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Our Christian Community [Part 3]: Christ-like Forgiveness

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Episode Synopsis

What does our gospel doctrine teach us about forgiving those who have deeply hurt us? This episode dives into Paul’s admonition to overcome evil with good from Romans 12:17-21.

Audio Transcript

Jani: Hello, everyone. Today we’re coming to part three of gospel culture. We’re learning about our second priority in Christ and we’re finishing up our passage in Romans 12.

Accountability Check-In

Jani: I want us to start out today again, with accountability and our assignments for this week, and next week, and also sharing our prayer requests. So get your pencils out if you want to write down your assignment. First of all leaders, I want you to check up on your group on their assignments from last week and go through these things with them. How are they doing in their quiet times and meditations? Have they had an extended quiet time or are they going to this coming week? Have they memorized Romans 12:14-17? Then have them say it together or separately. Discuss Bonhoeffer chapter two, and then check up on if they prayed for each other. So pause the podcast right now and go over your assignments from last week.

Next Week’s Assignment

Jani: Now, I want to give you your assignment for today.

  • Keep up with your Bible reading and your meditation verse.
  • And make sure to complete your extended quiet time by March 1.
  • This week, I’m asking you to memorize Romans chapter 12:17-21. I wonder how that’s going for you.
  • And then I want you to read Bonhoeffer chapter three, or whatever your leader assigns for you to read but be reading something together.
  • And then decide how you’re going to pray for each other.

So here’s your assignment, your quiet times and meditation verse, your extended quiet time by March 1. Memorize Romans 12:17-21, Bonhoeffer chapter three, and pray for each other.

Jani: Now pause the podcast and share your prayer requests and decide how you’re going to pray for each other.

Teaching Time: Christ-like Forgiveness

Jani: This week, we have quite an extensive bit of teaching from Romans 12:17-21. Please open up your Bibles to that passage right now. And listen as I read it, Romans 12:17-21.

“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. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God. For it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For by so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 12:17-21

Jani: Now, each one of us here knows what it’s like to be hurt. There will be varying levels of pain among us depending on the kind of evil we’ve experienced. But to be human means both to sin and to be sinned against. Today we want to talk about how to deal with that pain of being sinned against through the grace given us in Jesus Christ. How does gospel culture work out in forgiving one another?

Jani: For many of us, we just want that memory and all the pain associated with it to go away. We want to get over it. And most likely those closest to us want to just get over it as well. But some things we never get over. You see, if you’ve suffered deeply, you won’t just get over it. It will mark you for life. Because your suffering matters. It carries weight in God’s grand design for our universe. We follow the one who suffered deeply and Jesus didn’t just get over it, he still bears the marks of His suffering. He invited the disciples to see and touch the scars of His suffering in His resurrected body. We see this in Luke 24:38-39 and John 20:20 and verses 24-28. One day, we will see those scars too. But Jesus was not deformed by his suffering, he was transformed through it.

Jani: Now, our passage is not chiefly about our suffering and God’s sovereignty. It’s about our hurts within the body of Christ, and how gospel culture can generate forgiveness toward one another. So I’m not going to be able to answer every question about pain, forgiveness, abuse, what do we do, but our king does have a pathway through our suffering for each one of us. He wants to lead us to a place of peace and healing and release. He offers us a spiritual antibiotic from the destructive and deadly infection of unforgiveness between us. He wants to transform us and not let Satan deform us by the power of His grace poured out for all who have been hurt, and in turn, hurt others.

Jani: Jesus shows us the way. When he was reviled, He did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten. 1 Peter 2:23. Or 1 John 4:11 says this,

“Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another.”

1 John 4:11

Jani: Now, remember Romans 12:17-21, think of the context of our passage. It’s written to Christians. We’re told to be living sacrifices, present our bodies as living sacrifices in the first two verses of this chapter. And then Paul teaches us about spiritual gifts in verses 3-8. And then our passage that we’ve been memorizing verses 9-21. Romans 12:9-21 answers this question: how do we apply the gospel to everyday decisions, everyday actions, words, and thoughts in our life together as Christians? How can this help us in our Christian community?

How Gospel Culture Generates Forgiveness

Jani: You might remember that we saw from verses 9-13, in Romans 12, that gospel culture cultivates sincere love. Love serves others. And then last week, we saw from verses 14-16, that gospel culture nurtures humility. Humility embraces the inner life of another. Now today, we want to talk about how gospel culture generates forgiveness from Romans 12:17-21.

Jani: As we learn to love and serve each other with real humility, we’re going to be taken advantage of, and we’re going to be misunderstood. We all know what it’s like to be hurt by the words or actions of another. And we want to overcome evil with evil. Our reaction is often how could they? Don’t they understand at all? Why would she say that or think that or do that? Sometimes we like to play with our pain. I remember when our oldest son who’s quite a philosopher and very sensitive as a young child was crying one day. He was three and he had a little sister who was two and a little brother who is nine months and I didn’t have a lot of time for him. But he had a very special blankie that he loved. And he also loved to suck his thumb. I found him one day crying in the corner. “I want my blankie. I want my blankie.” And then I’d hear him stop for a while. And then he’d start up again. “I want my blankie. I really want my blankie.”

Jani: Well, finally I put down the baby. I was nursing and went into the room to talk to him and I was surprised to see him holding his blankie the way he loved to rub it against his cheek. And I said, “Eric, darling, why are you crying? You have your blankie.” He said, “I know but I just want to cry for it.” And then he took his thumb out of his mouth and started crying again, I want my blankie.

Jani: You see, we do the same thing. We get hurt and we tend to replay the scene in our mind. It kind of feels good to play with that pain. Each time, we become a little bit more dismayed at the injustice of it all. We live in the wastelands of our indignation. We continue to mull it over in our heart, with a variety of conclusions, but each time we always come out on top. Sometimes we even imagine a scenario where that person finally gets what they did wrong and comes to beg our forgiveness.

Jani: Well and then were convicted, and we try to forgive. But we find ourselves caught in a cycle of hurt and anger, trying to figure out how to deal with this. And now with the added complication of guilt over that hurt and anger.

Jani: Hurt and forgiveness are like a teeter-totter in our soul. We vacillate between the two. We make some progress and then a memory or a chance meeting or something on social media pricks our wound and we begin bleeding again or maybe even hemorrhaging. We feel sucked back into that muddy whirlpool of heartache and distress. Maybe some of you are swirling in that today.

God’s Grace Amidst Evil

Jani: How does God’s grace work in this world of evil? The grace of the gospel helps us moderate our emotions and behaviors through his example and renewing power. And we see that in Romans 12:17-21. First, let’s look at verse 17.

“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

Romans 12:17

Jani: We see here that forgiveness lets evil go unmatched. Paul echoes this in 1 Thessalonians 5:15 when he says,

“See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, or reviling for reviling. But on the contrary, bless. For to this you were called.”

1 Thessalonians 5:15

Jani: Look at the word honorable there in verse 17. Verse 12, told us to outdo one another in showing honor, or to give thought to how I can show respect to this person. How would other believers want me to treat him or her? What is respectful? Christians are called to create an alternative culture of honor where there is no more negative scrutiny. Where others are lifted up their weaknesses forgiven. Why is this so hard? Because as sinners, we’re prejudiced to hate other people’s sins more than we hate our own. Sin’s twistedness shows itself most blatantly in making a sinner into a superior self-righteous finger-pointer. Did you see what he did? Did you hear what she said? Do you realize what they did to me? Well I may not be Mother Teresa, but at least I would never do that. Paul tells us in verse 17, repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. In other words, address your thought that says, “I may not be perfect in this but what she did was so much worse. My anger and hurt is all because of her and it’s justified.”

Jani: Listen, Jesus has another way. Jesus said in Matthew 5:39, that we are not even to resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Now what does Jesus mean here? Surely, he does not mean you can’t defend yourself against assault or flee from abuse or evil. Look this up in the ESV Study Bible if you have questions. I’m not saying that. I’m not talking about cases of abuse or if someone is trying to harm you physically, kill you, chase you, whatever you get the picture.

Jani: What Jesus means is don’t be the one to escalate the violence. The slap here is an open-handed slap of insult. Jesus’s focus here is on individual conduct and the tendency to seek personal revenge when insulted. That tit for tat mentality. You slapped me. I’m going to slap you back. Romans 15:7 says this,

“Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you for the glory of God.”

Romans 15:7

Welcoming Others Like Christ Welcomed Us

Jani: How has Jesus welcomed us? We who slapped and spit upon him? That is how we are to treat those who insult us, those who hurt us. The opposite of repaying is absorbing those sins, of welcoming and accepting those who were our enemies through their cruel or slanderous behaviors. All restoration begins by going back to God. A heart aloof from God creates aloofness and fingerpointing comparison comparisons. But when we understand the cross, when we think about the implications of all it took for Christ to accept and welcome us, we’re strengthened to help let evil go unmatched. C.S. Lewis in the Weight Of Glory has a section called On Forgiveness, it’s well worth reading. He says,

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

C.S. Lewis

Jani: That’s convicting. If we are struggling with unforgiveness, we can go back to our own hearts and ask ourselves, what don’t I understand about Christ’s forgiveness of me?Help me to see it more clearly, Lord, because forgiveness lets evil go unmatched.

Gospel Forgiveness Trusts God To Judge

Jani: Our next point is from verses 18 and 19. Gospel forgiveness trusts God to judge.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.'”

Romans 12:18-19

Jani: If possible, oh, I love those two words. Paul recognizes that it is not always possible to be at peace with everyone. Even when you make the effort. I realize that there are very many messy relational sins out there in podcastville. Sins between fathers and children and mothers and children and siblings, neighbors, others, pastors and sheep. There are many complicated scenarios within our sinful families, within our sinful churches, our sinful neighborhoods. I’m so grateful for that word, if, but it is there, if possible. Think about it.

Jani: And then he has another clause, so far as it depends on you. Be concerned about your part, not their response. God is not going to hold you responsible for changing their behavior by showing them how sinful they are. Do your part as seen in our passage, bless them. That’s hard. Weep with them and rejoice with them. Try to live in harmony with them. Understanding that something may be going on deep inside of them that you don’t know or understand yet.

Jani: Now look at that next phrase. Beloved, never avenge yourselves. Note the word never. Have you heard the phrase, never say never. When God says the word never, let’s pay attention. But God doesn’t leave us there. He gives us reason for why we should never avenge ourselves. He says leave it to the wrath of God. That phrase leave it to the wrath of God could be translated, “give place for the wrath of God”. In a sense, Paul is telling us to step aside. Give up your seat, your place of right and honor here. Step aside controlling your urge for revenge and justice and let God’s wrath be the final say in how you were treated. Why? Because God’s word says vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord. That’s cited from Deuteronomy 32:35, the song of Moses. Or think of Colossians 3:25,

“For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he is done, and there is no partiality.”

Colossians 3:25

Jani: Step aside and stop that cycle of revenge and anger. Stop keeping score. Jesus did. 1 Peter 2:23 says,

“When he was reviled, He did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

1 Peter 2:23

Jani: Paul is telling us to let our feelings of revenge be softened, by realizing that God will make all things right and that he will visit his wrath on those who deserve it. Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. 1 Corinthians 4:5. Only God is competent to disclose the purposes of another person’s heart.

Jani: How does this help us when God says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” Tim Keller shows us in his Roman study, that it’s helpful in three different ways. Tim says only God is qualified to judge. I deserve judgment myself. A second way is only God knows enough to be judge. What the offender has faced and deserves. We interpret from our limited perspective, God knows every secret of the heart. And the third, Jesus took the judgment of God. Either this person who sinned against us will repent some day and Jesus will absorb their judgment or they will not repent and God will judge. It either way, I’m not involved. Solomon says in Proverbs 20:22,

“Do not say, I will repay evil. Wait for the Lord and He will deliver you.”

Proverbs 20:22

Jani: God will deliver His wrath on those who deserve it. He will make all things right. Wait for him. Don’t take matters into your own hands. Peter also agrees in 1 Peter 3:9,

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling. But on the contrary, bless. For to this you were called that you may obtain a blessing.”

1 Peter 3:9

Being A Blessing

Jani: Now how do we become a blessing and obtain a blessing? Well, we see that in our final verses for today. I hope you’re hanging in here with me. Let’s look at verses 20-21 quickly.

“To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he’s thirsty, give him something to drink. For by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Romans 12:20-21

Jani: Now, I have to take the time to explain this phrase “heap burning coals on his head”. There are different interpretations. Really three that people hold to. The first one is we’re being told to out nice our enemies, so to speak, by giving coals to them when their fire has gone out. In biblical times, someone could be seen carrying coals in a special container on his head. And so perhaps Paul is encouraging us just to heap them in and be generous.

Jani: Or a second interpretation, some interpreters take this to mean that Christians are to do good to people, so they will feel ashamed and repent. Where in the Bible do we see that taught? There are many one another’s in the Bible, love one another, forgive one another, outdo one another in showing honor, we talked about that a couple weeks ago. But we never see in the Bible shame one another into repentance and changed behavior. It’s not there. So I don’t agree with that interpretation.

Jani: Now the ESV Study Bible, which I refer to often has really helped me. It talks about this quote about burning coals being taken from Proverbs 25:21,

“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat. If he’s thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head and the Lord will reward you.”

Proverbs 25:21

Jani: In the Old Testament, the ESV study notes say, burning coals always represent punishment. And they give us several verses to compare in Psalms 11, Psalms 18, and Psalms 140, where it says,

“Let God rain coals on the wicked.”

“The Lord God thundered in the heavens coals of hot fire.”

“Let burning coals fall upon them. Let them be cast into fire into miry pits, no more to rise.”

Jani: Do you see how how burning coals represent God’s judgment? I believe that Paul is repeating the thoughts of Romans 12:19 here to leave room for the wrath of God. That Christians are to do good to wrongdoers, recognizing that God will set all things right on the final day. They can leave it with him.

Jani: Finally, verse 21,

“Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 12:21

Jani: We see in this verse that forgiveness acts. There is a tension in this verse, Do you see it evil versus good? One will win. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. One is going to win. There is the possibility for you to be overcome by evil. Those life-altering evils perpetrated against you. Your life will become sour and bitter and spiral down into darkness, if you don’t experience the grace of real forgiveness and then offer it to others, Paul is telling us of a cure for the cancer of bitterness, resentment, and anger that will eat away your inner life and eventually overcome you.

Jani: David Powlison, whom I’ve mentioned before, he was the executive director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. He’s now with the Lord Jesus. He wrote this. In an article called “I’ll never get over it. Help for the aggrieved”. It’s in the Journal of Biblical Counseling. He wrote this,

“When something is so wrong that you will never get over it, your reaction will either make you wise or will poison you. Great suffering puts a fork in the road, you will choose.”

David Powlison

5 Tips For Letting Good Overcome Evil

Jani: Evil versus good. That’s the fork in the road. The way of wisdom and light or the way of poison and darkness. One will overcome the other. What will help you get on the right path, the path of life and wisdom and light? Well, let me offer you five things that can help you.

Talk To God

Jani: One, talk to God about it. It’s not as if he doesn’t know but often that fellowship and interaction with God Almighty will soften your spirit and open your heart to forgiveness. Forgiveness is more about me and my heart than the other person’s offense. Ask God to teach you more about your own need for forgiveness than your offenders. Don’t gripe to someone else. Meditate on passages where the great Forgiver teaches us about forgiveness. Matthew 6:14-15,

“If you forgive others, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you don’t, then neither will your heavenly Father forgive you.”

Matthew 6:14-15

Jani: Or Matthew 18:21-33.

“Should you not have mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? Forgive your brother from the heart.”

Matthew 18:21-33

Jani: Talk to God about it and meditate on those passages from Matthew 6 and Matthew 18.

Ask God For A Promise

Jani: Secondly, ask God for a promise from his word that you can hang on to as you walk through this hard time. Ray and I during a time of intense suffering and personal loss, found great comfort together in 1 Peter 5:10.

“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

1 Peter 5:10

Jani: Oh that verse has gotten us through so many hard times. Or ask God for a hymn that you can sing a hymn of hope, comfort. One of my favorite old hymns is, If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee. It goes like this: If thou but suffer God to guide the and hope in Him through all thy days, he’ll give the strength, what air be tied thee and bear thee through the evil days.

Jani: Or what about how firm a foundation that him when through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow. For I will be with thee. Thy troubles to bless and sanctify to the, thy deepest distress. Oh, I can hardly say it without weeping. Thank you, Lord asked God for a promise or a him to help you.

If Needed, Talk With The Person That Hurt You

Jani: Number three, if necessary, go to the person who hurt you. Maybe you’ve already tried and it hasn’t worked. I don’t know. Just be careful. Make sure it was a sin, not just your own touchiness. Sin versus hurt feelings. I often has have to ask myself was this action one of the sins that drove the nails into Jesus’s hands and feet? If so, then go. We talk to the person, not about him. Forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. Forgiveness means canceling their debt, absorbing it. Reconciliation involves both parties. Now, if there is still deep, unresolved pain, this is the place to call someone else in to help you through this. A wise counselor, maybe to meet with both of you, maybe just with you. For some of you, it is impossible to go to that person because they are either dead or they refuse to see you. You will feel helpless, powerless and out of control. But don’t let that evil deform you. The Bible says that God is a righteous judge and a God who feels indignation every day, Psalm 7:11. Let God judge that person just as God will judge you.

Stop Dwelling On It

Jani: Then number four, vow to stop dwelling on it. Elizabeth Elliot says this,

“Forgiveness is a relinquishment, a laying down. No one can make you forgive. Jesus laid down his own life. No one took it from him.”

Elizabeth Elliot

Jani: Promise God, vow to stop dwelling on it. Make a covenant with him. Offer your hurt as a sweet sacrifice to him. Tell him you want to love him more than you love playing with this hurt. Write out your grievance and then burn it or make a physical offering of some sort. This won’t be easy. Hebrews 13:5 says,

“Bring a sacrifice of praise.”

Hebrews 13:5

Jani: A sacrifice costs you something. Trust God with this hurt and vow to stop dwelling on it.

Extend Kindness

Jani: And then, number five, extend kindness, just as Christ has extended kindness to you. We’re told overcome evil with good. Ephesians 4:32 says,

“Be kind to one another.”

Ephesians 4:32

Jani: The word kind is that same word used in Matthew 11:30 when the Lord says,

“My yoke is easy.”

Matthew 11:30

Jani: Kindness asks, how can I make this situation as easy as possible for the other person? How can I avoid embarrassing her, putting her on the spot, cornering her, shaming her? The Bible says bless those who persecute you. Go back to verse 14 in our chapter.

A Final Challenge and Prayer

Jani: Let me conclude by saying this. Let’s be women who prefer losing over going to all out war. 1 Corinthians 6:7, why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? Why is it so necessary to win? Where is the cross in that? To be followers of Christ means that we treat each other with patient humility and costly forgiveness because that’s how he treats us. I relate to another out of the grace I’ve been shown. Out of the streams of living water flowing through me because of Christ absorbing all my sins against his father, surely I can offer a small cup of forgiveness to the one who has offended me. Colossians 3:13 says,

“As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

Colossians 3:13

Jani: You see, we forgive when we know his forgiveness, when we value it, and marvel at it and relish it, and feel humbled by it, when we take it to heart. And when we also take to heart his suffering and compare it to our own. When we see at the cross Jesus taking our huge debt, immeasurable, and absorbing it into himself canceling it all, as it was nailed to the cross. Oh, let me pray for you.

Jani: Lord, this has been a hard message for me to deliver but it’s here in your word and I don’t want to shrink from it. Father, I pray for each of my listeners, everyone who’s listening to this discipleship series. Father help us. We want to follow your word. We want to be women who overcome evil with good, but some of us have been terribly sinned against and we don’t know what to do. I pray that you would help that listener. Speak tenderly to her. Speak gently to her. Show her the pathway forward. And may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17. Amen and Amen.

Jani: He will strengthen us He will encourage our hearts, he will give us encouragement and good hope. Now, close your time together by singing your benediction over each other, and may the Lord restore your souls.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. This podcast is generously funded through Renewal Ministries. If you would like to discover more about Jani and Ray’s ministry or make a donation, visit their website at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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