Years ago, the Lord enabled me to adopt what I call my up-front policy. Harboring bitterness, resentment, and unresolved conflicts had brought me to a state of inner hostility and bondage. I was tired of being lied to and taken advantage of, but confrontation wasn’t my way. I didn’t enjoy it at all! Why was I reluctant to approach others when they had offended me? What was the real reason behind my timidity?
“Only by pride cometh contention” (Prov. 13:10). I’ll never forget the night God opened my heart to this verse and convicted me of pride. The distance was growing between one of my closest friends and me. Little things were piling up and putting a wedge between us. Differences had led to conflicts that I needed to resolve, if the friendship was to continue. God showed me that the contention between my friend and me was the result of pride—my pride!
First, I was afraid to confront my friend because I feared rejection. If I told him what I honestly thought, I knew there was the possibility that he wouldn’t accept me. Could our friendship withstand total honesty? I wasn’t sure. Since then, I have learned that no one can maintain real friendship apart from honesty and transparency. The possibility of losing a good friend posed an ominous threat to my pride. Fearing rejection, I kept quiet.
Second, pride caused me to respond to my friend’s faults and inconsistencies with a critical spirit instead of with godly concern. Pride eliminates compassion and gives rise to criticism instead. Critical and contentious attitudes indicate a root of pride. The only way to look down on someone is to assume you are better than he is. A humble person recognizes he has faults and is capable of the worst. But a proud person sets himself up as a judge and finds a multitude of reasons to condemn, many of which may be accurate. The real problem is not recognizing the other person’s faults but the way we respond to those faults. Instead of praying for my friend, I had harbored resentment, which became increasingly easy.
Someone once said, “Where Satan can’t go personally, he just sends a critic!” The Bible refers to Satan as an accuser. (See Revelation 12:10.) In the Garden of Eden, he accused God of lying: “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4-5). Here Satan contradicted what God had said and accused Him of concealing the truth from Adam and Eve. Satan not only slanders God but also accuses man:
And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought? Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face (Job 1:7-11).
In Genesis, Satan accused God to man; in Job, he accused man to God. How similar we are to Satan when we slander and criticize!
A compassionate soul will be broken, not bitter, over his brother’s sins. Pride is the source of a critical, unforgiving spirit. The lack of concerned confrontation only intensifies the problem.
Third, my pride would not allow me to approach my friend because the confrontation would only expose my own needs. I did not want my friend to know that such trivial matters bothered me. If I was honest, I would unveil my own weakness and wickedness. Pride will cost us friendships that are some of life’s most valuable treasures. Pride can cause us to be quiet to save face, rather than risk being laid bare by confronting the problem.
When the Holy Spirit showed me my pride, I knew the only way to crush it was to do the thing I feared most. I needed to go to my brother in lowliness and admit that the friction in our relationship was due to my pride. After taking the low road and acknowledging my faults, I was able to share honest concerns. This is what real friendships are made of: truthfulness. At this point, I decided to be up-front all the time.
When you experience a misunderstanding or feel slighted by your friend, your best plan is to put your cards on the table. Approach the other party calmly and truthfully. Many times, the other party may be oblivious to what seems obvious to you. Resolve the problem as soon as you can. Don’t wait until your stomach is twisted into knots. Why not adopt your own up-front policy now?
We often withhold forgiveness for reasons other than pride. One reason is selfishness. We have been hurt. We didn’t deserve that unfair treatment. Things didn’t go as we had planned. By nature, we all have a god complex. For some reason, we believe that we are entitled to preferential treatment. We think we have a right to be respected and treated well. In fact, our self-centeredness is so intense that our primary concern is our own rights and feelings. Once offended, we tend to live in an emotional prison because our expectations have not been met. Jesus invited His followers to take up their cross, an instrument of death, and follow Him. (See Matthew 16:24.) He asked them to die to their own way. Taking up the cross was a picture of surrendered rights and expectations. Do you need to surrender your rights to God?
If your own self-centeredness is holding you back from making the right choices, you could choose to forgive. Perhaps you are willing to forgive if your offender will only fess up. But you don’t need to wait for an apology to forgive others. When Stephen was being stoned, he uttered a prayer on behalf of those who were stoning him: “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). We are obligated to forgive regardless of what others do or don’t do. There’s no need to wait; go ahead and forgive. Pride and selfishness, two of Satan’s main character traits, are also two of the leading hindrances to forgiveness. Do you need to “take up [your] cross” (Matt. 16:24) and put this deadly duo to death?
Another hindrance to freedom is pain. Some experiences hurt so badly that many dread bringing up those painful emotions. This is especially true when some have tried to simply ignore those memories or bury them by denial.
One woman said tearfully, “My father is ninety years old and is lying on his deathbed. When I was a little girl, my father did terrible things to me. I just made a decision to forgive him for all those horrible things he did to me.” It was painful but necessary for this woman to face the hurts she had carried for more than fifty years. Incest, rape, child abuse, and other offenses are so unpleasant that people will run instead of deal with them. Denial is a coping mechanism. But, in such cases, healing may come only when those who are hurt are willing to confront and work through forgiveness.
It was not easy for a young woman to forgive the man who had molested her when she was a teenager. The experience was painful, but her conscience was convicted. She knew she was obligated to forgive the man of his awful crime. With tears, a trembling voice, and a bent knee, she prayed, “Lord, I am making a decision to forgive that man who took advantage of me as a teenager.” As painful as the experience was, forgiveness was the only way for her to recover from this life-shattering experience. Spiritual surgery may hurt, but it alone can bring healing. Whatever scar it may leave will be easier to handle than the gaping wound you now bear.
Consider the example of a woman who was abducted from a Florida parking lot. While her three children watched, three men threw her into a van and drove away. They inflicted on her every imaginable cruelty and perversion. They burned her. They even took a knife and flayed her face and body before leaving her on the ground to die. If not for the cold temperatures that clotted her blood, she would have bled to death. Crawling two miles to the highway, she was so mutilated that those who helped her couldn’t tell if she was a man or a woman. Later, the authorities caught the men and sentenced them to life in prison.
After their trial, reporters asked the woman if she could forgive her abductors. She replied, “I am a Christian, and my faith commands me to forgive them. They took one day of my life, and I am not going to give them another one.” What a testimony of forgiveness! Someone has wisely said, “Forgiveness never justifies the sins of others, but it keeps their sins from defeating us.”
In cases of moral evil, God has ordained the government to punish evildoers. Scripture teaches that civil authorities should punish such crimes. Within some groups, there is a great misunderstanding concerning civil government’s responsibility. “For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4).
Never confuse the Christian’s responsibility to forgive with the responsibility of the legal system to punish criminals. When a crime has been committed, we do not have the right to pardon. Granting pardon is the right of the court of law, which God has established as His minister for the purpose of avenging wrong. The government must punish crime. We, as believers, must forgive those who offend us. Justice is the duty of the judiciary; forgiveness is our duty.
- Conflict is the consequence of pride and self-centeredness. Confronting problems is not pleasant, but it is necessary.
- Fear of rejection, a critical spirit, and fear of exposure will hinder us from restoring faltering relationships. All three of these hindrances find their source in pride.
- Satan’s title, diabolos, means slanderer or accuser. Where Satan does not go personally, he sends a critic.
- Forgiveness never justifies the sins of others, but it keeps their sins from defeating us.
STUDY QUESTIONS AND POINTS OF APPLICATION
- Consider the three major reasons forgiving others is often difficult. Which reason(s) has God spoken to you about personally?
- Satan is referred to as the “accuser of [the] brethren.” (See Revelation 12:10.) Rehearse scriptural examples of Satan’s accusations.
- Forgiveness can be granted in the absence of an apology. In the Bible, who chose to forgive when there was no acknowledgment of wrongdoing?
- What is the difference between pardon and forgiveness? Who has the responsibility for each of these?
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