“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:44)
Perhaps you have a difficult boss? Someone cut you up on the road (remember when we could all drive freely?) Or someone who has treated you appallingly. Sometimes our suffering is the direct result of someone else’s sin.
Sometimes even your family can feel like your enemy. These can be due to small annoyances or huge betrayals. No family completely escapes the damage that sin causes. Some are more damaged than others.
When a relationship has broken one of the best things you can do is pray for that individual. Jesus told us that we must forgive others if we want God to forgive us, and praying about forgiveness is part of the Lord’s Prayer.
Of course none of this means that we should not involve the police and courts when illegal acts have been committed. It is possible to forgive someone whilst pursuing justice for them. But our attitude towards the perpetrator even then should be one of Christian love.
Perhaps one of the most moving pieces of video on this subject is when the brother of a man shot dead in his own flat offered forgiveness to the off-duty policewoman who had committed the crime:
In case we missed it the first time, Jesus says much the same thing in different places:
“Pray for them which despitefully use you”
“Pray for those who persecute you”. Matt. 5:44
And on the cross he offered the greatest example, asking God to forgive those who were killing him. He didn’t ask for vengeance:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.—Luke 23:34
In his book “What Jesus Demands from the World”, John Piper puts this succinctly:
None must be excluded from our love, and none may be excluded from our prayers.
If we pray for people who we are struggling in our relationship with we will find that our attitude towards them changes. Prayer does change external situations. But it also changes our own hearts.
It is surely only through prayer that we can develop the grace that allows us to go on forgiving time after time as Jesus commands us:
Jesus goes on to explain that if you are forgiven by God you too must be a forgiving person. If we struggle to forgive others perhaps it shows we have not grasped the enormity of our own sins. And perhaps we also fail to appreciate sometimes how our experiences shape us and that the root of every major sin lies in our own heart. As the old saying goes when we look at the most dramatic of sins we must recognise that “there but for the grace of God go I”. The line between good and evil really does go through every heart.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
“The line separating good and evil passes … right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil." Solzhenitsyn
— Adrian Warnock (@adrianwarnock) March 20, 2020
None of us come to God with any real merit. It is far outweighed by our sin. Even the most holy of acts is ruined by our mixed motives. The prophet Isaiah understood this when he said:
We are constant sinners; how can people like us be saved? We are all infected and impure with sin.When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:5-6, NLT)
It is because of this frailty and sin that even the best of us need a miracle inside us. We need to be born again. And when we realise how much grace we have received from the hand of God, how can we not want God to also pour out the same grace on others?
Read the rest of the series “Jesus Commands”
Jesus said that if you obey him your life will be established on a firm foundation when the storms come.
Adrian hopes God willing to be able to continue this series. Follow this link to read all the previous articles.
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