Wrongs disguised as rights.
"You have the right to hate them after what they put you through."
"You have the right to be angry at him for what he did."
“You have every right to never speak to her again after what she said."
These are words we have all heard when we have been treated unjustly. When we confide in friends and relatives about our troubles, they often sympathize with us and reaffirm our right to nourish anger, bitterness and resentment toward others.
But wait, let's consider this. Are these “rights” scriptural? Does scripture affirm our “right” to hang onto anger, unforgiveness and resentment towards others when we’ve been mistreated?
No matter how hard we try to justify withholding forgiveness from others, deep down we all know this isn’t true. We all know that Jesus is mercy personified and was unwavering in his teachings on forgiveness. The word of God tells us repeatedly that we have no right to be angry, bitter, malicious or vengeful. The only God-given right that we have when treated badly is to forgive our neighbor from our heart. The only God-given right we have when we see faults in others is to overlook them.
In fact, the great evangelist, Paul, taught us that when we hang onto anger, bitterness and resentment, we grieve the Holy Spirit, causing Him great emotional distress, heartache and sorrow.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you,” (Ephesians 4:30-32).
Let’s examine scripture and allow our mindsets and attitudes to be washed clean and purified by the Word of God so that we may become truly holy.
“Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Jesus Generously Offers Forgiveness
Jesus generously offered forgiveness to sinners, stating simply “Your sins are forgiven,” (Matt 9:2, Mk 2:9, Lk 5:20, Lk 7:48). He said these beautiful words of mercy to the paralytic and to the woman weeping and kissing his feet, and was equally merciful to the woman caught in adultery.
He offered forgiveness to the thief at his side as he looked at him and said, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise,” (Luke 23:43).
He even indirectly prayed for the forgiveness of those who mocked him, insulted him, stripped him naked and crucified him saying “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34).
….and, in every moment, Jesus willingly offers the same generous forgiveness to us.
Jesus Teaches Us To Forgive As He Does
“But I say to who that hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” (Luke 6:27-28).
Jesus places no limits on his command that we extend forgiveness from our hearts, even to those we count as our enemies. Whether our lives have been marked by abandonment, abuse, criticism, injustice, war, kidnapping, addiction, adultery, betrayal, racism or other forms of heartless cruelty, his command is the same. We are to mirror the merciful heart of our Father in heaven.
“Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful,” (Luke 6:35-36).
Jesus Extends An Awesome Promise To Us
A wonderful reward of developing a forgiving heart is an assurance of divine forgiveness.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,” (Matthew 5:1).
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,” (Matthew 6:14).
“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses,” (Mark 11:25).
“Judge not, and you will not be judged;
Condemn not and you will not be condemned;
Forgive, and you will be forgiven,' (Luke 6: 37).
A Beautiful Example In The First Martyr, Stephen
Let’s give up our “rights” to be angry and bitter and instead follow the teachings of Christ. Let’s strive to become like Stephen who had the face of an angel (see Acts 6:15) and imitated Christ’s forgiving heart perfectly. As he was being stoned to death, Stephen “knelt down and cried out with a loud voice 'Lord, do not hold this sin against them,'" (Acts 7:59-60).
Just moments before his death, Stephen, “full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).
Is it possible that Jesus stood up to welcome Stephen into heaven because he had a forgiving heart that mirrored His heart? A standing ovation from Jesus Christ! That in itself is a wonderful motivation to practice forgiveness!
Let’s meditate on Christ’s teachings day and night, put his teachings of forgiveness into practice, and make our hearts so pure and loving that Jesus says to us: “You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you,” (John 15:3).
With his grace, we can forgive the unthinkable and receive indescribable rewards in heaven...and perhaps even a standing ovation!
**I highly recommend that you read “Total Forgiveness” by R. T. Kendall which gives the best explanation of forgiveness that I’ve ever come across. It has changed my heart immensely.