By 5th Grade, I had enough of the loud-mouthed short-statured classmate who sat behind me on the school bus. Year after year, he hurled hateful words at me that half the time I had never heard before. The other kids would snicker, mostly because they didn’t want to be his next verbal target. This Smurf-sized bully knew how to push buttons. I thought to myself, “Isn’t anyone going to do anything about this kid?” I did not have any soap or earplugs, but I did have a plan.
Now being as skinny-as-a-toothpick didn’t help me much, but I was taller than him by a mere foot, which in 5th Grade says a lot. I decided to stand up and stare him down. I could beat a blind man in a staring contest. My plan was not working, it was time for a quick plan: either I could turn my other cheek by sitting down in so-called defeat or wipe the smirk off his cheek. I chose the later. I charged to the back of the bus and started wailing on him. It did not take long before the bus driver took notice and slammed on the breaks. I flew forward. The bus driver marched to the back, grabbed us both by our shirts, and ushered us up to the front of the bus. We didn’t make it to our homes that day; instead, we both pouted as we waited for our parents at the bus barn.
Have you felt the cut of a sharp word, been scalded by a heated exchange, or battered by an abuser? The hurt from such situations should not be belittled since they can be so handicapping because the pain can be paralyzing. People do not like pain. There are two sinful responses when dealing with offenses: First, hiding the hurt by stuffing it into secret places. This person keeps their relationships under serious surveillance and is cautious to not get burned again.
Second, heaving the hurt back in hell-fury. This person pursues payback by inflicting more punishment fit for the crime, which in the mind of the offended will cause the offender feel their pain with hopes they will come begging for mercy. Have you ever played the board game Battleship? Doesn’t it feel good to get a hit, especially if your opponent got a hit on you? This is the reason why you are glued to your favorite reality TV show, which is built on the premise of backstabbing, one-upping, reckoning, and revenge seeking. Now, I am a fan of some reality TV shows too. However, retribution on our terms is always sinful, and sin never leaves you completely at peace. Only God can best play the part of God. It is not our prerogative to take out vengeance
Within both of the sinful responses to offenses above forgiveness was not a viable option, even if it was it may have been misused or misunderstood to manipulate the situation. Unforgiveness is controlling. Unforgiveness in a sense makes you like a dog on chain and your master is the one who has offended you. Forgiveness does not have strings attached, rather it is a willingness to treat the offense as if it never happened. A mark of new life in Christ is walking in forgiveness [v.24], and Christ is our example [v.32]. Here are four practical truths about walking in forgiveness:
1. Speak the Truth [4:25]. Unforgiving people love to latch onto lies, especially if they have been offended. There are three root reasons why people why—to get something they want, to enhance who they are, or to protect themselves. We would rather risk covering our tracks with a well-choreographed lie, than humbly speak the truth. Putting away falsehoods would make our offenses far less painful and more loving, since those who walk in new life speak the truth in love and do not follow the father of lies anymore [cf. 4:15; Genesis 3:1-4; John 8:44].
2. Solve Today’s Situations Today [4:26-28]. When you let the sun go down on your anger you do not deal with anger quickly. Not dealing with anger is not a way of dealing with it. Adding time to anger multiplies the problem. Sin loves to multiply itself with more sin. How does anger lead to sin? Unresolved anger leads to the sin of bitterness, rage, and wrath, which can continue the sinful snowball barreling down the mountain until the angry avalanche has left mass devastation.
Now is there such a thing as righteous anger? Yes, anger is not sin, “be angry and do not sin.” [cf. Psalm 4:4, Why would this psalm here be so important?] God created anger and the right use of anger. To have righteous anger is to have a deep seeded conviction about evil [v.27]. In other words, righteous anger doesn’t add to the situation, it seeks to solve as soon as possible after the offense before unrighteousness sets into the place anger. Those who walk in new life are timely problem solvers.
3. Slay the Problem not the Person [4:29-30]. Words can pierce people to their core. Words have caused wars and killed million [Proverbs 18:21, cf. Matthew 5:21-26]. “Corrupting talk” is when we use words to disintegrate others [v.29]. Like Goliath we have a big mouth that gets us into trouble, but the David championed over Goliath by letting God fight for him. David attacks the problem by trusting in the strength of his God, and God comes through with vengeance upon Goliaths injustice.
Hurtful, harmful and hateful words do not only grieve you [Matthew 15:11], but also God [v.30]. Why? Each person is made in the image of God. When you murder another persons character it tarnishes the God who created them [cf. Isaiah 63]. You will have to stand before the throne of God and give an account of how you treat one another. Those who walk in new life in Christ build up, rather than tear down what Christ came to redeem.
In the book/movie, How to Train a Dragon, the Vikings made a living slaying the dragons and the dragons lived to slay Viking villages. As the movie progresses, Hiccup, a boy Viking, wounds a dragon, but does not have the heart to slay it. Thereafter a friendship between the boy and Toothless the dragon begins. What they both come to learn through their friendship is that the slaying between the Vikings and dragons was a big not as it appeared. This is also true in the arena of anger—the issue is not the one attacking you, but your self-controlled response to the attack. A gentle answer does turn away wrath, and an attitude of understanding can keep you far away from messy misunderstandings.
4. Stay Proactive, not Reactive [4:31-32]. In other words, act—don’t react. People have a tendency to justify our primary sin with a secondary sin [i.e. Genesis 3:8-13]. Fire does not put out fire, it just makes a bigger fire. When someone offends you firing back in anger declares the offender as the winner. Do not throw in the towel that easy.
Years later after the school bus brawl I had a similar situation occur, but this time it was on a larger scale within the church. Someone raised false accusations against me, which slandered my character. Instead of heading over to their house and letting them have it, I quietly confronted them in love and grace. In time, God did the fighting for me and I did not have to prove myself. I extended forgiveness to the offender as if the offense never happened. This is certainly something I could not do in my own power. The kindness of the God and the forgiveness that God had given me was used as an instrument of brokenness in this person’s life. Forgiveness is a mighty weapon of restoration in the hands of our powerful God [Romans 12:21].
Walking in forgiveness follows the example of Christ [v.32] by speaking the truth, solving today’s situations today, slaying the problem not the person, and staying proactive not reactive. Walking in forgiveness shines the light of the gospel to an unforgiving world [Luke 6:45].
What is a Christian’s motivation to forgive one another? Can someone be too sinful to not be forgiven? In Christ, you have the only pure motive to forgive one another and His death paves the way saying, “Forgiveness is available to all!” When Jesus was ushered to His death sentence as an innocent man He never defended Himself. It is not that He was a weenie or wimp, or that He was too cowardly to stand up to His accusers. He was, in fact, more courageous because He did not retaliate. He let God fight for Him. In the midst of unfair and unforgettable circumstances He remained kind, compassionate and forgiving [i.e. Isaiah 53:4-12]. He has forgiven your sins as far as the East is from the West.
Resources on Forgiveness: