It is difficult in the heat of the hurt to remember that the payment for the wrong done to us has already been made. Christ covered it with His blood on the cross. But we’d still like a little “blood” here and now.
One of the most famous verses of the Bible is found in Matthew 7:12. There are probably lots of people who aren’t even aware that this well-known adage even comes from the Bible (and some who would reject it if they did know), but the so-named “Golden Rule” is a biblical principle that we shouldn’t forget. When we feel the burning desire to “get back” at those who have hurt us, it’s valuable to turn the situation around and ask ourselves how we would like others to treat us if we had been the ones DOING the wrong, rather than having the wrong done to us.
“So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
It is an interesting statement for several reasons. The first one being that such action goes against every instinct we have. We hardly ever react to a wrong done to us by considering how we would want to be treated if we had committed the wrong. As well, we might ask now such a statement “sums up the Law and the Prophets.” The Law referred to would have been understood by the audience listening to Jesus to be the Ten Commandments. These are laid out for us in Exodus 20:1-17 and summarized by Jesus in the statement recorded in Luke 10:27: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.”
But consider the Ten Commandments. How are they summed up in this Golden Rule?
If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will put Him first (Exodus 20:3).
If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will put no substitute in His place (Exodus 20:4).
If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will not treat His name like it was garbage (Exodus 20:7).
If I treat God as I would like to be treated by Him, I will respect the time He has designated to our special relationship and to my physical renewal (Exodus 20:8).
If I treat my parents as I would like them to treat me, I will respect them (Exodus 20:12).
If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will do them no physical harm (Exodus 20:13).
If I treat my spouse as I would like that spouse to treat me, I will not cheat (Exodus 20:14).
If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will not take anything of theirs that doesn’t belong to me (Exodus 20:15).
If I treat others as I would like them to treat me, I will not tell lies about them (Exodus 20:16).
If I treat others as I would them to treat me, I will not be jealous of what they have and I don’t (Exodus 20:17).
Suddenly it makes sense. We need to give what we hope to get back. So the question becomes not “What can I do to get my revenge?” but “What can I do to respond to this wrong in the same way that I would hope others would respond to my wrongdoing?” Some might balk at my use of the word “revenge” and prefer to say that what they want is “justice.” But the same truth applies. However you phrase it, neither revenge or justice is ours to seek. That’s God’s job. Ours is to respond as Jesus responded to the wrong done to Him.
And it is what we believe about God that helps us to put aside the instincts for revenge (or justice) and follow that “Golden Rule.” If we believe that God is sovereign, or in control of all things and all people, and if we believe that He is both loving and just, then we will be much more able to let go and allow Him to deal with whatever needs to be done to set things straight. The better we know the character and qualities of God, the easier it becomes to trust Him in every area of our lives.
The temptation to “get back” at those who hurt us is as natural as the instinct to squash an annoying mosquito. The temptation is often hard to resist—proportionate to the seriousness of the wrong done to us.
I Corinthians 10:13 tells us: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
Temptation is common, to be expected. None of us is above wanting to get our “revenge.”
The promise is that God will not allow anything to touch us that will produce a temptation that is beyond our ability to handle. That’s good—we know He’s in control. That’s bad because we can't use any situation that comes into our lives as an excuse to lose control. We can never say that we had to give in because it was impossible to do anything else.
The second part of the promise is that there is always a way out. We don’t have to yield to the temptation. We can endure it because there will be resources to deal with the instinct to “get back” at the person who has wronged us. What “way” He will provide is not defined. Every situation, every temptation, has its own unique quirks. The “way out” will be unique to the situation and the temptation.
In the book, Forgiveness Factor by Gary Thomas, Lewis Smedes is quoted as saying: “Some people view forgiveness as a cheap avoidance of justice, a plastering over of wrong, a sentimental make-believe. If forgiveness is a whitewashing of wrong, then it is itself wrong. Nothing that whitewashes evil can be good. It can only be good if it is a redemption from the effects of evil, not a make-believing that the evil never happened” (pg. 14).
We can never get away with pretending the wrong didn’t happen. Like the garbage, it needs to be dealt with and taken away. Forgiveness provides that “garbage disposal.”
But there is huge benefit to us when we forgive that we often overlook when we are caught in the throes of responding to the wrongs done to us. To not forgive is a sin. Like any sin, the unforgiving spirit is a sin that God can’t forgive until we repent and forgive. The addition to the Lord’s Prayer that we read in Matthew 6, clearly states this truth: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (6:14, 15).
So the freedom that comes with the forgiveness of our own sin hinges on our ability to grant that freedom to those who have sinned against us. That is a huge benefit to us because it means that our relationship with God has no barriers erected that would impact it negatively. We’re good with God.
Here are a few of the verses from Scripture that describe the benefits that comes from responding correctly to offense. Proverbs is one book in the Bible filled with short, pithy statements that give valuable advice on how to treat others.
Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”
Proverbs 12:2: “A good man obtains favour from the Lord, but the Lord condemns a crafty man.”
Proverbs 14:22: “Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.”
Peace, the favour of God, love and faithfulness are all positive benefits to a forgiving spirit.
Luke 6:27-36, part of the famous Sermon on the Mount, outlines Jesus’ teaching on how we should treat our enemies. The passage begins and ends with summary statements that define the believer’s response to wrongs done to him.
“...Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...love your enemies, do good to them...you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your father is merciful” (27, 28, 35, 36).
Tucked in among these verses is Luke’s expression of the Golden Rule (vs. 31).
What makes it possible to actually practice these principles, to be forgiving in and under the most extreme abuse? Romans 12:17-21 describes some of the actions of a person who forgives, but the beginning of the chapter tells how it is possible to do what is described.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Our surrender to God is key. We surrender to Him because of the great mercy He has shown to us by forgiving us. We could never have as much for which to forgive others as He had to forgive us. This surrender in acknowledgment of His mercy to us, implies a “death” to the old patterns of thinking and acting that characterizes our lives before Christ. That old pattern is gradually replaced by a new one—the imprint of Christ’s character on ours. As that happens our old responses to wrongs done to us are replaced by new responses. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (vs. 2).
His will, as far as our response to the action of those who wrong us, is then detailed in verses 17-21, ending with the summary statement: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Verse 20 of the Romans passage is a partial quote from Proverbs. In its original form the quote ends with “...and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:22). Any reward of the Lord’s has got to be good!
Most of us know the adage: “You are what you eat.” But more importantly, and accurately, we are what we think. Many of us don’t, thankfully, act on our thoughts. And somehow we come to believe that because we don’t act on those thoughts, it’s okay to think them! But the transformation to Christ-like behaviour begins with the mind.
For that reason Philippians 2:5 begins in the King James Version: “Let this mind be in you , which was also in Christ Jesus...” With the transformation of the mind, comes the change in attitude which results in a change in actions. In turn those changes allow us to treat others as we would hope to be treated ourselves.