In Matthew 5 we find Jesus delivering one of the most powerful messages ever recorded. The “beatitudes” are often relegated to inscriptions on cheesy Christian greeting cards or poorly designed wall-art. This message, however, is actually a dynamic charge to the disciples. In a beautiful rhythm of delivery, Jesus alternates between a description of a “blessed attitude” and the ensuing promise:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:3-9)
Is your attitude blessed? Do you have an attitude God looks at and is able to say, “I can work with that—I’m going to bless that?”
This is actually a powerful message on Apostolic distinctives Jesus is giving. We tend to focus on speaking in tongues and external holiness as our hallmark distinctives, but tell me how you can be pure in heart without the work of the Holy Ghost!
Of all these blessed attitudes, one stands out to me as I’ve reflected on Jesus’ redemptive work on the cross over the Easter season: “blessed are the merciful.” Blessed are the ones who can forgive.
Forgiveness is a big idea. Especially in a culture that celebrates the unforgiving. The harder, more rough someone’s demeanor; the longer they can hold a grudge; the more that person is celebrated a sympathetic character. The brooding anti-hero with a grudge is one of popular culture’s most enduring tropes.
In my experience, however, I’ve found you have to be a pretty big person to embrace a big idea like forgiveness. It takes more strength of character to forgive than it does to remain toxic and unforgiving.
People who struggle with forgiveness are usually people without a vision. Whether it’s a vision for their own life, a vision for their church, or the larger body of Christ; those who can’t forgive are too easily distracted by what’s happened to them to see the effects of their toxic bitterness on the bigger picture.
We would do well, however, to remember another of Jesus’ promises:
“…it is impossible but that offences will come:…” (Luke 17:1).
Offenses will come. That’s a promise.
If you avoid offense, you avoid life. They will come. Over and over and over again. Jesus said they were impossible to avoid. Your ability to handle and deal with offense, however, will determine your direction in life.
The disciples ask, “Well, Lord, how many times should we forgive someone? Seven times?”
Jesus responds, “That’s the easy answer. I want you to forgive seventy times seven.” It’s not about math or legalistic boundaries. It’s about having His nature of perpetual forgiveness.
As soon as you get offended? Throw it off. It’s not worth it to allow your history to abort your destiny. Forgive, and do so immediately. In the midst of the offense? Forgive. In the middle of pain? Forgive. Otherwise, we allow so much offense and bitterness and resentment to collect that we spend all our emotional and spiritual and even physical energies on managing our offenses rather than focusing them into God’s design for our life.
We tend to withhold forgiveness as a punishment to the offending party, but forgiveness is not about liberating the perpetrator—it’s about liberating the victim. If you abuse or offend me, that’s your fault, yes. But if I live in that offense, and replay the offense over and over in my mind, that’s on me.
I have to sever those things and let them go. Release them, not from the blame of the offender, but release yourself from the prison the offense creates. When tempted to hold on to offense I have to remind myself, “I have too much in front of me to allow the things behind me to drag me backwards.”
O, for the space to expand on this! But, dear reader, remember this: Jesus’ message with the beatitudes was, “I’m going to use you. But you have to have the right attitude. It’s not your talent or abilities. If you’ll have these blessed attitudes, I can use you to shake the world, and to reshape governments and destinies and even eternity.”
So even though the score might not be even, or you didn’t get to explain yourself, or didn’t get to make it right, or didn’t get the money back—whatever it is—let it go. Forgive, and press on.
“Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind…” (Philippians 3:13).