The famous “Golden Rule” based on Luke 6:31 tells us to treat others in the same way that we would like to be treated. Edwin Markham said: “We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” How true, but how difficult.
The problem with not following this excellent advice is that evil perpetuates evil. All we have to do to prove this statement is to read the newspaper or watch the news. We do indeed eventually reap what we have sown.
Proverbs 20:22 tells us clearly directs us: “Do not say, ‘I’ll pay you back for this wrong!’ Wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you.”
But the New Testament takes this instruction even farther. It is hard enough not to look for “pay back” and to wait for the Lord to sort things out, but Paul adds the Golden Rule to the equation.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good” —Romans 12:17-21.
Did you see the progression?
Don’t look for a way to get revenge.
Live at peace with everyone as much as it is possible to do so.
Let God avenge the wrong done.
Do to your enemy what you would want him to do for you if you had wronged him.
Don’t let evil vanquish you, but let your good response vanquish evil.
Did I leave one out? We like the idea of heaping “burning coals on his head” but that phrase is not what it seems. The shame that comes to those who have wronged us when we treat them with love and compassion, like the burning coals, has more impact than any act of revenge ever could.
Payback and seeking revenge are two actions that we are instructed to avoid. The assurance we have is that God, who sees everything, will make sure that wrongs are righted, in His own way and in His own time, and so that He will be glorified.
HOW COULD THEY…? DID YOU HEAR ABOUT?
The devil is in the details so it is said and, while most of us are not into physically abusing those who have done us harm, there are more subtle ways to get back at those who have wronged us; ways that we find easier to justify when it comes to actions that reflect a lack of forgiveness.
The book of James is a key resource when it comes to dealing with one of the actions that demonstrates a lack of forgiveness. When our spirits are not right with another person it is probable that our conversation about that person will not be right either. Jesus spoke plainly about the problem in Luke 6:45 when He said: “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
James deals with this problem of the tongue in chapter 3.
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a relentless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (3:2-10).
Jesus spoke strongly against allowing the tongue to be used as an instrument to punish another person. He likened the tongue’s misuse to murder. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, recorded for us in Matthew 5 through 7, the Lord says this: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry [the attitude] with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says [action] to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, [action] ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:21, 22).
“Raca” is a term of contempt. But notice that both James and Matthew include a reference to hell! These are strong words which remind us that what our tongues say is taken very seriously by God. The attitudes, and the actions that often accompany them that indicate an unforgiving spirit, must be dealt with by us or they will be dealt with by God.
The Old Testament book of Proverbs is another place where we find much instruction on the evils of the tongue. Take Proverbs 26 for example.
18, 19 “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’”
From this we assume that the man said or did something that reflected a bad heart attitude and then tried to cover it up by lying.
20, 21 “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.”
22, 23 “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart.”
24-26 “A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit. Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart. His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”
A unforgiving attitude will eventually reveal itself. But in any case, to say one thing and to feel another still offends God, who views the pleasant words covering an unpleasant attitude as lying and deception.
28 “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
Slander is tucked in-between some other nasty stuff in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, reminding us again that an out-of-control tongue is considered a major evil.
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The snide comments, the gossip, the “put-downs,” even the prayers that we sanctimoniously offer on behalf of people that include information that doesn’t need to be shared with others since God already is aware of it, are “easy” sins for us to commit. But they convey something within us that isn’t right, and that often includes an unforgiving spirit.
What should our words sound like? What should come out of our mouths?
Ephesians 4:29-5:2 tells us what should characterize the person who demonstrates a forgiving spirit.
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
The outer action is a symptom of an unforgiving spirit. We need to search our hearts and allow the Spirit of God to search our hearts for anything that might drive us to an inappropriate and sinful action.
As David reminded us, opening ourselves to the God’s searchlight is critical to moving towards a forgiving spirit. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23, 24).