Finding Joy in Forgiveness

Whenever I am asked about living in Edmonton, I find myself a little hesitant to answer. You see, my wife and I have lived in many different parts of Western Canada. We have traveled to Mexico, Ireland, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic and parts of the United States. Each place we have lived or visited has its redeemable characteristics as well as their forgettable qualities. It is easy to be negative about things in our lives, including where we may live. In the end, I look forward to the new heaven and earth promised to us in Scripture.

But to answer the question, one of the things I experience every day are the actions of angry drivers, oblivious pedestrians and aggressive cyclists. I have found that as I have gotten older, my capacity for aggravation and irritability has diminished. What does a follower of Jesus do when someone passes you and then immediately slams on their brakes? How do you respond when someone pulling a shopping cart with all of their possessions crosses an 8 lane road during rush hour? How do you respond when a cyclist ignores a stop sign and “flips you the bird” for them almost hitting you?

These are regular occurrences on Edmonton roads. You would think it would be easier to “let it slide” with each passing day? What should a follower of Jesus do in response to everything from normal life-in-a-fallen-world brokenness, to encounters with irritating people and provoking circumstances, to intentional insults and mean-spirited slights?

The good news is that the gospel doesn’t make us less human, but more human. As followers of Jesus, we experience the full range of disappointments and emotions common to all who bear the image of God. But by God’s grace, we can learn to control them rather than live as slaves to them. We can learn to respond in a redemptive manner as opposed to reacting selfishly and self-righteously. Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

So what are some reasons Christians should overlook an offense? Before we look into that, let’s be clear: overlooking an offense must not be confused with submitting to abusive people or morally and ethically unacceptable circumstances. Jesus calls us to be foot washers, not doormats.

So what are some benefits of overlooking an offense? The first is, when we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that God’s Spirit is at work in us. This means we are developing Christ-like wisdom and patience. Having a “short fuse” is a sign of immaturity.

When we overlook an offense, it shows that God’s grace and Spirit are becoming more evident in our lives, transforming us more into the image of Christ. 2 Peter 3:18 calls us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. Growth in grace results in our getting to know Jesus better, who desires that we will have the fullness of his joy in us.

And as we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives, the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” become evident. When we look at life as being a part of God’s “good work” in our lives, even in the most off-putting, irritating, and offensive scenarios can be seen with purpose. God never promised to do all things easy but all things well.

As we deepen our relationship with God and the truth of the gospel renews our minds and shapes our perspective, the quicker and easier we will overlook stuff. We will care more about honoring Jesus by our reactions to irritating people and aggravating circumstances and give up on the illusion of having a hassle-free, painless life. There is tremendous joy in caring more about God’s glory than our own reputation, convenience, and rights. God will always be most glorified in us when we are most satisfied, joyful, at peace, and free in him.

Secondly, when we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we are starting to acknowledge our own sin. A universal experience in life is at some point, we will be hurt or disappointed by someone. On the flip-side, we too will hurt others. Sadly, we often believe that the log in our eye is a smaller issue than the speck in anyone else’s eye.

Repentance leads to freedom. I think all of us have experienced the “freedom” of confession. When we get things off our chests and lay them at the foot of the cross, we experience forgiveness, peace and rest of no longer having to carry the burden of our sin. We all need God’s grace and as we take less offense and extend more grace; we are more patient and less petty; we are getting better at waiting than whining.

One of the struggles many people have is they are more concerned about what others think rather than what God thinks. Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” To fear people isn’t so much to be afraid of them, but to value their approval too much. We look either to God or to people as the fountain and fuel of our joy. People always make poor saviors. We cannot freely or joyfully love anyone whom we have given the power to either shame us or exalt us.

Lastly, we practice the words of Jesus from Matthew 18:21-35. When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we are getting better at forgiving others as we have been forgiven in Christ. Through Christ’s death on the cross, all of our sins have been forgiven. That means every sinful deed, word, and even thoughts, are covered. This means forgiveness should never be withheld from others.

God’s kindness led us and continues to lead us to repentance. When we examine the hardness of our hearts, our thin skin and long memory of sins done against us and put it in line with God’s love, what is the result?  Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32 to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”. Our joy in forgiving others is directly connected to the unspeakable, glorious joy of God’s forgiveness of us and His great delight in us.

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