Chapter One, Part One
The Art of Forgiveness
I hate being unkind and I don’t like it when I mess up.
Having said that, I know I am far from perfect and I will mess up. When I looked at I Corinthians 13:4-7 I realized now much I miss the mark.
I am human.
We are called to follow Jesus and love others but that’s not always easy.
In 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, we read, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Only Jesus/God truly loves.
The Apostle Paul wrote about the perfect example of love. We are to love others and offer patience, kindness, humility, honor, truth, trust, hope, and perseverance.
I’ve long thought that I can ask God to give me patience, kindness, humility, trust, hope, and perseverance, but I cannot conjure up those things by myself. I might last 10 minutes on my own.
The problem I run into when I’m trying to do the right thing is that without knowing it, I say the wrong thing and I end up hurting other people in spite of my good intentions.
When that happens and I figure out I messed up, or I find out from someone else that I hurt someone, I pray about it. I ask God to forgive me, and whenever possible I go to the other person and apologize.
I ask them to forgive me.
As hard as that is, it’s even harder when they won’t forgive me. I’ve had it happen both ways. I’ve been forgiven and I’ve been rejected. When I was rejected, I surrendered it to God. Remember, I know that I messed up and if they won’t allow me to apologize my only option is to forgive them for not forgiving me and let God take over.
I know that forgiveness (both ways) only happens when we speak to words, “I forgive them”.
That’s because forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a deliberate choice we make with God. We choose to forgive. When we do that, we put the matter in God’s hands.
We read in Titus 3:2 to “slander no one, to avoid fighting, and to be kind, always showing gentleness to all people.” I’m okay with being kind and gentle, but it’s pretty difficult not to slander anyone.
The Greek word for slander is blasphémeó and it means to slander, to speak lightly or profanely of sacred things. In my estimation that boils down to speaking the truth to and about others.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”
Considering others as being more important than yourself is a very counter-cultural stand to take in today’s world. That’s because it goes way beyond our Judeo-Christian norm of considering others equal to yourself. The scripture in Philippians says don’t be a rival to anyone. Do not be conceited. Consider everyone else to be more important than you.
Paul is saying we need to stand at the end of the line.
We are told to put every other person in front of us.
Let others walk ahead of you…
I think what Paul knew is that Jesus said (Matthew 20:16), “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.”
This verse follows the parable of the landowner who paid the same wage to the workers who came late in the day as he paid the workers who came early in the day. The workers who came early and worked all day thought they should be paid more, but the landowner paid the workers the same wage.
So it is with love and grace.
Whether you came to Jesus early or late, you both receive grace.
In Philippians Paul is telling everyone to put their brother first. The concept is that if everyone puts his brother first, we will live in perfect unity.
Because the Western world is primarily ME oriented we often read the scripture in Philippians as ME being the only one who is last. That is not Paul’s intent. He is saying if everyone puts his brother first, they will all live in harmony in a community that holds others in high esteem.
Using Jesus’ example in Matthew 20, we wouldn’t be bickering about every man getting paid the same wage…the same offering of grace.
The bottom line is, think of others.
Stop thinking about ME.
Love others and offer patience, kindness, humility, honor, truth, trust, hope, and perseverance.
When we all do that, we become a community of faith that is different than anything else in the world.
A Seminary Professor I had told the story from a book written by Rodney Stark. At the time he wrote The Rise of Christianity, he was a non-Christian sociologist who wrote about the early Christians. He wondered what differentiated the early Christians from other faith communities in the 1st Century. Stark’s conclusion was that when the plagues came, the Romans boarded up whole families and left them in their homes to die. They had no food, no clean water, and they were left to live in deplorably filthy conditions. The early Christians were willing to go into their homes to pray for them, feed them, give them clean water, and wash their wounds.
Do you know what happened? People who had the plague lived. Word got out that it was because the ‘People of the Way’ (the Christians) came, prayed, and cared for them.
The early Christians put their needs first.
They didn’t think of themselves. They loved the dirty, the sick, and the dying. They risked everything to offer the forgiveness of Jesus to them.
They risked their own safety in order to offer grace.
Today’s Spiritual Practice is: Offer Grace
Love someone who may not seem to be lovable.
In God, Deborah