Leviticus 19:18 (NIV)
Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
This is a very familiar verse … but do we really pay attention to what it says? Do we practice what is commands? Notice the text says “anyone among your people.” Do that mean within our church? Or community? Or country? In the context of the Old Testament, I believe this would have referred to the nation of Israel or the community of fellow Hebrews. They were called to love another as fellow citizens and heirs of the covenant. By implication, Christians, have a similar command to love another within the community of believers (brothers and sisters). (Cf. 1 John 3:16; 3:23) And so it follows, love does not seek revenge or hold a grudge against a fellow believer. Love goes beyond what our human nature … our sinful human nature … would seek to do when we feel wronged, harmed, or otherwise disrespected….
Paul shares with us “the more excellent way” to relate with one another:
1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.
What I sense is this really all gets down to the issue of forgiveness. And we need to examine how that manifests itself in our relationships with one another. Knowing our own imperfection and capacity for disobedience … our propensity to sin and miss the mark … our insensitivity to grieve the Holy Spirit … and yet we ask the Lord to forgive us our trespasses. Are we so self-righteous and better than others that we are unwilling to forgive someone who wrongs us … who wounds us … who is insensitive to our feelings? Jesus has some strong words for us in this regard:
Matthew 6:14-15 (NIV)
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
And consider the parable that Jesus shared in Matthew 18:21-35 – especially His commentary on the parable found in Verse 35. I firmly believe this is an area in our walk … in our journey of faith … that can become a major stumbling block for wholeness and healing in our own lives. The bitter roots of anger we often harbor against others at work or at church, or yes, even within our own families are destructive to no one but ourselves. And worse … we separate ourselves from the compassion of God we all need and pray to receive. And comparing the sin(s) of another to your own is a futile exercise. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) Consider these strong words of caution from the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:14-17 (NKJV)
14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; 16 lest there be any fornicator or godless person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. 17 For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.
Well, I just sense that there is a need for us to examine forgiveness. We need to forgive others and we need to forgive ourselves as well. The Apostle Paul had much to share in this regard, so I will end with his exhortations:
Colossians 3:12-14 (NKJV)
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NKJV)
31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.