Good and Faithful Servant, Part 2

Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility

By Christopher Schwinger

The Series

Part 1: Evangelizing the Lost and Helping the Disadvantaged
Part 2: Forgiveness and the Balance between Contentment and Responsibility
Part 3: Knowing God and Generosity
Part 4: Courage and Humility
Part 5: Growing in Grace

There is a fine balance between working hard in God's service and trying to win His approval. Duty is a good motivation when it comes out of a devoted relationship, but becomes legalistic when it's attempting to win God's favor, as if a relationship can be earned. Paradoxically, the desperate attempt to please God becomes a barrier to fellowship. On the contrary, pleasing God becomes natural and spontaneous, instead of forced, when we begin with an understanding of God's character and then grow from there. When the path starts with our attempts, it leads to bondage, but when it starts with God's revelation of His kindness, it leads to a healthy kind of duty.

This is the second in a series on how being a good and faithful servant starts in the heart.

Third, forgiving others of their offenses: This is a very demanding instruction Jesus gave. It is not impossible, though, because Jesus doesn't expect us to make every relationship right, because we can't. Relationships are two-way, sometimes three-way or four-way (or even greater numbers) if groups are involved. Reconciliation and trust are not automatically part of forgiveness. Healing requires things outside our control, including time, the cessation of a difficult circumstance, and the willingness of other people who are involved. Sometimes healing can happen even in the middle of the awful situation, but it's not a promise from God, and when it happens, it is a special grace for the moment, not a general principle we can rely on. Forgiveness is much more straightforward and simple, meaning (I once heard on Christian radio) "I give up my right to punish you." It means "don't return evil for evil," which Jesus taught and had an earlier Old Testament source in Proverbs 20:22, and which Paul and Peter repeated in Romans 12:17 and 12:21, 1 Peter 3:9, and 1 Thessalonians 5:15. David felt a deep conviction that it would be wrong to kill Saul in his sleep even though Saul would've done it to him (1 Samuel 24). Just as Jesus and the apostles taught, this action of love put "burning coals" of shame on Saul (Proverbs 25:21-22, Romans 12:20) and inspired him to want to change: "He said to David, 'You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. You have declared today that you have done good to me, that the Lord delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me. For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely? May the Lord therefore reward you with good in return for what you have done to me this day.'"

This David-and-Saul story demonstrates the evangelistic benefit to kindness. When people see our kindness, they start to wonder "Is God that nice, really?" The other benefit of determining to renounce vengeance is that it preserves the soul from hate, which would destroy us. I believe temporary negative emotions such as resentment, even when they're really strong, are how we process the injustice and maintain our sense of self-worth, but if there's an attitude of forgiveness, it restrains those feelings from becoming engrained and destructive. In my experience, because I have built a Biblical foundation, the resentment soon passes away and I continue on with life, no matter how deep the pain was at the time. It doesn't fix relationships that have problems rooted in other people, but it helps me not be poisoned. No one should pressure another to "get over" the resentment more quickly, though, if Biblical attitudes are being worked on.

Additionally, it is not for us to forgive people in the sense of absolving them from wrongdoing, but it is very important to not become consumed by hate or respond in like kind. It's not just because Jesus was nonviolent that we should imitate Him, but because He had a theological understanding that only on Judgment Day will all the injustice be made right. His Father did not send Him in the 1st Century to judge the world, but to redeem the world, as He said in John 3. Besides, retaliation rarely makes situations better, and even when justice is served, it is always bittersweet because the damage has already been done, and won't be easily amended if it can be at all. It is much better for a person to repent and make amends out of a changed heart, such as Zacchaeus (Luke 19), than to be punished with severity. The best way to melt people's hearts is through the Christ-like response we show to their offenses. One of the most influential verses on me is 1 Peter 2:23: "While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him [the Father] who judges righteously."

Fourth, a balance between contentment and responsibility: Paul's definition of contentment in 1 Corinthians 7:21-24 is to be okay with being subservient to others or being in authority over others, whichever position you're in. If you are a slave and can't be free, then rejoice in the hope of eternal life, but if you can become free, then that's great, he says. In verses 22-23, he writes, "For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freeman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men." His paradox, in other words, is that in your earthly subservience, you have heavenly privilege, and in your earthly authority, you have heavenly subservience. Responsibility, privilege, burden, fellowship, blessing: all of these somehow exist at the same time.

Jesus understood that He was not free from restrictions just because He was an authority, but He knew there was privilege that came from serving others. The ultimate goal God had was a relationship, and the benefit of restored fellowship was greater than the intense suffering and injustice of the cross and Peter's betrayal, one of His closest friends on earth. I often ask myself, "What motivated Jesus to give so much to people when even His own disciples failed Him at His arrest? What did Jesus see in people that made Him want to redeem us, even when His redeemed believers don't grow like they ought to?" Whatever it was, I like the wording which I recall — but could not relocate the quote when I spent some time looking for it again — from Wayne Jacobsen's book He Loves Me!: "I love you this much! I'd rather die than live without you!"

Isaiah 53:9 and 12 say He was and will be given honor because of His submission to the Father through all that suffering. But there is a greater depth to His love than this Jewish sense of God's awesome power and heavenly authority. He revolutionized the idea of sacrifice by sacrificing Himself to help us attain union with God, and also revolutionized the concept by making the sacrifice the recipient of blessings, not just the one who ensures them. He called His sacrifice His "glorification" in John's Gospel, for He is blessed when His sacrifice unites sinners with Himself. It was for some deep sense of relational connection with people that He was willing to go through all that suffering. He is the ultimate model of how we are to balance contentment and responsibility. Like Him, we will be honored in eternity if we live morally in the station we're in, and if we use our responsibility wisely to help others, and if we seek healthy relationships more than our self-interest. We are to view our positions of authority as opportunities to help those under us, and our positions of subservience as opportunities to submit just as Jesus submitted to the Father's authority. Either way, we can be Christ-like, because Jesus was both master and servant to different people. He was both master and servant to His group of twelve disciples.

Next Week: Knowing God and Generosity

Image Credit: Jean-Francois Phillips; "Beach Head Hair Styles"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life

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Published on 8-17-15