What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
We might think for a moment, "Who are our enemies?" Many of us believe we have no enemies. However, an enemy might be someone we thought was a friend, a family member with a long-held grudge, or even a brother or sister in Christ. An enemy can be someone we feel does not like us and has hurt or mistreated us. Whether we consider them enemies or not, there is no denying their hostility. In the same verse, Jesus goes on to expand His list of hostiles: "Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you."
We have probably all been through this particular trial and test as we grow to love one another as brethren. The church is just like a big family, where people can be hurt or feel mistreated in one way or another. Conflicts, misunderstandings, and slights—real or imagined—occur in every group of human beings, Christian or not.
It is very difficult to "love," "bless," "do good," and "pray" for a person who has hurt us deeply. It goes against our human nature to behave positively toward someone we feel deserves shame, censure, and punishment! Putting this principle into practice is a high hurdle for any Christian to clear.
Yet, as Christians, we know that forgiveness is one of the keys that Jesus taught for healing. Not only is it a teaching—it is also a command. Christ admonishes us to keep this charge in His model prayer in Matthew 6:12: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Alternatively, it could be said, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us" (see Luke 11:4).
Jesus comments further on this in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
In Matthew 18:21-22, we find another example: "Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." In other words, we must always be willing to forgive a brother.
The Tongue: Our Tool of Power
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus links meekness with lowliness: "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle [meek, KJV] and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Ephesians 4:1-3 states:
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness [meekness, KJV], with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
The King James version is correct, as the Greek text uses prautes. "Gentle" and "gentleness" are incorrect because in this context they are only an aspect of the meekness we should express in our dealings with others.
In Matthew 11:29, Jesus is explaining why we should embrace His way of life. As our Lord and Master, He is not harsh, overbearing, and oppressive, but gentle in His government. His laws are also reasonable and easy to obey; neither He nor they enslave. He emphasizes the gentle aspect of meekness toward others. From this, we begin to see why meekness must be a virtue of those who will receive the Kingdom and govern. Because God governs in meekness, His children must also.
Ephesians 4 teaches how to build and maintain unity within a more social context, and here, prautes appears with humility, patience, forbearance, and love. Paul demands that, for unity to be built and maintained, we should receive offenses without retaliation, bearing them patiently without a desire for revenge. We are, in short, to have a forgiving spirit. Without it, we will surely promote divisiveness.
The association of humility and meekness is natural, and is yet another facet of meekness. Whereas humility deals with a correct assessment of his merits, meekness covers a correct assessment of personal rights. This does not in any way mean a lowering of the standards of justice or of right and wrong. Meekness can be accompanied by a war to the death against evil, but the meek Christian directs this warfare first against the evil in his own heart. He is a repentant sinner, and his recognition of this state radically alters his relations with fellow man. A sinner forgiven must have a forgiving attitude.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Meekness
Forgiveness is a matter of mercy and conduct. The Jews taught that a man was to forgive another three times but not four. Peter more than doubles this, asking if forgiveness should be extended so far. Jesus' answer tells us we should not limit our forgiveness to any fixed number. As often as a brother injures us and asks forgiveness, we should forgive him (Luke 17:4). It is his duty to ask forgiveness. If he does this, we have a duty to declare that we forgive him and to treat him accordingly. Even if he does not ask for forgiveness, we are still not at liberty to take revenge, but we should treat him kindly and do him good. It is a Christian's duty to forgive others (Colossians 3:13).
Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Jesus, really wanting to drive home the importance of being forgiving (Matthew 18:21), tells the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The story relates how a king, settling accounts with his servants, finds that one owed him 10,000 talents. Barnes' Notes, written in the late 1800s, estimates the value at $15.8 million! Christ's point, of course, is that no one could ever repay this huge amount. Spiritually, we owe Him far more than we could ever repay.
Normally, the servant would be cast into prison and his family sold into slavery until all was paid. But when the servant entreated the king to have mercy on him, the king, "moved with compassion," forgave the entire debt!
The forgiven servant then found one who owed him 100 denarii or about $15. This petty debtor begged for additional time to pay off the debt, but the servant, without mercy, had him jailed until all was paid. The king's other servants heard of this and told the king.
We can learn several lessons from this parable:
1. Our sins are very great.
2. God has forgiven them all.
3. By comparison to the offenses we have committed against God, our brethren's offenses against us are small.
4. We should be so appreciative of being forgiven that we freely forgive others.
5. We must forgive from the heart, not merely in words. When we truly forgive from the heart, it is as if no offense had ever occurred.
6. If we do not forgive, God is justified in not forgiving us.
John O. Reid (1930-2016)
No salvation is possible without forgiveness. Our Father cannot forgive our sins on the grounds of justice, and therefore He does so through His tender mercy. He has made Himself our God by giving us grace—undeserved favor. He passes by the transgressions of His people because He delights in mercy. He is so full of pity that He delays to condemn us in our guilt, but looks with loving concern upon us to see how He can turn away His wrath and restore us to favor.
Micah 7:18 adds, "Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger forever, because He delights in mercy." God is love, and love is kind, but perhaps our approach to His forgiveness has been prosaically legal. The Scriptures reveal that God does kindness with intensity of will and readiness of mind. He forgives with all His heart because He delights in mercy! He says, "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies." God's nature works to give mercy, not punish; to create beauty, not destroy; to save, not lose.
Can we not see a lesson in this? Are we anywhere near God's image in this? How many of us, fellowshipping among God's people, are hiding resentment and bearing the seeds of bitterness against a brother because of some offense—or carrying a grudge, or filled with envy, or communicating gossip? Are these things acts of kindness? Does a forgiving spirit that delights in mercy enter into acts that destroy a brother's reputation and widen existing divisions?
One other phrase in Luke 1:78 shows the kind and tender nature of our God: "He visited us." God did not merely pity us from a distance, nor did He allow His compassion for us to remain as an unresolved, inactive feeling. David writes in Psalm 8:4, "What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?" But God did just that!
Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For indeed he does not give aid to angels, but He does give aid to the seed of Abraham. Therefore, in all things He had to be made like his brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
God has not merely pitied us from a distance, but He has entered into life, our life, on our level. The Creator stooped from His high and pure abode as glorious God, and veiled His divinity for an abode of animated clay. He assumed our nature, was tempted in all things like us, took our sicknesses, and bore our infirmities for the express purpose of being a merciful and faithful High Priest. He did not enter into our world and yet maintain a status superior to us. He truly walked in our shoes and still went about doing good.
Christ, Paul adds in Galatians 1:4, "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father." Who knows how many individual acts of kindness—from the conception of the plan to its fulfillment—are contained within this simple statement?
This is the heart of God's nature. He generously and mercifully gives that others might benefit. Now, because of what He did, this nature is growing in us. By His Spirit He has taken His abode in us to enable us to work out our salvation, and as we yield, our lives are changing, gradually conforming to His image. He dwells in us despite all our provocations, stubbornness, neglect, and rebellions. How often we must disappoint Him, and yet as our High Priest and Intercessor, He stands ever ready to serve us with yet more kindness.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Fruit of the Spirit: Kindness
At this point, Jesus forces us to consider the story of the prodigal son's elder brother. The elder brother did not feel like joining his father's celebration. We can imagine that he was likely full of resentment that had built up over the years of his little brother's absence. The elder brother may have had to shoulder more of the work around the farm. What is more, his brother's reckless behavior probably tarnished the family name and caused both his father and himself anguish and pain, as they likely wondered if they were ever to see him again.
Perhaps the greatest source of resentment is exposed in verses 29-30, when the elder son responds to his father's pleadings. It is noteworthy that the elder brother refers to himself five times in verse 29. However, considering the circumstances, it is easy to understand his frustration. He felt betrayed, disrespected, unappreciated, and perhaps even unloved. He had likely just finished another hard day's work, made harder for all these years by his little brother's absence. He was not in a forgiving mood, nor was he ready to accept—much less celebrate—his little brother's return to the family. He had long since declared, “I am done with him!”
Ignorant of all the facts of his younger brother's difficulties, leading to his repentance and return, the older brother reacted with typical, carnal emotion. Instead of trusting his father, his emotional outburst, fueled by the same pride that had nearly destroyed his younger brother, led him also to sin against his father. In his anger and self-pity, he lost sight of what was truly important. In addition, he failed to recognize the futility of trying to change or control what others do. Therefore, he also failed to control what he did have power over—his attitude and response.
The lesson here is not unlike what is related in Genesis 4. Cain allowed his pride to fuel great resentment against his righteous brother, Abel. This pride transformed Cain into a miserable murderer. However, we should keep in mind that even without murdering someone, unchecked resentment can also inspire harsh words that have deathly power. Proverbs 18:21 admonishes us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”
It is helpful to compare the elder brother's attitude to that of the Pharisees and scribes, since Christ was aiming this parable directly at them. Just like these Jewish religious leaders, the elder brother was living and judging by the letter of the law, not by its spirit. By all appearances, the elder brother was righteous, but inside, where a person's character forms, he was teeming with hypocrisy and sin.
Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother
With admonitions like these, we step into the intimate personal relationships within a congregation or family. They show that unity depends more upon the exercise of the members' moral qualities than the structure of the institution. Paul shows in Ephesians that the life we are called to live is characterized by five qualities: humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and love, the last of which embraces the preceding four and is the crown of all virtues. Each of these qualities enables us to act in mercy and live at peace. God's Spirit empowers us to use these qualities to overcome the ill will and the bitter, passionate rages that lead to clamorous slander, destroying reputations.
Such ill will and rage hardly promote kindness, compassion, and acting in grace toward each other. "Acting in grace" is an acceptable translation of the Greek word, charizomai, rendered "forgiving" in Ephesians 4:32. Acting in grace catches the essence of how God has acted toward us and our sin against Him. And because He has forgiven us, we are commanded to forgive each other (Colossians 3:13).
Mercy begins with the way we feel about or toward each other and moves toward merciful acts. God loves us and has an outgoing concern for us. If God so loves us, then we ought to love each other (I John 4:11). Thus, we are bound to forbear with one another and act kindly, in mercy. Anybody focused on himself as the center of the universe will have a difficult time thinking kindly of others, and unity will be difficult, if not impossible. It is no wonder, then, why so much divorce occurs, as well as division in other areas of life. A focus on the self does not allow much room for humble, kind, and compassionate thoughts of service for others.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part 5: Blessed Are the Merciful
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