I don’t mean to panic anyone, but there are only 40 shopping days until Christmas. I’m okay with that. I’m a little surprised that November is half gone already. And, I am surprised that we are fast approaching a new year. But, counting down the days to Christmas? Not this cat. I can appreciate the anticipation that some people have for Christmas. It’s a great time of year, worthy of working out any personal hang ups we may have. It’s a pity that some dread Christmas because of family strife and resentments. Certainly, some families are battle zones, whether currently active or old and strewn with dead bodies. Even so, as Christians, we are to work through pain and bitterness with the blood that Jesus shed for us. We really have no excuse for harboring ill will.
Not that I have come to perfection in this matter, mind you. But, I have come a long, long ways. Therefore, I can attest to you the benefits of working these matters out within the confines of our minds and hearts. But you say that I don’t know your situation. Here’s the plain truth. You will be able to come to peace with most people. Some you won’t. Fewer still are those that are best avoided. But before we can figure out who is in which category, we need to settle the issue in our own mind.
This is no easy task. For some, hard-feelings toward others have become such a stronghold that they go to their grave hating people they should love. I have had many relatives that hate each other, some hating me, and some that died carrying that hatred to the grave. I grew up in a divorced home and am raising my children in one. I’m more experienced in strife than I wish. However, I think I have come to terms with all, within my own soul, that I am at peace with all. Does that mean that all is well and everything is wonderful? No, it doesn’t. Some relationships need to remain very distant. Yes, “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) This doesn’t mean we have to try make something wonderful out of every relationship. Others are won’t allow it. Quite frankly, some you shouldn’t even desire to try.
All this starts with serious self-examination. Do I have wounds that I am overlooking or ignoring? Remember what airline attendants tell you? Put your own mask on before helping others. The work of forgiveness starts inside our own head. Have we harmed others? Then we likely are feeling shame. We may mask that with all sorts of behavior, from anger to co-dependency. We may let people take advantage of us. Shame is something that is dealt with inside our own heads. It starts with the promises of God. Let’s take a look at a couple of these:
1 John 1:8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
I’ll bet you didn’t think I would start with that one, did you? The fact is, none of us is without burden with regard to relationship strife (apart from some victims of violence or abuse). It may be something so simple as you have held resentments towards someone who hurt you for no reason at all. That resentment, in itself, is a sin that needs to be dealt with. How? Start by bringing it to God. Next verse.
1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Sincere heart, forgiven sin. Simple as that. Most likely you will then be led to do something about your wrong and confess it to the other person. That’s the step that few people take, but it’s absolutely necessary. Now, we can think of tons of circumstances and people to whom we should not ask forgiveness. Trust me, there are ways of dealing with all of them. What IS necessary is for you to be prepared to make amends. Get it straight in your head what your fault is and that you must make it right. That likely will mean asking that person for forgiveness. Yup. It also may mean making good harm done, like repaying stolen money. Ask God to prepare you and be willing to follow his prompt. For me, it happened as I drove by a man’s house. I got this overwhelming sense that I had to stop in, then and there, and apologize for something I did over thirty years before. Out of the blue. I can tell you this, I am grateful for that moment. God’s timing.
Here’s the deal. Some people will forgive you. Some won’t. It’s important that we sweep our side of the street. That’s what God expects of us. God will deal with the other person. That’s not your concern. You and I need to obey God despite what others may do or think. Right?
The next step, after confessing our own sin, is to forgive the other person. Completely. Yes, I said completely. And forever. If you don’t think this is serious business, read what Jesus taught to his disciples on the Sermon on the Mount:
Matthew 6:12-15 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you do not forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
We don’t say verses 14-15 when we say The Lord’s Prayer, but we should. These are harsh words coming from Jesus. Very serious words. And, no, they do not contradict 1 John 1:9. I believe that you and I are forgiven past, present, and future sin at our moment of salvation. What I believe Jesus to be saying here is that believers WILL forgive those who trespass because God has forgiven. Our Father WILL get you to forgive all offenses. We have a choice – either with the staff or the rod. Trust me, God will deal very harshly with his sheep who refuse to forgive. First, you lose your joy and all the other fruit of the Spirit. If that doesn’t persuade you, he will use harder and harsher means. God will be obeyed. My recommendation is to do it the easy way and settle this issue of forgiveness quickly. You cannot escape this theme that runs all through the bible. Forgiveness is mandatory.
Does that make everything better? Probably not. Then, again, maybe it will make all the difference in the world. Your forgiveness may be the very act God uses to turn somebody’s heart to him. Don’t think that hasn’t happened before. So, how do we do this, once we’ve settled it in our minds that we have forgiven? Do we tell the other person? Probably not. My advice is to acknowledge forgiveness only when asked. Let’s face it, most likely the other person doesn’t thing s/he has done ANYTHING wrong. In fact, they will likely think YOU are the one that should be asking forgiveness. No, forgive them in your heart and mind and keep your mouth shut until asked. Your kindness will show through, however, and your message will get across.
After that, some doors need to be closed. Permanently. As in giving Jesus the key. If he wants that door opened, he’ll open it. Until that time, consider it locked forever. What do I mean by this? Quite simply, there are some people that will continue to take advantage of you and abuse any relationship you have with them. Folks, this may be the hardest part of all this because it is so hard to recognize. We desire love and acceptance from people, especially family (or ex-family), that we keep ourselves exposed to abuse. We may not even recognize this, but it can cause us incredible pain and allow us to make stupid choices. We may need to get wise counsel on this. One indicator is pain or anxiety. Might it be affecting other healthy relationships? You get the idea. It’s not easy letting go of some people, even people who hurt us. That, my friends, is because we aren’t looking at things through God’s eyes. As a believer, you are precious beyond measure. Trust me, there are times when he puts you onto the battle field to take abuse, but all too often we are there, not under his orders, but by our own sinful desire. That is foolishness. God will allow that, but he certainly doesn’t desire that for you.
Abuse is serious business. It’s not just about a man slapping his wife around. Abuse is taking advantage of another person. Abusive people harm others. Abusive people tempt believers to sin, even simply the sin of allowing themselves to be taken advantage of. They may talk us out of our money, our sexual purity, our hearts. This is serious, serious stuff, folks. Several verses come to mind. Let me share a couple and be done for the day. Make no mistake, God is very protective of his precious children.
Hebrews 10:29-31 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.
Luke 17:1-2 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
Friends, we most definitely sin against our God when we allow abusive people to take advantage of us. We are tempted by the abuser to come back for more, with lies, deception, and broken promises – all footprints of Satan. Why would we do such foolishness as to let this happen? Call out to God and put a stop to it. Shut that relationship door and give the key to Jesus. You’ll only get more of the same if you keep it open even a crack. Don’t worry about whether or not God will come to your rescue. Read Psalm 18 as your homework.
One last mention. Sometimes the one who needs forgiveness the most is ourselves. Accept Jesus’ forgiveness for any and all sin. He died for you so that you may live abundantly. Thrive because of this.
Father, there is much more to be said about all this. Let us be students of your teaching. Let us dig deep into your Word, drink deeply from your spring, and feast on your banquet. Let us settle this issue of forgiveness and shut doors that need to be shut. Let us cultivate holy relationships and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are eager to hear it. Let us not concern ourselves with abusers. We trust you even with that. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Scott Powers