What is it about us humans that makes us hold tightly to things that make us unhappy? We nurse our anger and grudges with motherly affection. To forgive others feels like stepping off of the high ground that will ensure our victory. Yet, in not forgiving, though we sense a pleasure in our prideful spirit, we are actually keeping ourselves unhappy. Moreover, we are condemning ourselves because Jesus said that “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:15) I was struggling this week with conflict, anger, and the need for reconciliation. Several mornings this week, I prayed that God would help me to forgive. I knew that something needed to be done to end the hostilities. I was thinking about this before I fell asleep on Thursday night, and that was when God chose to shine a light on the darkness in my heart. I realized that I didn’t want to forgive; I wanted to be right. I wanted to stay on my perceived moral high ground and dig in to fortify my position. But when God reveals how dark your heart is, and shows you how evil and prideful your intentions are, His holy prescription suddenly becomes clear.
I could list a dozen verses, off the top of my head, about anger, peace, unity, and forgiveness. Yet knowing verses is meaningless if the words don’t penetrate the pride in my heart. It took the Spirit’s intervention in my heart to get me to apologize for my part in the conflict. How often do you suppose that any of us are completely innocent in a dispute? Rarely, I would think. Yet we are prideful beings, and we always believe we are right. In many disputes, there isn’t a black-and-white answer that will ever prove which party is right. That’s how it is with matters of opinion because opinions, by definition, are subjective.
A verse that I try to keep in mind is Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” Anyone who knows me, knows that I am both opinionated and outspoken. It’s a bad combination. The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the human tendency to think that what we are doing is right. It turns out that thinking we’re right is a bad sign.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. –Proverbs 12:15
There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. –Proverbs 14:12 & 16:25
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weights the heart. –Proverbs 21:2
We often quote (and misquote!) that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” (1 Timothy 6:10) I assert that man’s pride is right up there with that. A less quoted verse, James 3:16, tells us, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” The love of self causes so much sin in our lives. We want to protect our image; we want other people to think well of us. So, we withhold forgiveness, and we refuse to ask it from others, because we would have to admit that we aren’t perfect. But, “the LORD weighs the heart.” Our God knows all of our darkness, pride, and bitterness. Let’s face it, when we nurse anger and grudges over time, bitterness is the only result. We deceive ourselves; we think we will be happier if we maintain our good outward image. The devil makes us think that being right and never admitting to wrongdoing will keep our reputation intact. Yet, the world knows bitterness and an unforgiving spirit when it sees it. Further, nothing damages our relationship with God like that crusted over plaque of long-held anger surrounding our hearts. Love and joy cannot penetrate a crusty heart.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
On the other hand, just as there is freedom and joy in confessing our sins to God and accepting the salvation that comes through our Lord Jesus Christ, there is also freedom and joy in forgiving others and living at peace with one another. We have been studying Philippians, at my church. One of the things we learned from chapter 2, is that humility is required of each of us in order to have unity within the body of believers. Paul calls for unity and then instructs us to have the humility exampled by Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” (Philippians 2:6-7).
So, if Jesus, God of gods, who was there when the foundation of the earth was laid, could leave His throne to walk the path of a man, I should be able to stoop low enough to swallow my pride, admit to my own wrongdoing, and ask for forgiveness. In humbling myself so, it becomes so much easier to forgive the other party, because I force myself to reflect on my own sin. Joy is restored when we remove these stumbling blocks of pride and dissention. We must remember that the pain caused when we excise the pride from out heart will, in the end, result in joy. There is a week until Christmas. If you find yourself needing to forgive and be forgiven, it’s a good time to humble yourself, just as the Savior did when He allowed Himself to be “born in the likeness of men.”