We all have at least one person in our lives who gets on our last nerve: someone who says mean things, does wrong things and tries our patience and attitude. It’s as certain as death and taxes; there will be people in life that we do not like. The reasons for this may even be valid. Now, imagine that you are at church this week when this person shows up. How would you react to seeing them in your congregation? Would you welcome them? Would you be glad to see them fellowshipping with your longtime brothers and sisters? Would you feel a flame of hope that maybe this will be a great turning point in their life? If they continued to attend, turned over a new leaf, and tried to mend fences with you, would you allow it, or would you be seething on the inside? Would you be thinking, “Why should they get to enjoy these things? They’ve been so horrible to me! It’s not fair!”
In times of war, one of the things that happen is that nations tend to vilify one another. They create caricatures of those other nations that make them seem wholly evil. Doing so awakens our interest in fighting them; if we see this nation as whole-heartedly wicked, we will not cringe so much at the thought of hurting them. In the same way, we tend to create caricatures of people in our minds. When these are people with whom we do not get along, it is easy to create caricatures that reflect no goodness. It is easy for a dislike to become a complete lack of love. We allow ourselves to imagine that there is not and could never be anything good about that person. Because think that we are so good by comparison, we start to emphasize our blessings and maximize the bad things that happen to that other person. We think, “Well, no wonder that happened. He’s a jerk.” Or, “She deserved it.”
This is far from what we should be thinking, however. We worship a God who sees us all as His potential children. As 2 Peter 3:9 points out, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (New International Version 1984 throughout).
He is not willing, but are we? Are we quick to judge people, convict them and wait for them to fall? Or are we, like God, grieved when others are hurting, whether we think they deserve it or not? We must remember that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. In Romans 5:6-8, Paul writes, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous [person], though for a good [person] someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
We have not done anything to earn our salvation. There is, in fact, nothing we could do that would be worth the inestimable gift that has been given to us. Christ died, sinless, so that we who were the enemies of God might be saved. If we must follow in the steps of Christ, if we accept this gracious gift, then we must be willing to counter unfairness by doing the right thing, acting in love and living out our calling. Indeed, we must be willing to forgive, as is written in Mark 11:25, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive [them], so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
We must forgive
It can run very contrary to our human nature to forgive. It is hard to want good things for those who have not brought good things to us, or for those who seem to be in the wrong. On the other hand, God knows the heart and He has said that vengeance, when required, will be His, not ours. Indeed, when David was running for his life from Saul, David withheld his hand from killing Saul and later repented of the dishonor he did by cutting the king’s robe. Our lives are not to be lived with respect to our own feelings, but to God’s.
“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:7-10, NIV).
If you would like to learn more about getting along with others, check out our booklet, Making Life Work.