The Second Commandment
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
We live in a world of hurt people. We have all been the victims of unkindness. We know what it is like to be treated poorly. Usually we can shrug off disappointment and forget offensive behavior, but occasionally the pain goes deeper. What should we do when the wound is lasting and the damage is deep? Jesus only gave us one option. We must love. Jesus compared loving others to loving God. He was actually quoting a great command from the law.
18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
In context, we see that love requires us to forgive. We can’t take vengeance or bear a grudge if we truly love. God in His goodness gives us many gifts, but He has reserved vengeance for Himself. “Vengeance is mine saith the Lord.” It is His and not ours to take; we must give what we can, the gift of forgiveness.
37 “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.
As a teacher, I’ve noticed that the students that proclaim the loudest how sick they are of drama at school are almost always the most dramatic. In like manner, many times the most critical people are also the most easily offended. The quickest and easiest way to be labeled as a hypocrite is simply expecting to be treated differently than how you treat other people. The Lord must feel the same way when we ask forgiveness but choose to hold on to anger and malice.
Jesus revealed the importance of the second great commandment and the priority that the Lord places on it when He was teaching the disciples how to pray. The focus of prayer is primarily on God. The Lord’s Prayer is all about who God is and what He does except for one line. One line turns the attention back to what we are expected to do. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This is intentionally stated because God’s promise of forgiveness is conditional on our willingness to forgive those that have wronged us.
25 “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26 But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
It is so easy for us to justify holding a grudge.
“They were in the wrong. I’m innocent.”
“If you only knew what they did. I have a good reason to be offended.”
“They have proven exactly what kind of person they are.”
The fact still remains that Jesus said to forgive anyone of anything so that the Father may forgive us. Is He asking our permission to forgive us? God is bound by His word. He will not forgive if we don’t forgive. It isn’t His will for any to perish. To put it another way, He is dying to forgive you. Yet there is one thing that will stop even the blood of Calvary from being effective in your life. The issue isn’t whether God wants to forgive us; the issue is whether our lack of forgiveness will allow Him to.
Unforgiveness will keep you out of heaven. No amount of sweet prayers of consecration will atone for a bitter heart. No amount of sacrificial giving will atone for holding on to a grudge. Jesus must be the Lord of your life and your hurt feelings.
17 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
There is no such thing as heaven on earth. As long as you remain here, offense will come. This doesn’t marginalize the seriousness of offending. God has claimed the right to avenge the innocent. It would be better to have a millstone around your neck and to be thrown in the sea than to face His wrath!
After first addressing the offenders, Jesus tells His disciples to take heed to themselves when a brother sins against them. Isn’t this funny? God is focused on the offender, but we must focus on ourselves. We can’t control what happens in our lives, but we are solely responsible for our responses. Too often we return evil for evil, cursing for cursing, and offense for offense. In doing this, we place ourselves under the same judgment. When we choose to retaliate, there is no longer an innocent party.
There is an appropriate response and it doesn’t involve sinning against our brother to repay him for his wrong. Paul said that when you sin against your brother, you sin against Christ also. Proverbs 6 lists a series of sins that the Lord hates. People that sow discord, you know, cause problems and keep a situation from resolving, are listed right along with those that kill the innocent.
Jesus instead instructed us to address the situation and attempt to resolve it. He didn’t say to address it on Facebook. He didn’t say to address it with your friends. If you can’t move past an offense, approach the offender. If he repents, forgive him.
On a side note, never take problems between believers outside of the body of Christ. The scripture declares that it is better to suffer from wrong doing than to take our problems before the world. We are the Christ that they see. You remember Jesus Christ don’t you? He is the one that said, “Father forgive them.” We have to represent Him. He died reconciling the world and passed that ministry on to us.
Let’s face it; there are some people that are repeat offenders. They are not content to simply stab you in the back. They daily plunge the knife in a little deeper. How many times must we forgive?
21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
Four hundred and ninety isn’t some magic number. The Lord was simply trying to convey that we must grant forgiveness much more than we are inclined to believe is appropriate or deserved.
Jesus demonstrated why undeserved forgiveness is expected from us in the parable of the servants. A servant owed a debt to His master that He could not pay. He fell down and begged for mercy. His master, the king, showed him kindness and forgave him. He left the presence of the king, where he found mercy and grace, and found another servant that owed him. He refused to forgive this much smaller debt. When the king found out, he was angry. The servant that had been forgiven was credited back all of his previous debt that the king had initially forgiven. Jesus concluded the parable with a warning in Matthew 18:35.
35 “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.”
How many times has God forgiven you? Have you misrepresented him? Have you been unfaithful? Have you disappointed him? I can say that he has forgiven me of more than I could ever recall or repay. According to Christ, the full penalty of that debt of sin that has been forgiven will be required of me if I refuse to forgive those that wrong me. This is not lip service forgiveness. This must come from the heart, a heart of love.
What will your response be to offense? There are only two choices. You will either choose forgiveness or bitterness.
14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled
We must pursue peace. When it isn’t easy, pursue it. When you struggle to look past hurts, pursue peace with all people. When you have been disappointed time after time, pursue peace. If you don’t, you can fall short of God’s grace. God’s amazing grace that is greater than any sin that you commit can't reach sins against you that you refuse to forgive. It just takes a little root of bitterness to completely defile you and to destroy your relationship with the Lord.
The old saying is true, “Bitterness does more damage to the one in which it is stored than on the one in which it is poured.” Sadly, I’ve seen people eaten from the inside by the strong acidic burn of a wounded and unforgiving spirit.
You can’t fulfill the first great commandment of loving God and neglect the second commandment to love and forgive your neighbor.
1 John 4:20-21
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? 21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
I’ve heard people say, “I have to love him, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like him.” Others have expressed, “I can forgive, but I won’t ever forget.” Does this sound like Christian love? How can you prove that you really love someone?
1 Peter 4:8
8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”
True love covers a multitude of sins. True love forgives. True love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13
13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. 4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails...
The answer for a wounded spirit is simply self-sacrificing love. It doesn't matter how great the hurt, love never fails.