I Corinthians 13:5b
A generation ago in Communist Romania, a pastor was beaten almost to death, and was then thrown into prison. A fellow prisoner, also a Christian, slowly made his way over to him and, knowing how bitterness can destroy a life, softly asked him: “Brother, can you pray the prayer: ‘Father forgive them …’?” The beaten pastor shook his head. “No”, he said, “I cannot pray, ‘Father forgive them’; I must pray ‘Father forgive them AND ME!’” Here was a man who could forgive others the most egregious sins, because he knew that he needed that very same forgiveness himself.
As we have seen over the past weeks, I Corinthians 13 uses 15 verbs to describe what God’s agape love does. We have seen that love “has a long fuse”; that it expresses itself in ACTS of kindness to others; that it is not proud, and last week we saw 3 things that it does NOT do. This morning we find another thing that love does not do, in I Corinthians 13:5, where it says that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” As we will see, this means that “Love Does Not Hold a Grudge”. To put it positively, love forgives. It is the very essence of Biblical love. It is what God has done for us. This quality, as much as any of the others, demonstrates whether we really understand what God done for us, by the way that we practice it in regard to others.
I. A Record of Wrongs
“Does not take into account a wrong suffered” This whole phrase is only 3 words in the Greek Bible: “Logizetai to kakon”. “Logizetai” comes from the word “logos”, or “word”, and means “to count up, to take account of as in a ledger or notebook” (A.T. Robertson) the “kakon”, or “evil” that was done. One (Barclay) says it is an accountant’s word, used of entering an item in a ledger so that it will not be forgotten. One writer says that in Polynesia, where there are many conflicts among the native peoples, it is common for the people to hang items from the ceiling in their home, to help them remember some wrong that someone did to them. They are a constant reminder of their hatred towards those who have hurt them.
In her little book, It Was Fun Working At The White House, Lillian Rogers Parks writes about President Warren Harding’s wife,Florence (the staff called her “Duchess” as a joke). Mrs. Parks write: “It was true that she had a fierce temper, and she was always imagining things. She had a little red book, in which she wrote the names of people who she felt had “snubbed” her. Florence Harding literally wrote down, in a “little red book”, the offenses of others – as if she needed a book to record those things!
Now, some of us may smile at Mrs. Harding’s “little red book”, and I doubt that any of us here keep a literal “book” like she did – but I guarantee you there are those among us who keep that same kind of “book” – in your mind! You may not have written the names down anywhere, but you have them engraved on your heart! You may not literally “hang” reminders in your home, like those Pacific Islanders did, but you have them displayed prominently in your thoughts! Someone has said something, or done something, or did NOT do something that you thought they should have, and it has offended you, and it is remembered as surely by you as if it were written in a little red book! You are “taking into account a wrong suffered” – exactly what the Bible says that love does NOT do!
II. A Root of Bitterness
A. For Yourself
The person you harm the most with your lack of forgiveness is yourself. Someone has said that being bitter towards a person is like taking poison, and hoping that it kills the person you hate! You are not going to hurt that person nearly as much as you are going to hurt yourself. Millions of people are suffering physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually because they will not forgive someone. Their health is being eaten away by the cancer of bitterness. Even secular psychologists tell us that many – or even most – emotional problems stem from unwillingness to forgive. And not forgiving others is a sure sign of spiritual problems between a person and God as well.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray: “Forgive us our debts — as we forgive our debtors.” And immediately after the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, Jesus said, “For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”
In one of my very favorite books, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis, commenting on that passage, wrote:
“If you don’t forgive, you will not be forgiven. No part of [Jesus’] teaching is clearer, and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own … To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son … how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our word when we say in our prayers each night: ‘Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions – and God means what He says.”
Some of you today are walking under a dark cloud in your relationship with God. You have wondered: why do I not feel close to the Lord? Why does it seem like my prayers just bounce off the ceiling? Why are my requests not answered? Why am I not growing spiritually? The answer is: you are walking under a cloud of your own making! Isaiah says: “Your iniquities have caused a separation between you and your God.” And in this case, the iniquity that is causing the separation is your bitterness towards someone. You will never have the forgiveness of your daily sins; you will never get “out from under that cloud”; you will never feel the sunshine of God’s blessing on your life, until you forgive those who have offended you! Not forgiving others hurts YOU: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
B. But it not only affects you – it also affects Others.
Hebrews 12:15 says “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.” When bitterness festers, the Bible says, it “causes trouble” and MANY are defiled by it. When you are bitter and do not forgive, it not only harms you, but it also impacts many others around you as well.
I think it is very noteworthy that President Harding’s wifeFlorence, who kept that “little red book” of people’s transgressions against her, had a father who would not talk to her for years after she married Warren Harding. Evidently, a lack of forgiveness ran in the family. Her father wouldn’t forgive her for marrying Harding – and now she became just like her father, in her unwillingness to forgive others. (Sometimes it comes right back to bite a person – you have relatives, maybe your own children – who have seen you not forgive others. And now your children won’t forgive YOU – and you have no one to blame but yourself, because they learned it from you! You need to realize, mom or dad, that you are teaching your children how to forgive – or how NOT to – by the way that you treat other people! You are not only poisoning your own life, but potentially generations to come, by your bitterness and lack of forgiveness. If you will not do it even for your own sake, do it for the sake of your children, and the countless generations after them who are being impacted by the way that you are keeping account of wrongs suffered! It is “a root of bitterness” which will “defile many.”
III. A Forgiving Love
Knowing the damage that a lack of forgiveness can cause in our own lives, and the lives of others, how can we forgive? As in every one of these qualities in I Corinthians 13, it has to come from God through Jesus Christ. First you must receive the forgiveness that God offers you – and then when you have really received it, you will demonstrate that same forgiveness you have received, to others.
A. Forgiving Love Received
Verse 5 here says that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” This word we translate “taking into account” is the EXACT Bible word that is used in Romans 4, of how God “credits” us with righteousness when we have faith in Jesus: “his faith is credited as righteousness.”
– It is the same word used in II Corinthians 5:19, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself not counting their trespasses against them.” When God forgive us in Jesus, He does “not count (our) trespasses against (us).”
– Romans 4:8, quoting Psalm 32:2, says: “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not take into account.”
The Bible makes it very clear that there ALL of us have sinned. But for those of us who accept Jesus as our Savior, God “does not take into account” our sins. They are totally washed away when we trust Jesus as our Savior.
Thomas Kincaid, the popular artist, tells the story of how one afternoon he was driving in his car with his daughter,Aspen. It was raining, and he had his car’s windshield wipers on. Suddenly, he said, his daughter said to him, “Dad, I’m thinking of something.” She said, “That rain is like sin, and the windshield wipers is like God wiping our sins away.” Kincaid, wondering how far she would take it, said, “but the rain keeps on coming.” But he said that she didn’t hesitate for a moment: “We keep on sinning, and God just keeps on forgiving us!”
Now, understanding that we must never presume on the grace of God, and that we are not to sin lightly, God does, in His agape love, continually wash away our sins. IF you know Jesus as your Savior, it is just like Psalm 103 says: “He has not dealt with us according to our sins, or rewarded us according to our iniquities.” “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” As Psalm 32 and Romans 4 says, He does not take your sins into account. He does NOT keep them written down in a little book. He has washed your sins away – all of them — with the blood of Jesus. That is incredibly good news – but that blessing that you have received is now to be shared with others!
B. Forgiving Love Shared
When you receive God’s forgiveness, the Bible says, God sends His Holy Spirit into your heart, and gives YOU the power to share that same forgiveness with others. Now you will “not take into account” others sins – just like God does not take your sins into account! There is a very real sense in which this is NOT difficult to do. If you truly realize that ALL of your sins have been washed away by God’s grace, the most natural thing under God is to gracefully extend that same forgiveness to others.
That was the point of the parable from Matthew 18 that we looked at a couple of weeks ago. The one slave who had been forgiven 10,000 talents of gold – millions of dollars in today’s money – would not then turn around and forgive another slave who had forgiven him a few days’ wages. It is inconceivable that someone would do that; it is almost un-natural! And yet that is exactly the state of things when a so-called “Christian” person is unwilling to forgive another person for a sin against them. How can this be possible? When you have been forgiven every sin – just like those windshield wipers in the rain, God just keeps forgiving you, every day as you come to Him, He forgives every one of your sins, every time – HOW could you possibly really understand that, and not forgive someone for their sins against you? That’s why it truly calls into question a person’s salvation when they say they can’t forgive – when they have been forgiven everything?
Colossians 3:13 says that Christians are to be “bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” Those are key words: “Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.” He forgives you every sin, every time – and so should you. If there is anyone whom you would say today that you cannot forgive – you need to go back to the start; you need to go back to the very beginning! Remember how you were lost in sin, and God freely forgave you everything. Maybe it will do you good to remember some of your own sins that God has forgiven – to remind you that you need to show that same forgiving love to those who have offended you. And if you still say you can’t forgive, then you have every reason to question if you have ever really been forgiven. Those who have been truly saved by God’s gracious, forgiving love, will not hesitate to show that same gracious, forgiving love to others.
Now, let me add just a couple of other important comments before we close:
1) Forgiveness does not mean that you cast wisdom aside.
In other words, just because you forgive someone does not mean that you do not use precautions where they are wise and necessary.
For example, if a person has been convicted of embezzlement, that person may be forgiven. But out of wisdom and discretion, you do not make that person the church treasurer, or put them in charge of your company’s books! You can forgive them; you can treat them with all the patience and kindness and everything else that love does – but it does not mean that you throw all wisdom out the window, and put them in a situation which will lead them into temptation and which is not prudent or wise.
A mom or dad might catch their son looking at pornography on the internet. The son may repent, and be forgiven by his parents. And if they love him, they will forgive him. But that does not mean that they will not keep the computer out in the open, where everyone can see it, or put filters on it, or take other steps to limit his access to the internet. They can forgive him, and the relationship can be restored – and they should not keep looking down on him, or scolding him for it, or “holding it over his head” — but that forgiveness also does not mean that you do not recognize the weakness, and take steps which are wise and precautionary and prudent, to keep him from falling back into sin.
Now, those are just a couple of examples, but the principle can apply to thousands of different situations. You need to apply it to your situation: forgive; do not hold a grudge against a loved one for his sin. But that forgiveness does not mean that prudent steps are not taken which can help keep the loved one and others from more harm. The one who is doing the loving should not so naïve as to think those steps are not necessary; and the one who is loved should not resent that these things are in place. Someone can still love you and forgive you, and at the same time keep wise and prudent precautions in place; it does not mean they do not love you; these things are a manifestation of true love, which does what is ultimately best for the one it loves.
2) There is in this Bible phrase in I Cor. 13:5 a meaning of not only “forgiving” a person, but also of thinking the best regarding them. I Peter 4:8 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.” That not only means that you forgive, it also means that when you love someone, you put the best possible “spin” on what they say or do. You know, how when you love someone, you may see or hear them do something, but you love them anyway? Because you love them, you give them the benefit of the doubt. You say, “I know they didn’t mean that!” Or, “Oh, they just had a bad day”, or “I know they didn’t mean to hurt me.” That is what you do for people you love.
You want other people to treat you that way, don’t you?! I think most of us have had times in our lives when we said or did something, but hoped that people would understand – we were not at our best; we didn’t mean it the way it sounded; surely they should understand and give us the benefit of the doubt, etc. We ALL want that kind of understanding, right? Well, in the same token, we should each GIVE that same kind of forgiveness and understanding. Just as you don’t want people attributing you with motives that are not correct because they don’t know your circumstances – in the same way, don’t YOU read into others’ motives or actions when you don’t know THEIR circumstances! Just as you want others to put the best possible “spin” on what you do, you do the same for them! Don’t read the worst interpretation on what somebody does; think of the BEST possible interpretation, and credit them with that. That is what you do for people whom you love.
And the Bible says that you are to do that same thing for EVERY person you know; for the Bible commands you to love everyone – from your family to your church, to your workplace, to your enemies. Don’t credit people with the worst possible interpretation of their words or deeds; credit them with the best – because that is what you do for people whom you love.
All of this is really at the core of what it means to live as a Christian. Being forgiven by God is at the very heart of receiving God’s love, and becoming a Christian in the first place. And forgiving others is one of the essential ways that you demonstrate that you have really received God’s love – and how you show the world that you really are a Christian!
A few years ago, “Christianity Today” interviewed a Christian professor, who is an expert of Islamic studies, and who had traveled and served widely in the Muslim world. This professor said that one of the big differences in Christianity and Islam is that Islam does not teach you to forgive your enemies. As an example, he said that in 1979, the Holy Kaaba in Mecca was taken over by armed insurgents, and the rumor went out, spread by the Ayatollah Khomeini, that it was the work of Americans and Jews. So a mob formed, and they burned the American embassy to the ground; they also attacked the place this professor was staying and they burned their cars, and smashed their furniture and if not for the grace of God, would have killed all of them. Then a few days later, the news came out that the perpetrators were NOT Americans and Jews, but Saudi Arabians! But this professor and others went back to the Muslims – many of the same ones who were involved in the rioting – and said, “We forgive you; we are not going to lodge a case against you.” And these Muslims said: “Mr. Larson, we now know the difference between you and us. We do not forgive our enemies … but you have forgiven us.” And he said, “We’re just doing what Jesus taught us to do.”
But that was such a poignant observation: those people could see that forgiveness is “the difference between you and us.” The ability to forgive is the difference between the one who is a Christian and the one who is not. The real Christian has genuinely come to know the love of God, which “did not take into account” the wrongs he has done, and forgave him. And the genuine Christian demonstrates that he has received that love, by sharing that SAME forgiving love with others. Let me ask you something: if you show that you are really forgiven, by the way you forgive – what does that say about you? “The Real Thing” – God’s agape love – “does not take into account a wrong suffered.”