My daughter and I were talking the other day about the biblical exhortation to do good to those who hurt you (Luke 6:27-36). It is a difficult thing for us to wrap our heads around but the scripture is clear. Even psychology bears witness to the reality that the unkindness which stems from unforgiveness is cancer in the soul, consuming and destroying everything in its wake.
Thus the Apostle Paul exhorts us to be angry and yet not sin, to not allow bitterness to take root in our lives (Ephesians 4:25-27). This is because bitterness leads to either depression or rage, and sometimes both. It is the natural expression of the soul when a person feels alone, abandoned and left to fend for themselves. But being natural doesn’t make it healthy. In fact, it is only natural in that when we are born separated from God we are born alone and therefore learn to mediate the circumstances of life in this way (Genesis 3:16). We most certainly were not created for such a thing. Yet it is only forgiveness and kindness to one’s enemies, flowing out of a heart that is trusting Yeshua for shalom, that can truly know freedom from bitterness, depression, and rage – Restoration of the Life that is truly Life.
But there are at least three other reasons to embrace this aspect of the Way of the Cross which are equally compelling and the first of those three is freedom from pride.
Sometimes we are hurt and so we lash out. But sometimes we are simply proud and in our pride are unwilling to see the hurt of the one who has hurt us.
That pride which blinds us to other’s pain and binds up compassion in us is what brought Lucifer down. For it is pride which leads to rebellion and the stubborn refusal to seek grace. Thus we are told that if we are unwilling to forgive others we will not be able to be forgiven ( Matthew 6:14-15). This is not a tit-for-tat threat from God it is simply an acknowledgment that when we allow pride to control us we will neither extend grace nor seek it. Embracing kindness and compassion, mercy and forgiveness, brings us freedom from this corrosive pride and ensures that our character is not the character of the Accuser of the Brethren ( Revelations 12:9-11).
The last two which my daughter and I discussed had nothing to do with the benefits of forgiveness and kindness for the one extending grace, but rather for the one receiving it.
First, the extension of grace through forgiveness and kindness to one who has wronged you invites them to experience the freedom of a new start. This fresh start offers them the opportunity to take on a new identity; to no longer be defined by their past. In this way, the Follower of the Way of the Cross becomes a conduit for the Redemptive work of Messiah wherein He makes all things new ( 2 Corinthians 5:17).
Second, the extension of grace through forgiveness and kindness to one who has wronged you invites them to experience the freedom to encounter God in you as the one who bears His Image following in the footsteps of the ultimate Image bearer. Like Abraham, the first to be called a prophet ( Genesis 20:7), and Moses after him ( Numbers 12) whose lives gave glimpses of the Messiah; we are meant to live our lives in such a way that we become intercessor and advocate for those who are still lost that they might also catch a glimpse of the God whose love for them put Him on a cross (Hebrews 4:14-16).
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.