A Meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:5
It’s axiomatic that adversity will either make you better or bitter.
Why is it that similar life tragedies make one elderly person loving and as sweet as pie, while another becomes cantankerous and sour? One becomes better; the other bitter. A key difference, perhaps the key difference, between the two is the capacity to forgive. A loving person “keeps no record of wrongs.”
In my mind, I picture every person holding a piece of paper in one hand and a pen in the other. And what happens every time you and I are wronged? You guessed it―we write it down. The Greek word logizomai translated “take into account” (NASB) is a bookkeeping term that means to calculate, as when figuring an entry in a ledger. The purpose, of course, is to keep a permanent record that can be consulted when necessary. In business, this is essential. In our personal lives, it can be destructive. If you want to be a bitter, unhappy, miserable person, just make it a habit to regularly review the lengthy record of wrongs committed against you.
Love, Paul says, keeps no record of wrongs. A loving person takes that piece of paper with the wrongs recorded on it and tears it up. It is then disposed of and quickly forgotten. But let’s be honest―this is easier said than done. How does a Jew who survives the horror of a Nazi concentration camp simply dispose of the inhumane record of wrongs? How does the mother of three young children forgive Osama bin Laden and the terrorists who are responsible for the death of her husband, and the father of her children? How do the parents whose son was killed in a head-on collision by a drunk driver forgive and forget? Some wrongs are not written on a piece of paper that can be easily discarded, some are etched into thick slabs of granite in our minds.
When you’ve been inexcusably violated, forgiving that person is the last thing in the world you want to do. The popular saying “I don’t get mad, I get even” can sound more appealing than “Love keeps no record of wrongs.” One of the difficulties bound up with forgive- ness is our legitimate desire for justice. It’s interesting that revenge “feels” like justice, while forgiveness “feels” like injustice. How do we solve this dilemma of having to choose between forgiveness and justice? It may seem like a paradox, but we can seek to be forgiving and to obtain justice simultaneously. Consider our Lord’s example.
“When they hurled their insults at him (i.e. Jesus), he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23). Think of it… Jesus is insulted, He suffers unjustly, the Roman government will not bring about justice, none of the disciples are able to help Him, but “he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” What does this mean? It means that He personally forgives those who wronged Him, and, at the same time, asks God to bring about justice. In a universe governed by a Sovereign Lord nobody gets away with anything. “Do not be deceived: God (the ultimate Judge) cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). To be a forgiving person, which is part of being a loving person, you have to have faith that if you forgive the person who has wronged you, God will take care of the justice. Forgiveness and justice are not incompatible or opposed to each other.
Occasionally I’ll overhear somebody apologize for something they have done, and the other person will respond, “It’s OK, I know you didn’t mean it.” IT’S NOT OK! What the Nazis did during WWII was not OK. What happened on 9/11/01 was not OK. When a drunk driver kills an innocent driver, it’s not OK. When we tell those who have wronged us, “I forgive you,” we’re not saying, “It’s OK.” We’re saying, “I’m trusting God to judge justly, since that prerogative belongs to Him alone.” Love keeps no record of wrongs, because it knows that God is keeping one of His own, and He is more than capable of making sure that the punishment fits the crime every time.
Forgiveness always leaves room for God’s wrath. “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” (Rom. 12:19). If you can take God at His word, you will be freed to love in incredible ways, and to love even “impossible” people, like your enemies. “On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:20-21). Christianity is about far more than not becoming bitter people if we have been offended. It’s about becoming better people, Christ-like lovers, as we personally forgive and patiently trust the righteous Judge for justice.
Pastor Wayne Christensen, www.foxlakechurch.org, August 24, 2014