February 4, 2011
Forgive the Neighborhood Bullies?
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
"Were you guys ganging up and throwing things at him again?"
"Well, let's not do that anymore."
"What can you do?" said the other dad, turning to me. "You know? Boys will be boys. Not everyone is nice all the time. Your kid isn't perfect either."
Oh, the joys of neighborhood life among families who don't always share the same approach to parenting. No admission of wrong. No apology. No genuine reconciliation.
It's been a challenge at times trying to help our 8-year-old son (and ourselves) understand that we live in a sinful world in which things like this happen. There is still a struggle to respond in a way that shows God's grace to neighbors He has called us to reach. One habit that seems to bring about the right change in our hearts is to simply talk to the Lord about it as a family. We often close our day reciting "the Lord's prayer," which reminds us of our own sins as we say the line: "...and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
Thomas Watson, the great Cambridge scholar and Puritan preacher from the 1600s, wrote commenting on that phrase (in Matthew 6:12) "We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him." (body of divinity, p. 734). Going further (p. 734), he asks: "When do we forgive others?"
Answer: "When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them--this is gospel forgiving."
Watson, being the biblical scholar that he was, did not derive his answer from thin air. Each part of it comes straight from Scripture:
- Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."
- Don't seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 1:15, "See that no one repays another with evil for evil…"
- Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, "Bless those who curse you."
- Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles."
- Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."
- Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
- Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him."
It's great when there is peace in the neighborhood. But we can't always count on it. Our battle with unforgiveness needs Watson's biblical counsel and God's grace.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
In what situations are you tempted to harbor unforgiveness?
How does God look upon unforgiveness? (read Matthew 6:15).
Is there a situation in your life today in which you can apply "gospel forgiving?"