“The biggest breakdown in offense and forgiveness isn’t God—it’s our unwillingness to cooperate with the authority and truth of God’s word.” Jimmy Seibert //
Relationships with friends, family, spouses and even our enemies are tricky. Friendships are messy, family is family, and well, there may be a list of enemies that we keep. As we move throughout life, accumulating relationships, we also gather something else: offense. It’s as old as Adam and takes root deep within us, often left untended and stuffed down. Offense can sprout from one snide remark from your spouse or the betrayal of a close friend.
If we’re honest, we all probably keep a list of everyone who has wronged us, always ready with a full account to argue our case with God. The problem with keeping debts, taking offense and letting pains accumulate? Offenses will grow deep roots within us and keep us in a heart environment of unforgiveness and bitterness. If we continuously choose an offense-reaction in a broken world, we will adopt lies as truth and forfeit forgiveness. Choosing forgiveness and taking practical steps toward reconciliation is really, really hard. But not as hard as the reality of how unforgiveness on our account keeps us from healing and experiencing God in His fullness. How, then, can we find breakthrough in all of our relationships and manage our hearts for offense?
1. Pray. It’s not a cliché first-step or an after-thought; prayer and forgiveness is a daily process to keep our hearts from clinging to offense, between you and other people, and even you and God (Matt. 6:11-14). The process is daily because we are offended daily, and little wounds can become big wounds if left untended. If we make forgiveness a daily habit, we actively acknowledge a wrong against us (or a wrong we committed) and are able to choose the response of forgiveness or repentance. We also get to step into praying for our enemies; forgiving someone from a distance is one thing—and it’s a good thing! But, praying for blessings, grace and mercy over our enemies is another, and it’s one that forces more intentionality and spiritual maturity on our part (Matt. 5:43-45).
2. Hold onto the Promises of God. The biggest breakdown in offense and forgiveness isn’t God—it’s our unwillingness to cooperate with the authority and truth of God’s word. The word of God keeps daily blows of offense from a broken world from coming in as truth. If we are going to fight against offense and build strong relationships, we need to know the word of God and know that it is true for everyone. The sin that lives in me is the same sin that lives within my worst enemy and only the truth of the cross is enough to cover us both. Forgiveness isn’t effective if it’s only for me—forgiveness is effective because it is an extension of the Gospel and applies to everyone, every time, no matter the sin (Col. 3:12-15). That is not to say sin doesn’t have very real consequences, but God’s grace is true, and forgiveness allows for full restoration to begin within us.
3. Engage people. We engage God with prayer, but we also have to engage people knowing from the beginning that they will hurt us. We are always going to get hurt because we live in a broken world, but the challenge is to forgive before we ever get the privilege of the whole story. As believers, we are called to bring reconciliation, and when we withhold forgiveness, we hinder reconciliation with others and in our own hearts. We are welcomed and encouraged to confront hurts with one another, but the moment we back away from relationships and build walls instead, we create a blockage for healing and reconciliation. Press into people and lead with forgiveness.
4. Fill yourself with truth. The last key to breakthrough in our relationships, and easily the hardest, is the personal change of being filled by the word of God instead of the words of the world. The world tells us we are justified in our reactions, validates our pain and divides us with a lack of repentance and lack of forgiveness. We keep lists and make sure we get revenge, forever cursing our enemies. The word of God argues in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, “Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”. Counter-cultural, to say the least, but peaceful and desirable in a world of sin.