December 8, 2009
Forgive the Neighborhood Bullies?
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors."
My family is blessed to live on a cul-de-sac where our seven-year-old boy freely rides his bike and plays for hours without having to contend with busy traffic. The contention he faces most often is unfortunately the unkind words and actions of the other boys around the block.
Knowing that our little guy isn't perfect, my wife asked our son after one recent occurrence if he had done anything to provoke the attack. "No, mom" he replied as he held the little spot on the side of his head where a hardened dirt clod missile had made impact just a few moments earlier. "He's just mean. I'm never playing with him again." She commended him for walking away from the fray instead of taking matters into his own hands—an impulse which generally tends to make matters worse.
While we have tried to help our son (and ourselves) understand that we live in a sinful world in which things like this happen, we still struggle to respond in a way that demonstrates the grace of the Lord to neighbors He has called us to reach. One habit that seems to bring about the right change in our hearts is to talk to the Lord about it as a family during nightly prayers. We often close our time reciting "the Lord's prayer," which gently reminds us of our own sins as we say the line: "...and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."
Thomas Watson, the great Cambridge scholar and Puritan preacher from the 1600s, wrote commenting on that phrase (in Matthew 6:12) "We are not bound to trust an enemy; but we are bound to forgive him." (body of divinity, p. 734). Going further (p. 734), he asks: "When do we forgive others?"
Answer: "When we strive against all thoughts of revenge; when we will not do our enemies mischief, but wish well to them, grieve at their calamities, pray for them, seek reconciliation with them, and show ourselves ready on all occasions to relieve them--this is gospel forgiving."
Watson, being the biblical scholar that he was, did not derive his answer from thin air. Each part of it comes straight from Scripture:
- Resist thoughts of revenge: Romans 12:19, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."
- Don't seek to do them mischief: 1 Thessalonians 1:15, "See that no one repays another with evil for evil…"
- Wish well to them: Luke 6:28, "Bless those who curse you."
- Grieve at their calamities: Proverbs 24:17, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles."
- Pray for them: Matthew 5:44, "But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."
- Seek reconciliation with them: Romans 12:18, "If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
- Be always willing to come to their relief: Exodus 23:4, "If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him."
Today, there was peace in the neighborhood. All the boys were getting along again climbing up the tree fort and playing on the rope swing in our backyard. This side of heaven, our battle with unforgiveness may continue to wage; but Watson's biblical counsel and God's grace form the right strategy of gospel forgiving.
Intersecting Faith & Life:
In what situations are you tempted to harbor unforgiveness?
How does God look upon unforgiveness? (read Matthew 6:15).
Is there a situation in your life today in which you can apply "gospel forgiving?"