Human nature, being selfish, delights to return pain for pain, and betrayal for betrayal. We even calculate the amount of pain necessary not just to get even, but to send the message “Don’t mess with me again!” The old law of “Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” was an improvement over perpetual escalation, but it created an environment with a lot of toothless grins and the inability of most to see them very well. Returning evil for evil only adds to the total evil in the world.
In Christ we are commanded to “return good for evil.’ Jesus showed us how to do it when, on the cross, he took upon himself all the sins of a fallen and broken world, killed them and their evil power there, and spoke words of life – “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.” When Jesus rose from the dead, those defeated sins stayed in their grave. We are free from the power of sin, if we choose to believe it.
Now when someone sins against you, you are fully capable to take the pain and insult into your heart and soul, crucify it there, and make the decision to return good to the one who gave evil to you. The moment you make this series of decisions you are full of the new life of Jesus Christ. The one who receives good, in return for their evil, will likely be quite surprised especially if you have not been in the habit of forgiving for very long. But your decision to break the chain of sin and offer grace will put them in an awkward position. It is not an easy thing to return evil for good! Your forgiveness may be the gift that helps their heart open to the grace of Jesus.
Jesus would have us forgive others because we are asked. The power of the request is one of the greatest powers in the
. Ask and you will
receive, said Jesus. It shows tremendous respect for others both to make and to
answer the request, particularly the request for forgiveness. kingdom
Jesus would have us forgive others because we love. As Christians we are taught that we love because God first loves us. Therefore love (and almost all other virtues) is not a matter of our strong will, but rather of our proper response to the love and generosity of our Father. When we love others in response to God’s great love for us, we can easily offer good in return for evil because we truly have received good that is greater than any evil people can do to us. In light of the love of God, my returning good for evil is not incongruous, but to return evil to someone who wronged me, despite the amazing love of God in my life – that would be unimaginable.
Jesus would have us forgive other because he forgives us. People have a deeply ingrained tendency to minimize their own sin, while maximizing the sins of others. That is why we are often comfortable being hypocrites! But when we remember the tremendous gift of Jesus to forgive our sins, we cannot withhold forgiveness from others. The joy and relief for forgiveness fills our hearts and then flows into the lives of others who have sinned against us. Those who have been forgiven, forgive!
This prayer of Jesus should never be far from our lips… “Father, forgive them!”
- Kenny Payne