Summary: Our natural response to an offense is to pass judgment and enforce our vengeance on the person who has offended us. But Jesus shows us what we must do to represent Him well when offended. He will show you a better way.
In my last post, I taught about pride, selfishness, and self-reliance, and how they oppose biblical teaching on humility and reliance on Jesus. In this post, we conclude our Christian Perspectives miniseries by comparing vengeance with forgiveness.
One hallmark fault of human nature is to make mistakes, offend others, and in some cases do unforgivable things. When this happens, we are at the mercy of the person we offended. We could pay a price financial or relational for our mistakes. There’s nothing stopping the person from legally bringing vengeance upon us.
This is made many times worse by the way we treat God from the beginning of our existence. If we’ve offended another person, the judgment and carrying out of a sentence against us can be bad enough, but when we have offended the King of the universe, He can make us pay according to His justice which is perfect.
We needed a Savior to make a way for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus came and did that, but I don’t think we realize the significance of what He did for us. More so, do we as Jesus’s disciples realize what He is teaching us in learning to forgive others? Let’s get started.
A Wrong Committed
What do we do when someone has committed a wrong against us? We have two options. We can enforce penalties and vengeance upon a person for what they have done to us. Or we can forgive them or “commute their sentence.” It is completely in the hands of the offended person what the consequences of the offense will be.
Even if we completely forgive someone, we can still hold a grudge or not be able to trust that person for a long time, if ever. A common response of the offender is to ask for forgiveness or at least express an apology. Some apologies are not heartfelt. They come down to the social convention of what we should do.
How we handle offenses against ourselves shows us a lot about how much we become like Jesus. He was the ultimate teacher of how to forgive the most heinous offenses against us. He taught it throughout His ministry and showed it on the Cross. He could not give us a higher standard or calling.
Each person views an offense against him in a different way. There is no standard of what kind of sentence or justice to carry out for each offense. It is very subjective. Many people carry out a sentence based on past offenses or the history of the relationship with the offender. Sometimes our personal experiences affect the way we react to an offense.
For instance, if a person has a history of abuse, they may find it much harder to deal with an offense of the same nature. If a person is a repeat offender, especially with the same issue, it is much harder to forgive that person.
What You Really Want to Do
Think about it for a moment. Before you knew Jesus, how did you want to react to any offense? Most of us when we’re brutally honest with ourselves realize that we want to penalize an offense beyond reason. We will meet that person to pay dearly for their offense. Our sentencing of the offender may be completely illogical and unreasonable.
Our pesky emotions get the best of us. They make a CD offense is much worse than it may be. We don’t want justice. We want vengeance. You may want to destroy the person who offended you to the point of oblivion. Have you ever noticed that the farther we get away from the offense the less it bothers us?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was to count to 10 or 20 before I responded to an offense. That really helped me because I tend to react with wrath and rage before I think about what has happened. Think of all the rage that’s out there, often completely uncalled for. Sometimes we can forgive a complete stranger but hold our vengeance over the head of the closest people to us.
Human nature and emotions are fickle. We are often unfair and may offend a person worse than we have been offended with our reaction. We can be sorry for our mistakes and offenses but hold a grudge over anyone who offends us. Once our emotions get involved, there is very little logical and evenhanded treatment of offenses against us.
What the Bible Teaches about Vengeance
Even though we want to be judge, jury, and executioner, the Bible teaches us to leave offenses in God’s hands. Because of our unfair and unjust responses to offenses against us, we often misjudge an offense or treat it more harshly than should be treated. We are worse in our treatment of an offense than the offense was toward us.
The Bible calls us to leave judgment and vengeance up to God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalm 94:1; Romans 12:29; Hebrews 10:30; 1 Thessalonians 4:6). It clearly leaves judgment and the carrying out of the sentence for an offense up to God. This is the hardest thing about forgiveness for us. Paul asked the Corinthians about lawsuits between believers (2 Corinthians 6:3-8).
It appears the Corinthian Christians were taking one another to court over disputes to unchristian judges who would not understand some of their claims. It was also a bad example and witness of Christ. He asks that, “Why not rather be offended and let God judge the matter” (1 Corinthians 6:7)? We need an impartial judge for offenses because we cannot be impartial.
Jesus showed us how to deal with an offense. How many times did the religious leaders misunderstand Jesus or judge Him with impunity? Unlike us, Jesus has perfect judgment and perception of what is happening. Not only can He judge a matter perfectly, but He can carry out the sentencing according to the crime. We can learn a lot from giving our offenses over to Jesus and letting Him decide the proper punishment.
Called to Forgive
Jesus repeatedly called His disciples to forgive offenses against them. It wasn’t one of those “do what I say not what I do” teachings. Jesus led by example. He made forgiving others part of His model prayer (Matthew 6:12). He teaches us to forgive the offenses of others even as God is forgiving us.
There’s a very sobering teaching of Jesus right after the model prayer that if we don’t forgive the offenses of others, neither will God the Father forgive us (Matthew 6:14-15). Who is able to follow such a high standard? No one outside of the power of the Spirit and obedience to Him.
Giving over the offenses against us to Jesus is a hard thing. The matter is taken out of our hands and out warped sense of justice and giving it to Jesus, who is the ultimate Forgiver of sins. Even Joan understood that God would relent from the wrath he wanted to bring on the Ninevites if they would repent and turn to Him (Jonah 4:1-4).
Jonah says this is the reason he did not want to go to Nineveh, to see God be gracious to his nation’s arch enemies. I’m sure he really enjoyed preaching that message of judgment throughout Nineveh for three days. But he knew the day was coming when God would forgive them, and the unforgiveness and his own heart was just as bad as the the offenses of the Ninevites against God.
Jesus’s example on the Cross when everyone was jeering at Him, yelling, “Crucify Him!” still in anguish and pain of that experience forgave everyone and said they didn’t know what they were doing (Luke 23:34). When you came to Him and began to follow Him, He forgave the worst offenses you could ever have committed. He doesn’t hold them against you.
That’s why it’s important as His disciples that we learn to forgive others. Forgiving others doesn’t mean that you open the doors of trust wide open to them and give them an opportunity to offend you again. For those who can learn to forgive well, this may be exactly what happens to you, which is why Peter asked Jesus about how many times we have to forgive others (Matthew 18:21-22). He thought he was being generous with his seven times, but Jesus gave the offender 490 times to be forgiven. We have not learned the fortified forgiveness of our Father until we can forgive like Jesus.
The Strongest Response
When you think about it, exacting vengeance for offenses against you is the easiest path to take. It is the most expected response from the person we offend. You’ve seen children and even pets who know they’ve done wrong hang their head expecting to be chastised. Jesus expects a better way from each of us, a stronger response.
It takes a lot more strength to forgive someone for their offense and not hold any sentence of judgment against them. It’s much harder to be offended and bear the offense without retaliation. They don’t expect that. In most cases, they will not know what to do with it. Paul tells us that when we treat our enemies with mercy and kindness it heaps burning coals upon their heads because they don’t understand our reaction (Romans 12:20).
If you have two judge someone, judge them by the biblical standard of mercy. James tells us that mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13). An offender remembers mercy much more than that death sentence you want to pass on him.
The Ball’s in Your Court
It’s time for you as a disciple of Jesus to ask Him for the inner fortitude to forgive instead of pass judgment. There will be a time at the end where Jesus will judge everyone rightly, but until then, it is up to you to be the bigger person. We need to be the ones to demonstrate Jesus’s forgiveness to others.
Think of the witness of Jesus you have when you can do this. You might say to me, “Pastor Jonathan, you don’t realize how badly they hurt me. They don’t deserve my forgiveness.” What if Jesus responded to you that way from the Cross? Where would you be now? The ball’s in your court the moment you are offended. Whether you forgive or bring vengeance is up to you, but Jesus has given you clear direction on what your response as His disciple and representative should be.
Do you have a hard time forgiving others for their offenses against you? Pray and ask Jesus to give you the fortitude to forgive them. Let them know that they don’t have your trust and will have to earning that back, but there is no way to earn your forgiveness. You can give it freely.
Our teaching on forgiveness concludes our Christian Perspectives miniseries. We will now move to a new miniseries in our Conformed to Christ series on Formed in the Body of Christ by talking about biblical images of the Church and the disciple.