Love Does not Take Into Account a Wrong Suffered
Bible Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a; Matthew 18:21-35; Ephesians 4:31-32
It was a January day 24 years ago. John had been drinking all day and had a rap sheet of prior offenses pages long. Youthful for her 69 years, my mother-in-law Jean was headed in her car to the elementary school to play volleyball. Driving at a high rate of speed down a residential street, with a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, he was oblivious to the four way stop which was ahead of him. Jean entered the intersection having no idea it would be the last thing she’d ever do. The impact of John’s truck into Jean’s car killed her instantly. We got the call soon after… Laura’s mom was gone…just like that! She was a wonderful woman whose heart was full of love for Jesus and for others. It would be impossible to measure the extent of sorrow and grief the family experienced in her loss. In an instant the trajectory of many lives was radically changed forevermore. You cannot go through such an experience without dealing with some incredibly difficult questions and overwhelming emotions. Justice was served, John was arrested and eventually convicted of his crime. He’d go on to serve a 7 year sentence, yet that did not resolve the loss. One of the things I remember most in the aftermath of that tragedy was the response of our youngest five-year old daughter. She’d lost her Grandma, who had been there at her birth and had so incredibly loved her, yet every day over the subsequent months, and with childlike faith, she’d pray for the salvation of the man who had killed her grandma.
What’s to be done with the wrongs we suffer? They are an inevitable part of life. People say and do hurtful things, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally. But they hurt. And we’ve a tendency to respond in kind. Hit me and I’ll hit you back. Speak evil of me and I’ll do the same to you. Gossip about me, and I’ll set the phone lines on fire doing the same in return. That’s the way things typically work in our world. Tragically, the result is as Gandhi once observed, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind” And sometimes instead of striking out in response to offenses we choose instead to hold on to them inside ourselves. Though we may do a good job of hiding it, inside we seethe with bitterness over some prior offense, big or small. The term translated “take into account” has to do with one’s thinking. Love does not preoccupy itself with a wrong suffered, but in the absence of love that’s exactly what happens. Faults have a tendency to grow in measure as one’s thoughts are captivated by them. Undoubtedly, this is why we are warned to “not let the sun go down on your anger” lest we give the devil an opportunity (Ephesians 4:26-27). In 30 years of pastoral ministry I’ve seen nothing work to cause more damage in one’s life than a person holding onto bitterness. Bitterness can cause immeasurable emotional, physical, and spiritual harm–in some occasions lasting for many years. It is as Marianne Williamson once said, “Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.”
We are prone to either ventilate or incubate our anger, but there is a better option availed to us in Christ. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. As the Son of God having come into our world, no one has ever deserved more and received less. Though He was without sin and never sinned, He was unjustly tried and convicted and crucified. It was our sins which put Him on that cross. And as He bore the sins of us all, He cried out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)! He did not take into account all the incredibly grievous wrongs He suffered! We believers have been so immensely blessed in His forgiveness. Our record of debt which stood against us, has been canceled out by means of His shed blood (Colossians 2:13-14). A mountain of debt in sin was swept away by His loving sacrifice.
How ironic then, that we would sometimes choose to refuse to forgive others. Indeed, the Scriptures admonish us, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). The term translated “forgiving” here means literally to bestow grace. It speaks of a deliberate act on our part in which we freely and unconditionally remit a debt owed to us. That’s what forgiveness does. It doesn’t ignore the offense. It doesn’t excuse the offense. It deliberately chooses to forgive. In his book “The Peacemaker,” Ken Sande outlines four promises associated with forgiving someone: 1) I will not dwell on this incident; 2) I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you; 3) I will not talk to others about this incident; and 4) I will not let this incident stand between us, or hinder our personal relationship.” That’s a good approach to follow
Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. Alexander Strauch shared this pertinent example: “Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross and known as the “Angel of the Battlefield,” was a remarkable woman of lionhearted courage and sterling character. Like any prominent person she had critics. When a friend of hers reminded Clara of the criticism someone had made of her work, Clara couldn’t remember it. Surprised, her friend said, ‘You don’t remember it?’ Clara’s response is classic: ‘No, I distinctly remember forgetting it.’”
Love does not take into account a wrong done against us. You’ve been immeasurably blessed in that way by the love of Jesus. You’ve been called by God to be forgiving of others, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. That’s part of what it means to love like Jesus!
To Forgive is the Most God-like Act We Can Do
Lord Jesus. Thank you for forgiving my sins! I remember that day long ago when I trusted in You and You swept my sins away–just like that. In that incredible act of grace and mercy You canceled out my debt of sin! And though my sins were great and many, I bear the guilt of them no more. How grievous then when I choose to refuse to forgive others. Forgive me for my unforgiving ways. Grant me the grace to behave as Your child. May others see in me, when I forgive, what is perfectly true in You. We are all prone to doing stupid things which cause harm to others, may the Spirit work to instruct and lead us along in Your higher path of forgiveness. Amen.