Esau and his apparent forgiveness of Jacob. I have had to conclude that forgiveness of others is primarily New Testament principle linked totally to and enabled by the redemptive work of the cross.
There are some observations that might be helpful for us to consider in light of the commands of Jesus and others in the New Testament that we be forgiving of our oppressors.
- Forgiving those who hurt us is the Godly thing to do. Paul taught that we should model our attitude and forgiveness of others after God’s forgiveness of us: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32).
- Forgiving those who hurt us is the mature thing to do. Jesus described the childish whimpering by those who are unwilling to face the oppressions of others in a mature and forgiving fashion, “They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept” (Luke 7:32).
- To forgive others is the spiritual thing to do. Many people are able to dot every “i” and cross every “t” in the scripture but are unable to apply its most fundamental principles in this very critical area of their lives. They appeal to worldly and rationalistic ideals to cover their hurt rather than to heed scriptural teachings and apply them to their own lives. Paul defined such spiritual inconsistency when he said, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)?
- Forgiving others is the responsible thing to do. If we are going to be the representatives of Christ that we should be, we must emulate the principles that He exemplified in His life. He didn’t make the kinds of rationalistic exceptions in His forgiveness of His oppressors that we are prone to do. We have many artful devices that we use to cover our unwillingness to responsibly deal with our conflicts with others, explaining away our own attitudinal failures while castigating others. Jesus doesn’t give any room for us to adopt that attitude. He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
- Forgiving others is the loving thing to do. One has a choice as to how he reacts when faced with the offensiveness of others. Many choose to appeal to their rights and consequently lash out at those who violate them, justifying their behavior/attitudes with an appeal to a variety of authorities rather than submitting to the authority and Godly principle of love. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
- Forgiving our oppressors is the necessary thing to do. When one chooses to be unforgiving of his oppressors he opens a “Pandora’s box” of personal torments in his life. Bitterness is a very poor companion and for one to persist in it is to bring a whole raft of consequences into his life. In the parable of the unforgiving servant Jesus had the ruler assigning the servant to torment because of his refusal to be forgiving, “And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:34-35).
Many people complain about the persistent problems they have in their lives and at the same time refuse to forgive others. They fail to see that their persistent attitudes toward others is the primary cause of many of their problems. They cannot and will not consistently succeed in ministry or life as long as they appeal to their rights by refusing to forgive.
Paul taught the fundamental principle for successful living when he said, “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:17-21feed him; if he thirst, give him” (Romans 12:17-21).