An acquaintance of mine used to say, “We don’t get mad, we just get even.” That attitude would be likely to cause some relationship problems in his life. By contrast, the Scripture tells us the right course when we are hurt, offended, personally attacked, etc. — that is, “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
God’s Word tells you how He wants you to respond to personal offenses: “It is to [your] honor to forgive and forget a wrong done to [you].” Ask yourself: “How do I react when someone offends me?” If your first response is to get angry and to seek to justify yourself, you’re on the wrong track. That reaction will almost certainly contribute to some degree of breakdown of the connection between you and the one who has upset you.
What I encourage, in light of our key verse above, is that you choose to forgive
Our Savior Jesus Christ was in the agonies of His crucifixion. Yet from the cross He prayed to His Father in heaven, “Father, forgive them.” The 1st-century Christian martyr Stephen, literally as he was being stoned to death, cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” The grace and nobility of these two responses amaze and inspire me.
Just think of some damaged relationships in your life. Would they get worse or better if your attitude was that of Jesus: “Father, forgive them; I forgive them,” or of Stephen: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them; I forgive them.” Neither Jesus nor Stephen waited for them to repent and ask forgiveness. No, they simply chose to forgive! They chose to overlook the offense. And their example should encourage you today to do the same with that person or persons who have hurt you, perhaps even deeply. Jesus encouraged us when wronged to “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39). He did exactly that on the cross. He didn’t retaliate, He didn’t hold bitterness, He forgave.
I like the ESV translation of our key verse. It emphasizes our main point about it being to our glory to overlook offenses. But it adds helpful context. It says it is “good sense” to do so. And that good sense will help us to be “slow to anger.” That’s critically important. You see, here’s how a relationship often breaks down: (1) someone offends you, hurts you; (2) anger rises up within you; (3) you seek vindication, self-justification; (4) and that attitude allows a rift to continue between you and the one who has offended you.
The better reaction is to let “good sense” cause you to take a deep breath. Don’t react quickly. Control your anger and ask the Lord’s help to calm you within. Then make a deliberate choice to overlook the offense, to forgive and forget it. All this can happen in just a few seconds, and the results can save a relationship!
This is a major key to a good marriage — that is, to overlook offenses, to be slow to anger. Many years ago my pastor in Anchorage shared a pearl of godly wisdom. He said that one key to a wonderful marriage — which he and his wife had — was to “carry a readiness to forgive around the house.” We husbands and wives are human, we’re mortal, we’re imperfect people. Even small, accidental misunderstandings or miscommunications can occur. If left undealt with, they can fester and cause relational tension. But if each spouse’s immediate reaction to these hurts is to overlook them and to forgive and forget, they have gone a long way towards enjoying a very happy, mutually supportive marriage.
Our key verse (ESV) exhorts us to be “slow to anger” in our quest to consistently overlook and forgive the offenses of others. I am personally tested in this regard every day of my life. Where? On the roads of our city (I think I sense among my readers a few reactions of “Uh oh, me too!”). The Lord in His infinite wisdom gives me opportunity every day to practice overlooking offenses as I drive my car from place to place. People cut you off, they honk with road rage, they might dawdle along at 33mph in a 40mph zone when you’re needing to get somewhere quickly. These and other irritating things can test our being “slow to anger.” I’m learning to thank the Lord for these tests and to treat them as a daily opportunity to practice overlooking offenses. As I unilaterally forgive bad, crazy, or rude drivers, they might never know I did so, but I will benefit! Each of these instances is an opportunity, if I react properly, to grow in grace and in Christian character. Each day, as you take the wheel of your car, determine to be slow to anger and to overlook other people’s wrongs. You’ll be surprised at how much better you begin to feel about those other people who share the road with you.
If a brother (or anyone) defrauds you, consider allowing yourself to be defrauded rather than pressing the case. Two personal examples come to mind.
Years ago I had the privilege of recording some bilingual sessions for a video Bible curriculum. Our English-to-Spanish translator and I were talking about forgiving offenses. He told of his having a home built in his hometown in Mexico. One of the workers, sad to say, stole from the translator a nice set of tools. His response? The next day he assembled the workers on the job site and said to them all (my paraphrase), “I know one of you stole my tools. I just want to say, ‘I forgive you’.” He didn’t identify and embarrass the thief. He just chose to forgive and forget. He “accepted [the] wrong.” He “let himself be cheated.” I was greatly impressed by his Christlike reaction to the offense.
Many years ago in Alaska I was cheated out of $150 each by a fellow worker and a local chef. They never repented and never tried to repay the debt. The Lord impressed this overlooking principle on my heart, and I was able to work through to unilaterally forgiving them. I never saw either of them again after they defrauded me, so this is not an example of a healed relationship. But there was healing. Where? In my heart. The choice to follow God’s Word and to overlook those two offenses freed me from any bitterness or anger. So there is always healing when we overlook wrongs done to us and just choose to forgive them. How? Our hearts are healed and cleared of any lingering anger or feelings of hostility towards the offenders. And in some (not necessarily all, but definitely some) cases, the relationship with the offender is saved and even improved by our choice of merciful forgiveness.
Joseph’s jealous brothers had wickedly seized him as a young man and initially thought to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. There God miraculously raised Joseph to a position in Egypt as second-in-command to Pharaoh himself. Joseph was the nation’s governor when his brothers came down from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain during a severe famine. In a series of encounters between Joseph and his brothers (who these many years later did not recognize him), he finally revealed himself to them. He could have been vengeful and had them imprisoned or worse for their crimes against him as a youth. Instead, Joseph chose to overlook his brothers’ treachery. He forgave them fully and invited them and their families and their father Jacob to move to Egypt from Canaan. They did so and lived comfortably for many years in Egypt under Joseph’s benevolent protection. [Note: this was before Israel’s later enslavement in Egypt]
Two main points can be seen here: (1) by overlooking and forgiving his brothers’ treachery, Joseph helped the line of their father Jacob to continue. This eventually led to the earthly birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus, who in His humanity was a descendant of Judah, one of Joseph’s forgiven brothers!
(2) This dramatic Bible account shows that even the most severely damaged relationships can be healed through forgiveness and the overlooking of even horrible transgressions. Ask yourself if there are any severely damaged relationships in your life. Can you overlook the cause of that bad relationship? Can you forgive and forget, even if the other party does not? Then there is hope for healing, even as the wicked sins of Joseph’s brothers ended in reconciliation with their forgiving brother. Please do not consider any broken relationship in your life as beyond God’s redeeming power if you personally can put it behind you by sincere forgiveness of the one who has wronged you. The modern phrase “Let it go” is biblically relevant and effective in this context. It can’t hurt and will very likely help the situation.
The apostle Paul had initially “fired” John Mark from their traveling ministry for Mark’s having deserted them in the midst of their ministry. Later on Paul relented, overlooked the offense, and took Mark back.
The excellent results of Paul’s forgiveness of Mark’s earlier transgression?
Closing points to ponder:
• It’s to your honor and glory to overlook offenses. God’s Word clearly declares that.
• There is healing power in unilateral forgiveness, even if the offender does not repent.
• Overlooking offenses is a major key to a happy marriage … and to relationships generally.
• As with Joseph and his brothers, overlooking offenses can heal even severely damaged relationships.
• It’s never too late. Remember Paul. He initially ran John Mark off. But he later forgave him, and John Mark became fruitful in ministry with the apostles Paul and Peter and was used by God to write the Gospel of Mark.
In closing, let’s personalize the key biblical thought in today’s message. I encourage you to say it aloud several times, to memorize it, and to apply it daily in your lives. You and your relationships will be blessed! — “It is to [my] glory to overlook an offense.”
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©2018, James H. Feeney.
Pentecostal Sermons and
Bible Studies by
Pastor Jim Feeney, Ph.D.