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14. Fighting to Forgive

Thoughts from my journey with JESUS.

There are several Bible readings throughout this chapter.

As Christian believers we are called by God to be attractively different from all other people around us. In His Sermon on the Mount our Lord Jesus challenges us with, arguably, the greatest need for the whole Church in South Sudan and Sudan today: not to retaliate when wronged, but to positively forgive. For the entire Body of Christ in the two countries to do this, every single one of us Christians needs to live this way, with no exceptions.

1) Please read Matthew 5:38-42; 7:1

Matthew 5:39 reads “But I (Jesus) tell you, do not resist an evil person”. John Stott comments, “Jesus does not deny that (this person) is evil. He asks us neither to pretend that he is other than he is, nor to condone his evil behaviour. What He does not allow is that we retaliate”.[1] The Good News Bible reads, “Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”.

All four examples Jesus uses are as relevant today as when He spoke them:

1. When you face personal violence, vs39,

“Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”

2. When you face property violence, vs40,

“Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”

3. When you face unreasonable pressure to do things, vs41, especially things against your Christian beliefs and practices,

“Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”

4. When you face heavy demands, vs42,

“Do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you”.

You will never satisfy yourself by taking revenge or avoiding positively kind actions.

In some tribes and cultures, perhaps especially among men, to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘hand over more’ or to ‘go the extra mile’ are perceived as weaknesses. Christians must turn away from that wrong view and always follow the Bible. Consider our Lord Jesus and how He demonstrated the Christian life. He was beaten, spat on, betrayed, framed in court, tortured, left alone and executed. But He never showed weakness. He displayed godliness, just as we should in His strength.

Jesus’ perfect Christian life was one of strong and steady self-control. May God the Holy Spirit reproduce in our lives that same fruit for God’s glory and praise. Recall God’s challenge to us from Galatians 5:22-25:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”.

2) Please read Matthew 6:9-15

Many congregations pray ‘the Lord’s prayer’ Sunday by Sunday. After uplifting God-centred worship in vs9, comes a focus on God’s ‘out-of-this-world’ kingdom, which we pray will soon come here to earth, vs10. Having asked for daily provisions, vs11, verse 12 introduces “forgiveness”. Do not let the familiar words come and go without seriously meditating on them.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”. The Good News Bible reads, “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us”. Matthew 6:12, (italics mine).

Because we want forgiveness for our own wrongdoings I wonder if, when we pray these words so regularly, we think more about the first part of the verse than we do about the second? Yet the second part of this verse in the prayer Jesus taught us to regularly use is a warning to me, indeed to us all. We must forgive others if we are to expect any forgiveness from God ourselves.

“It is a reminder that we should forgive others in the same way that we seek forgiveness from God, Matthew 6:14-15. Those who themselves know how to forgive will be more open to forgiveness from God and others”.[2]

I know I often need to be forgiven by God because I sin so easily. I am so relieved the blood of Jesus cleanses and purifies me from all my sin, see 1 John 1:7. But notice this, if God were to treat me as I treat someone I have not forgiven, it would do me real harm. I have no right to seek God’s forgiveness for myself if I refuse to forgive a fellow human being, who has been lovingly created in God’s image just like me, whatever he or she may have done to me, whoever he or she may be.

To ‘forgive’ means ‘to cease to blame or hold resentment against someone or something; to grant pardon for a mistake or a wrongdoing; to free someone from penalty, obligation, debt, payment”.[3] It is no mistake the word ‘forgive’ ends with the word ‘give’. To ‘give’ means “to present or deliver voluntarily something that is one’s own to the permanent possession of another or others”.[4]

The Greek word aphiemi has the idea of ‘to send away’.[5] Jesus uses it constantly in His lessons. To properly forgive we must release and set free the persons we hold things against. We must do it limitless times – not only once, see Matthew 18:21-22. Forgiveness is not a single instance event. Forgiveness is a lifetime’s process.

You are the only person who can truly forgive someone else for the wrong they have done to you. And you must do it! Do not take ‘the law into your own hands’ and seek to get your own back in whatever way you can. It is much better to take ‘Christian love in both hands’ and embrace your ‘enemy’ with that love. If you do not do this, who does it hurt according to Matthew 6:14-15?

“If you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins”.

3) Please read Ephesians 4:29-5:2

Paul uses mainly the word charizomai when writing about forgiveness. The Greek beginning of this word is the word for ‘grace/gift’. We need to ask God for His unending grace in order to:

  • help us forgive initially, and then

  • keep us forgiving forever.

We will not naturally live like this, but to be a Christian disciple who radiates our Lord Jesus Christ we must live supernaturally in the ability of the Holy Spirit.

We must let He Who is in us shine out!

Verse 32 is a bit like a sandwich. The bottom piece of bread says, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit’, vs30. The top piece of bread says, “Christ gave Himself up for us … as a sacrifice to God”, 5:2. In between the two pieces of bread is ‘the meat of the sandwich’: Ephesians 4:32, “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”, (italics mine).

Here we note again the strong link between forgiveness and the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We Christians are always to live as close to Jesus’ cross as we possibly can. The cross is the place of forgiveness, from where Jesus’ Himself prayed for those crucifying Him, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” Luke 23:34, (italics mine). His was a gentle but a piercingly pure Christian voice amidst the most awful violence that brought darkness in the middle of that day. His way of doing things in life and in death is ours to follow.

We need God to forgive us for so much so often. I certainly do. When the Holy Spirit troubles us about our sin then we must confess it to our Saviour and we will receive a refreshing, revitalising shower to reinvigorate our daily walk with Him. If we are not troubled by our sin we are in a very dangerous place spiritually because only confessed sin is ever forgiven. When we have become clean before God through confession of specific sin then we are in a good position to forgive those who we believe have wronged us.

Our Christian love becomes visibly expressed “just as in Christ God forgave you”, as we:

  • forgive ‘our enemies’, Matthew 5:43-45

  • set free those who owe us things, Matthew 6:12

  • show we are continually forgiven by God as we continually forgive all other people, Matthew 6:14-15.

This is the only way to renewal and revival in our personal and corporate Christian walk with God. As soccer teams, basketball teams, graduates on Graduation Day and even the army are marked out by their ‘uniforms’, so genuine Christian disciples are recognised by everyone around them as distinctly different in the way we handle having been badly wronged. It is how we show that we follow our Lord and Master.

4) Please read 1 Thessalonians 5:13-24

Verse 15 reads “Make sure nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else”.

Either side of this Paul refers to “peace”. Verse 13 reads, “Live at peace with each other”, and verse 23 “May … the God of peace sanctify you through and through”. Greek words for peace mean to be silent, to be still, calm coming from harmonious relationships between people.[6]

Two English language meanings of ‘peace’ are “a state of harmony between people and groups”, and “the absence of mental anxiety (that is, peace of mind)”.[7]

When we allow a spirit of unforgiveness to stay in our hearts we bring a niggling pain and hurt into ourselves. It is a bit like indigestion! It usually is just in the background but from time to time it flares up into something much worse which is not generally under our control. We are controlled by our pain’s timing and its seriousness.

The only way to be ‘healed’ of this is by offering the ‘loving forgiveness’ mentioned above. If you are not sure you can do this, then carefully read the last verse, 1 Thessalonians 5:24, “the One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it”. Trust your God!

I am not saying this is, or will be, easy. But I am saying this is necessary. Forgiving is not an option. Forgiving is essential. Every individual in Sudan and South Sudan (as well as everywhere else) needs to be forgiven and to forgive.

A good Christian lifestyle put into daily practice may win the soul of your ‘enemy’ to eternal salvation in heaven. Now think carefully: Is this not of much more value than merely retrieving your cattle, repossessing your fields or home, recovering your money, your burned books and other possessions, or even taking revenge for the life of your brother and the rape of your sister?

When the Bible says one thing and you are doing another, who is right? Scripture is God’s word. It is the word of the God you say you are trusting for your salvation, if you are a real Christian.

In the same sermon on the Mount where we started this chapter, our Lord Jesus warned that nobody can serve two masters, one earthly the other heavenly, Matthew 6:24. He said, “Seek first (your heavenly Father’s) kingdom and His righteousness” (italics mine), Matthew 6:33. This is the best way – I am suggesting the only way – to “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, Matthew 5:16. Forgiving others is certainly a good Christian deed.

5) Please read Luke 20:9-18

“This parable is often called “the parable of the wicked vinedressers”,[8] which assumes that the renters are the major players in the drama. But in its cultural context the vineyard owner is clearly the hero of the story. He exhibits makrothymia. This rich word refers to a person in position of power who can exact vengeance on his enemies but chooses not to do so. That is (literally) “he puts his anger far away”. In this parable the vineyard owner opts for total vulnerability in the face of violence. English has no single word for this virtue. Greek makrothymia and Arabic halim have such words. Patience, longsuffering, risk-taking, compassion and self-emptying together describe the vineyard owner”.[9] His attitude is similar to David who could have killed the murderous King Saul. He knew God wanted him to become king in turn, but he chose to spare Saul’s life, see 1 Samuel 26:9. At this moment in time David chose to put his anger far away.

During Herodian times landowners frequently lived a long distance from their estates. In Jesus’ story the tenant vinedressers provoked the owner to probable anger by rejecting his messengers bringing his legitimate demands. They even resorted to unjust violence. Retaliation could be expected – probably retaliation in kind. But is further violence from his position of power and rightness the only answer? No. The owner demonstrates it is not.

Outrageously against standard human logic the owner decides to commission his own son, and sends him alone and unarmed to collect the due rent. The implication is of amnesty if the rent is paid. Notice the son is sent in vulnerability not in vengeance. Neither father or son intend to bring retribution on the vineyard tenants. The son journeyed with respect, probably hoping for a good resolution and the resumption of good relationships between everyone. I think he was peacefully fighting to forgive.

Please allow me to quote an example from a book I read in November 2018. It concerns Hussein bin Talal, King of Jordan in the last decades of the 20th century. The event described was apparently confirmed to the author by a high-ranking American intelligence officer serving in Jordan at the time:

“One night in the early 1980s, the king was informed by his security police that a group of about seventy-five Jordanian army officers were at that very moment meeting in a nearby army barracks plotting a military overthrow of the kingdom.

The security officers requested permission to surround the barracks and arrest the plotters. After a sombre pause the king refused and said, “Bring me a small helicopter”. A helicopter was brought. The king climbed in with the pilot and himself flew to the barracks and landed on the flat roof. The king told the pilot, “If you hear gunshots, fly away at once without me”.

Unarmed, the king then walked down two flights of stairs and suddenly appeared in the room where the plotters were meeting and quietly said to them:

“Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalise your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousands of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed. That way, only one man will die”.

After a moment of stunned silence, the rebels as one, rushed forward to kiss the king’s hand and feet and pledged loyalty to him for life”. [10]

There is a cost in our call to be Christians. Part of that is to be willing to sacrifice ourselves in the overall good of things. When we deliberately do not forgive people for anything, we are refusing to pay the price we should pay.

  • Perhaps we are not willing to go against the worldly standards, or the family and tribal traditions expected by our community around us?

  • Perhaps we are too proud and cannot humble ourselves to approach someone we think has wronged us?

  • Maybe we are waiting for them to make the first move?

  • Perhaps we think that we are right in the dispute and we selfishly want to hang on to the ‘moral high ground’ rather than appear weak or guilty?

Whatever situation you face, remember that to forgive is to prove you are a genuine Christian, and a true disciple of your Lord Jesus Christ.

Originally written as BiMonthly Encouragement No. 51, January 2018.

More help on ‘Forgiveness’?

For further study see my website .

The following are also available as parts of printed books as well as being freely downloadable from the website:

‘The Christian response to persecution’ in

Issues Facing Christians in Sudan Today

published in Juba, 2009, in either English or Arabic.

‘A Christian response to persecution’ in

My Life Alongside God’s Word Volume two,

published in Juba, 2014, in English.

‘Why Jesus tells us to love our enemies’ in

My Life Alongside God’s Word Volume one,

published in Juba, 2013, in English.

’Do not repay anyone evil for evil’ in

My Life Alongside God’s Word Volume one,

published in Juba, 2013, in English.

‘Overcome evil with good’ in

My Life Alongside God’s Word Volume two,

published in Juba, 2014 in English.

Discussion guide

1. What makes ‘forgiveness’ so hard to give or receive?

2. Why do you think our Lord Jesus links God’s forgiveness of us directly to our forgiveness of others?

Matthew 6:12, 14-15; Luke 11:4. Try to look at it from God’s point of view as well as from ours.

3. God’s grace gives us the best resources to be able to forgive in all circumstances. Ephesians 4:32 reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”. 5:1-2 go on to speak of Jesus’ sacrifice. In what ways are these positive patterns for us to follow?

4. ‘Truly forgiving others is part of the price we must pay when following Jesus’. Share how easy or hard this is.

5. Read Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus told this parable in order to illustrate the number of times we should forgive anyone. Verse 35 reads, “This is how My Heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from the heart”. What are the differences between merely “forgiving”, and “forgiving someone from the heart”? List as many as you can. Give examples of both.

[1] John R.W.Stott Christian Counter-Culture (Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, UK) 1978, BST series, p.103-124. [2] Joe Kapolyo (Zambia) Africa Bible Commentary (Word Alive Publishers: Nairobi, Kenya) 2006, Matthew, p.1122. [3] Collins English Dictionary (HarperCollins: Glasgow) 1995. [4] Collins English Dictionary (HarperCollins: Glasgow) 1995. [5] W.E.Vine Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, USA) 1996 edition. [6] W.E.Vine Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Thomas Nelson: Nashville, USA) 1996 edition. [7] Collins English Dictionary (HarperCollins: Glasgow) 1995. [8] The Greek georgos can mean farmer, tenant or vinedresser. [9] Kenneth Bailey Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (SPCK: London) 2008, page 410ff. [10] Kenneth Bailey Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes (SPCK: London) 2008, page 418.


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