leaving bitternessThey will know us by our love. You may have heard this multiple times in church or even in hymns. This saying is found in John 13:35 when Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (ESV)

This is a verse that is often used to describe Christians. But consider these questions:

·      How many of us have heard this said in church?
·      How many believe this to be true today?
·      How does the church demonstrate this as the body of Christ?
·      How do individual Christians demonstrate this?
·      Do people know we are Christians because we love the poor, speak up for injustice and care for the orphan and widow?
·      What about loving our enemies?
·      What are we as Christians known for?
·      Are we known for the love we show to others?
·      Do we really love like Jesus loved?
 
For me, as a believer, love comes naturally. It flows from me and I am filled with compassion for those less fortunate, for the poor, the wealthy, the abused, broken and the prostitute. But I struggle to love those who have hurt me.

I have felt emotionally betrayed many times by people I have trusted and respected. Betrayed by coworkers, friends, teachers and classmates. What do I do? I walk away. I wallow in bitterness. I think about everything they did wrong and I did right. I harbor ill-feelings and sometimes think about it for days and weeks afterwards.

I am one of those people who internalize and rehash situations in my head. This seems like a natural reaction.

But the truth is …
Bitterness will eat you up inside. Bitterness will destroy a person from the inside out. I like the way Joanna Weaver put it in her book titled, Having a Mary Spirit: Allowing God to Change Us from the Inside Out: “Bitterness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

Bitterness does more harm to the person who is feeling bitter than the person who did the wrong. By harboring bitterness we are in fact poisoning ourselves.

So what should we do?

I believe a person should forgive, and if you are a Christian, you are called to forgive even more so.

Recently, I read a book entitled, Amish Grace How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy. It’s a book about forgiveness. The author analyzes the Amish concept of forgiveness after the schoolhouse shooting in the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. In short, a man entered a one-room schoolhouse with a gun, took hostages and killed five young Amish girls before turning the gun on himself.

And what did the Amish do? They forgave. They became friends with the family of the gunman. They even attended support groups and get-togethers with the family for years after. The author of the book interviewed many Amish who said that they were angry and sad. But they live by Matthew 6 when Jesus says we must forgive. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (ESV).

They CHOSE forgiveness even when nothing made since. They chose to love those whom the world would deem enemies.

And we must do the same. It is hard, but as Christians we are called to love and to forgive.

Forgiveness is not an easy task. The best way I have learned to forgive and to love my enemies is to pray. Jesus told us to pray for our enemies. So, how does prayer fit in?

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:43-46, ESV)

Jesus instructed us to pray for those who persecute us. And with that instruction comes a promise. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, SO THAT you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

Jesus promised if we love our enemies then we would surely be His children. They will know us by our love.

You will find if you begin to pray for those who have hurt you, betrayed you or abused you, slowly but surely your bitterness will melt away. It could take weeks, months or even years but our God is a God who will give us the power to forgive as He forgave us. He will renew your mind, take away the bitterness and fill you with compassion. God is faithful to His children.

So what are we called to do?

1.     Forgive as Christ Forgave us. (Matthew 6:14-15)
2.     Pray for our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-46)
3.     Let go of bitterness and love. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV)

So will they know us by our love and forgiveness? Or will they know us by our hatred and ability to hold a grudge?

Rachel

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Called to Forgive: Leaving Bitterness Behind

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