Isaiah’s outline of the steps to forgiveness

Let wicked people abandon their ways. Let evil people abandon their thoughts. Let them return to the LORD, and he will show compassion to them. Let them return to our God, because he will freely forgive them.

Isaiah 55:7

People have a need to be forgiven. Whether it’s from wrongs they have committed with other individuals or whether it’s for seemingly irreconcilable errors committed in life, humans will typically reach a point within their lives where forgiveness becomes a real need. It may not be something obvious to others or sometimes even themselves, but the need exists and persists until a crisis point is reached. Once that happens, something must be done to meet this need.

In the passage today, Isaiah outlines three things necessary to accomplish this with God when we feel our life has drifted from its moorings.

First, we must abandon our wicked ways that are contrary to his efforts. The cycles and patterns of destructive behavior have to be changed with a commitment to move beyond them.

This can be accomplished through the second aspect of abandoning our evil thoughts. This is not an injunction to mindless obedience, but a directive to change our habits of thinking that are keeping us trapped in the loop of non-productive or harmful behaviors. Nothing changes until our thought patterns are revised.

The third aspect is what Isaiah describes as returning to God. While this admonition was originally spoken to those in Israel who were familiar with God but had rejected him, the same encouragement exists for us who are seeking for a measure of spiritual peace that comes from the Creator of all things. Isaiah confirms this in the context of this passage when he writes:

Open your ears, and come to me! Listen so that you may live! I will make an everlasting promise to you- the blessings I promised to David. I made him a witness to people, a leader and a commander for people. You will summon a nation that you don’t know, and a nation that doesn’t know you will run to you because of the LORD your God, because of the Holy One of Israel. He has honored you.

Isaiah 55:3-5

Isaiah alludes to the fact that foreign nations would be drawn to the God of Israel because of the example of God’s faithfulness with David, and with his people. What was future to Isaiah is the present age we are living in. Because of the faithfulness of David’s “son,” Yeshua the Messiah, we have the ability, through faith in him, to gain the privilege of being reconciled with our Maker when we realize that our lives are not in alignment with his purposes.

…he gave the right to become God’s children to everyone who believed in him. These people didn’t become God’s children in a physical way-from a human impulse or from a husband’s desire to have a child. They were born from God.

John 1:12-13

Seek the LORD while he may be found. Call on him while he is near.

Isaiah 55:6

He is near even today and able to accept and forgive all who come to him with sincere motives and a willingness to abandon their past ways and past thinking. That need for forgiveness can be met today.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Forgiveness and reconciliation can only stem from a renewed heart

The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:45

I knew a man who was recently honored at his work for being an outstanding performer, always receiving gracious comments from customers with whom he interacted on a regular basis. He even received national recognition and many accolades for his achievements. However, when a particular crisis arose and he was challenged by his boss with a sharp disagreement over his mishandling of a particular situation, what began as a discussion of strategy degraded into a string of profanity and lashing out, blaming a customer for his own inability to bring a situation to its proper conclusion. This indignation, it would seem, was always simmering and bubbling under the surface of the polished outward appearance of his performance. When a situation challenged his work, what was truly in his heart boiled over and out of his mouth, revealing the true nature of his character.

Yeshua calls this the “fruit of the tree.” The wider context of our verse today demonstrates this idea.

For there is no good tree that brings forth rotten fruit; nor again a rotten tree that brings forth good fruit. For each tree is known by its own fruit. For people don’t gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush. The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings out that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings out that which is evil, for out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.

Luke 6:43-45

If, as Yeshua teaches, “each tree is known by its own fruit,” then we can ascertain very quickly what is in a person’s heart by what they say and how they say it.

The same can be said of us. The words we speak illustrate or reveal what is actually in our hearts.

If we are to be speaking and demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation with others, then that forgiveness and reconciliation will truly need to be in our heart. This can only be accomplished when we step out of the way of our old natures and allow God to work through our renewed nature in those situations.

Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-19

If, as Paul writes, we are new creations, then we need to operate within the new Creation of God’s kingdom, and live and abide by its principles, not the principles of this old Creation. Both Yeshua and Paul convey that the principle of reconciliation and forgiveness is a core principle of God’s kingdom. If our hearts have been renewed, then that forgiveness and reconciliation can truly reside in our new hearts.

Our ability to speak this forgiveness and reconciliation to those around us appears to be a choice that we have every day, but only when we recognize and remember who we really are. It is in this fashion that God is honored among the nations when his children are operating with the righteousness of his kingdom regardless of the outward situations and conditions they encounter. When the abundance of the heart is good treasure, then that good treasure can’t help but be shared with those who need it most.

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.

Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Practical Kindness

Core of the Bible podcast #14 – Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Practical Kindness

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of Forgiveness, some practical ways to demonstrate forgiveness, and the humility and kindness required when we concede to overlook the faults and aggression of others.

Yeshua stated it this way:

Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive men their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive people, neither will your Father forgive your wrongdoing.

The overarching theme where this verse is tucked into the Sermon on the Mount is all about avoiding hypocrisy. Don’t expect something of someone else (including God) if you are not willing to subject yourself to the same principles. If you expect to have God forgive you when you have wronged him, then you should be forgiving of those around you who have wronged you.

But what does this type of forgiveness of other people look like? How can it be enacted in practical ways? Yeshua provides a couple of examples that include a brother who has an offense against you, and an adversary who is taking you to court.

Matthew 5:23-26 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.”

From this insight, Yeshua is teaching us that a primary aspect of forgiveness looks a lot like reconciliation. By this standard, reconciliation with all others must take place prior to worshiping God or seeking his forgiveness. Seeing how these two concepts are tied together so closely, we can therefore say forgiveness is the root and foundation of all reconciliation. This is a requirement if we are to be asking God for forgiveness.

Additionally, there are two distinctive aspects of reconciliation that Yeshua brings to our attention here: reconciliation with a brother and reconciliation with an opponent. Let’s take a closer look at both of these distinctions in more detail.

When we are talking about reconciliation with our brothers, most of us are likely familiar with another famous passage that Yeshua teaches about forgiveness which involves some math: seventy times seven.

Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked him, “Lord, how often do I have to forgive a brother who wrongs me? Seven times?” Jesus answered him, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy times seven.

Okay, now on a technical note, the phrase seventy times seven could also mean seventy-seven times. But I think it can be shown that whether seventy-seven or four hundred and ninety times, Yeshua is speaking in a figure of speech known as hyperbole. He is clearly exaggerating for the sake of emphasis, but it’s an exaggerated emphasis worth making.

The point is that no matter how many times someone offends us or does something wrong by us, we, as believers, as followers of Messiah, are obligated to forgive them. This is not an option for those claiming to be in the kingdom of God. This is a hard teaching which is why it is not practiced as much as it could or should be.

By contrast, if someone is not a believer, they are not likely to pay any attention to this concept, and simply respond in kind when someone offends them. They will lash out, hold a grudge, seek retaliation, or basically do anything that does not require them to concede their position or their pride. Yet, as believers, forgiveness of those who have offended us is a non-negotiable directive of Yeshua that must be adhered to.

For many years when I considered this passage, I had the idea that I would only have to forgive someone if they came to me and asked for forgiveness. If they didn’t, I wouldn’t have to consider actively forgiving them. However, as I’ve grown, I’ve learned that we must take all of Yeshua’s teaching into account if we are to be his followers. In his teaching, there is no room for that kind of petty distinction. Our verse for study today rules out that option when it says:

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.

Notice it says when YOU remember that your brother has something against you, you would be obligated to drop what you were doing, even if you were in the process of offering a sacrifice at the temple. That conveys two things: firstly, an obligation for reconciliation, and secondly, a sense of urgency in resolving conflict with all others at all times.

Additionally, there’s a third aspect that I touched on a few moments ago: there is no point in conducting acts of worship if we have unresolved conflict with others. From God’s perspective, this a kind of hypocritical schizophrenia that is not welcome in his kingdom. Time and time again throughout his teachings, Yeshua and his followers emphasize how deeply religious hypocrisy is hated by God. Look at some of these examples.

Matthew 23:28 – “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Luke 12:1 – He began saying to His disciples first [of all,] “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

1 Peter 2:1 – So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech.

James 3:17 – But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.

Maybe you hadn’t realized it, but unresolved conflict in your life while claiming you are a child of God is hypocrisy, and God is not honored by that type of dichotomy.

Now that I’ve stabbed you with that truth, allow me to twist the knife further by saying that this type of forgiveness is not only a requirement for our brothers and those close to us, but is also a requirement for those who may be adversarial to us, as well. So if you think it’s hard to forgive a brother, how much more do you think we need to rely on God’s strength to forgive an enemy?


While we might be able to comprehend how forgiveness of those closest to us is essential, we tend to bristle at the suggestion that those who can be considered our enemies or our adversaries are also to be recipients of the same level of forgiveness from us.

At the root of this reconciliation and forgiveness is a characteristic that perhaps we had not considered: respect. When we forgive and give people the benefit of any doubt, we are essentially respecting their perspective and their known or unknown motives, and we are responding with kindness rather than vindictiveness. From a practical standpoint, I freely admit this is one of the most difficult of all biblical principles to put into practice.

If we actually do this with others, won’t this open us up to be taken advantage of? Very possibly, yes. Some people will see that we are not offering any resistance and will walk all over us. However, if we truly enact active kindness and not just mute submission, what is more likely to happen is something that we are taught from the torah, or instruction of God, when we are kind to our enemies:

Proverbs 25:21-22 – If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat. If they are thirsty, give them water to drink. You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads, and the LORD will reward you.

The apostle Paul echoes this same sentiment when he writes:

Romans 12:17-21 – Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, “I will take revenge; I will pay them back,” says the LORD. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.” Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

By being good to those who are opposing us, we are going against those natural instincts to retaliate. It is an unexpected response, and can cause them to recognize that they were acting foolishly. The metaphor of the burning coals being heaped on their head is a challenging one, but one that is meant to illustrate how recognized truth can be painful because it involves a recognition of one’s own wrongdoing. It typically takes something unusual to happen in order to shake us out of our destructive habits. When someone is nice to another person who has been only angry and mean with them is certainly one way to make that person sit up and take notice.

I’m sure almost everyone could share a story about someone who was sincerely nice to someone who was mean to them, and the person was won over to friendship, or at least, to stop the oppressive behavior. There is no guarantee that will happen, but it does happen. And regardless of the outcome, it is our biblical obligation to do so.

Yeshua makes another point about the necessity of reconciling with our adversaries:

Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent.

Reconciliation even in legal matters is a best practice that we are admonished by Yeshua to demonstrate. We can recognize that when things have become legal battles, that communication, trust, and forgiveness have broken down. Yeshua instructs us to get ahead of this type of entanglement by agreeing with, or making friends with our opponents. The word here can be vague in English; it implies a “giving of oneself wholly.” To my way of thinking, if you are giving yourself wholly to your opponent, then you are essentially conceding the dispute, and you are choosing rather to bear the injustice.

This is a difficult position to maintain, but it is a precedent that Paul has set among believers who disagree:

1 Corinthians 6:6-7 – But instead, one believer sues another–right in front of unbelievers! Even to have such lawsuits with one another is a defeat for you. Why not just accept the injustice and leave it at that? Why not let yourselves be cheated?

What?! Let yourselves be cheated? Paul obviously is out of touch with our current societal standards of personal rights. Or is it rather that our current societal standards are out of touch with the perfection of God’s ideal?

While Paul is admonishing this practice among believers, Yeshua seems to be implying that we should activate this same practice indiscriminately with everyone, even an adversary who would take you to court. We have to remember that in Yeshua’s day, any type of legal court was essentially held at the whim of the judge. You could have an airtight case and still end up having the ruling go against you. Then what would be the result? You would be innocent, you would have stated your case, but you would still be in prison.

Yeshua’s admonition for reconciliation, or “settling out of court” is a safeguard and a protection for the early believers. If they practiced this, it would potentially protect them from an unjust verdict. There was no guarantee that a trial would be fair, and if they were to pursue their rights, they were putting themselves in jeopardy of imprisonment. It would go better for them if they settled or reconciled out of court. They would avoid a potential further injustice, and be demonstrating a measure of love and forgiveness toward an adversary that could potentially change their heart, as well.

Matthew 5:44-47 – But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.

As Yeshua also teaches here, by exhibiting kindness to our adversaries, we are providing them something they need, just like our Father provides sunlight and nourishing rain to all, because he knows these are basic needs, and especially so in an agrarian society. When we act the same way, we are responding as our Father would want us to respond. We are then allowing any legitimate vengeance or retaliation to come from him and him alone, since only he knows the hearts and true motives of all. Most of the time, we may also discover that no vengeance or retaliation is necessary, simply because we didn’t possess all of the facts at the time. This includes adversaries and anyone we may know to be holding something against us.

God values reconciliation over proving our personal “rightness” in any situation. Forgiveness requires humility, humility with our brothers and sisters and humility with our adversaries. Our strength in this area can easily be perceived as foolishness and weakness by the rest of the world, but if that’s the case, we are in good Company:

1 Corinthians 1:25, 27-28 – This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. … Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important.

The relationships we have are mirrors of our heart actions towards others. People will typically be to us what we are to them, and vice versa. So when we take Yeshua’s command to heart and break the cycle of mirroring behaviors, we have an opportunity to create new relationships, and these relationships can bear fruit for God.

Remember, God desires that we approach him without hypocrisy. God is always looking for our hearts to be pure and consistent in all ways with everyone; this includes those close to us and those who would maintain an adversarial position towards us. When we demonstrate humility and forgiveness with all others, we are taking a positive stance in a negative situation in which God has an opportunity to work and be glorified. Because then we are truly behaving like his children, and reaching out to the unreceptive, just like he does.


Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. We need to keep in mind that if we are to truly overlook the faults of others, we need a measure of humility and understanding because we don’t know everyone’s motives. One of the clearest ways we can respect others is to forgive them when they have wronged us. Let’s keep our focus on reconciliation with all others in which God is glorified, because then we are mirroring his actions to an unreceptive world.

Be sure to visit coreofthebible.org to join the conversation through comments, to see daily blog posts on these topics, and to find free downloadable resources regarding the message of the Bible reduced to its simplest form.

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Thanks for your interest in listening today. As always, I hope to be invited back into your headphones in another episode to come. Take care!

If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive here.

The daily requirement of blessing all others, even (or, especially) those who hate you

Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.

Luke 6:28

Our words are important, and in this day of instant and voluminous communication, there are numberless words spent daily in the vast sea of our digital culture. Not all of that communication is helpful, and much of it is downright hurtful. However, as believers, our words should be a blessing to others.

The definition of the word that we translate as blessing means to “speak well of,” to “praise” or to “wish for the prosperity of.” It is the same word that we get our English word eulogy: an example of speaking well of someone who has recently died, or delivering a benediction of well-wishing upon a person or group of people. To bless others is to speak well of them and wish them prosperity and wholeness.

This seems simple and natural among friends and family, but we are commanded by Yeshua to have this same level of concern and care for those outside of our common circle, and in fact, with those who would seek to do us harm. In the verse above, he commands us to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who would seek to hurt us.

This is a root sentiment among the early believers, as well:

Romans 12:14 – Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them.

1 Peter 3:9 – Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.

I find it interesting that Peter attaches a reward to this practice: God will bless you for it. To bless others is to receive a blessing from God in return. If we feel that we are outside of God’s blessing at times, perhaps it is because this required practice is lacking in our lives.

The real challenge is in not only speaking well of our adversaries, but truly meaning it from the heart. This requires a type of ongoing forgiveness for the wrongs that others may commit against us. And yet, for our blessing of others to be genuine it has to come from the heart.

Certainly, this is not a natural inclination, but, as believers, we are not just natural beings.

The apostle Paul speaks of it this way:

Therefore, if anyone [is] in Messiah, [he is] a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Yeshua instructs us that we are not to call someone a fool or an idiot or be unrighteously angry with anyone, and that the words we speak always come from the overflow of the heart. If what is in your heart is bitterness and unforgiveness, then that is what will come out of your mouth. However, if what is in your heart is real love and forgiveness as part of God’s new creation, then what comes out of your mouth will be genuine blessing for others.

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life.

Proverbs 4:23

Following in the footsteps of Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs, the apostle James illustrates it in this fashion:

But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

James 3:8-12

When it boiled down to essentials, the issue is really not our tongue, but the spring of our heart. If the spring is fresh water, then the tongue will yield fresh water for others. If, in obedience to Yeshua, we are to truly bless those who work against us at all times, then we need to ensure that rooted in the depths of our heart is an ongoing measure of real forgiveness. Then no wrongs can be too harsh, no hurt can be too severe. Blessing and prayer for all others will become the living water flowing from our hearts.

We have an obligation to forgive others

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

Colossians 3:13

Paul is here reminding the Colossian believers of an obligation they have to forgive anyone who offends them. The verse speaks in a literal sense of those who have complaints or blame to assign to another. In my experience, there will always be blame to assign to someone, and there will always be complaints about others. The justification Paul gives for overcoming this blame and complaining attitude of others is because God forgave them.

We have been in this same condition before God, and yet he was willing to overlook our faults and still call us to himself. Like our natural parents Adam and Eve, we looked for excuses as to why we did not obey God, and we have been quick to assign blame to another:

“Have you eaten from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat?” The man replied, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit, and I ate it.” Then the LORD God asked the woman, “What have you done?” “The serpent deceived me,” she replied. “That’s why I ate it.”

Genesis 3:11-13

In our natural state prior to coming to faith in Messiah, if you’ll pardon the expression, the apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree. And yet, even in our new relationship with God, as we seek to grow the “new man” within us, sometimes those old tendencies rear their head and cause us to stumble. We then can fall prey to a measure of hypocrisy, something hated by all and cautioned against by Messiah:

“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15

The English version of Colossians 3:13 above says because “the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.” A literal rendering of this admonition would be “in the same manner or to the same degree that God has forgiven you, you should do in like fashion to others.”

How much has God forgiven you for? When we realize the depth of that forgiveness, it should reveal our ability, and our obligation, to forgive others in a new light.

Authentic forgiveness has the ability to influence others to do the same

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.

Luke 23:34

One of the main reasons that Yeshua’s teachings have been so influential in the centuries and millennia is not just because of the wisdom, logic, and truth of what he taught, but because he actually demonstrated how to apply what he implored others to do.

As was the case in the instance of his crucifixion at the hands of his oppressors, he didn’t just preach forgiveness of enemies, he actually lived it out, praying for God to forgive those who had no intent toward him except extreme harm.

A message can have impact because it makes sense, or because it is an accepted tradition, or it may be a requirement of an institution or governing authority. However, the most impactful messages are those that are conveyed with consistency and authenticity by those who are presenting them.

By contrast, in our culture today, the opposite happens so frequently that there is the ironic statement expressed by the saying, ” Do what I say, not what I do.” This is the epitome of sad weakness in which one may have an understanding of what the right thing may be in a given situation, but they not have the strength or fortitude to carry out even their own advice. Hypocrisy is powerless.

But wisdom with consistent action makes a difference, especially with hard teachings like those about forgiveness. Anyone can say people should be forgiving of those who are intent on harm, but to do so in the most extreme of circumstances demonstrates authenticity that has power to change lives.

This is corroborated in the lives of his disciples, most visibly in the noble act of Stephen, when he faced the same type of hostility of those who would see him dead for his speaking of the truth.

Being called before the court to defend his beliefs, Stephen provides a protracted description of God’s favor with Israel, and then accuses the religious leaders of his day of forsaking everything they should have been practicing. In boldly speaking this truth, the situation then proceeded toward its inevitable conclusion.

[Stephen said,] “You received the law under the direction of angels and yet have not kept it.” … When they heard these things, they were enraged and gnashed their teeth at him. … They yelled at the top of their voices, covered their ears, and together rushed against him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. … He knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them! ” And after saying this, he died.

Acts 7:53-54, 57-58, 60

Stephen was so captivated with the powerful example of his Lord in forgiving his enemies that, thrust into a similar circumstance, he responded in the same way. His actions were consistent with his recognition of the truth related by his Master, and he was able to respond with the same level of demonstrable conviction. His righteous actions were so powerful they still influence and challenge us to this day.

Based on these demonstrations of genuine forgiveness of enemies by both Yeshua and Stephen, can we somehow find it within ourselves to forgive others with this same level of authenticity, even though we may not be faced with the extreme condition of impending death?

If this is the ultimate level of authenticity demanded of every disciple of Yeshua, then forgiving those who have wronged us in some minor detail seems much less daunting. In so doing, we have an opportunity to provide an authentic response that can influence others to do the same.

The quality of God that exemplifies his greatest strength

If You, O LORD, kept track of iniquities, then who, O Lord, could stand? But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be feared.

Psalm 130:3-4

The deities of the ancient nations exhibited power through their strength and ruthlessness. They were cruel gods with weaknesses and foibles rivalling those of the most degenerate of human behavior. Yet Yahweh stands out among the ancient gods for his characteristic forgiveness.

You are my God; save Your servant who trusts in You. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I call to You all day long. Bring joy to Your servant, for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. For You, O Lord, are kind and forgiving, rich in loving devotion to all who call on You.

Psalm 86:2-5

The Psalmist writes, “But with You there is forgiveness, so that You may be feared.” The quality of God that most causes people to revere him is the fact that he is willing to forgive those who sincerely admit their failings.

Let the wicked man forsake his own way and the unrighteous man his own thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that He may have compassion, and to our God, for He will freely pardon.

Isaiah 55:7

Considered in this light, this explains how God’s kingdom can expand to the entirety of earth. This is not a kingdom that is to be established by force or by might, but by love and forgiveness. Force and might may hold sway for temporary times and in limited areas, but it always gives way to the next sweep of power and might.

Forgiveness operates from a different base than forced subjection; it is a subtler but stronger might that captures the heart, and in so doing causes willing obedience and respect. It is not as visible and decisive as forced compliance, yet it spreads farther, reaches deeper, and lasts longer than any armed campaign could accomplish.

If our God is a God of forgiveness, and if we consider ourselves to be his children through faith, then should we not mimic the characteristic that would most demonstrate our likeness with our Father and bring honor to his name?

Relying on God’s strength to express forgiveness to our enemies

David asked Saul, “Why do you listen to rumors that I am trying to harm you? Today you saw how the LORD handed you over to me in the cave. Although I was told to kill you, I spared you, saying, ‘I will not raise my hand against Your Majesty because you are the LORD’s anointed.’ My master, look at this! The border of your robe is in my hand! Since I cut off the border of your robe and didn’t kill you, you should know and be able to see I mean no harm or rebellion. I haven’t sinned against you, but you are trying to ambush me in order to take my life. May the LORD decide between you and me. May the LORD take revenge on you for what you did to me. However, I will not lay a hand on you. It’s like people used to say long ago, ‘Wickedness comes from wicked people.’ But I will not lay a hand on you.

1 Samuel 24:9-13

The story of Saul and David encompasses many facets of spiritual instruction within the lore of Israel. In this instance, David and his men are being pursued by a jealous Saul, then present King of Israel, because Saul thinks David is heading a rebellion to overthrow him. The pursuit comes to a climax when Saul unknowingly enters a cave into which David and his men are already hiding. David even gets close enough to cut off a corner of Saul’s robe.

This incident highlights Yeshua’s teaching that we should not harm our enemies, paraphrased below.

Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.

Matthew 5:38-41

David could have been justified in taking vengeance on his enemy who was quite literally pursuing him to kill him. However, in our day and culture, those who may be adversarial to us are rarely out to physically kill us. They may speak badly about us in an unjustifiable way; they may actively try to work against our objectives; they may use us for their own personal ends; but they are rarely out to actually take our lives.

If David could be so forgiving and honorable in a justifiable situation with a sworn enemy when his life was in danger, shouldn’t that give us hope that we can, and should, have the ability to overcome the advances of our adversaries?

David mentions a saying that was prevalent in his culture and his time, “Wickedness comes from wicked people.” Yeshua substantiated that perspective even in his teachings, a millennium after the events of David took place:

“A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit. Each tree is known by its fruit. You don’t pick figs from thorny plants or grapes from a thornbush. Good people do the good that is in them. But evil people do the evil that is in them. The things people say come from inside them.

Luke 6:43-45

Even though this may be the case, Yeshua also encourages us to take a very specific stance with those who may be displaying the wickedness that comes from inside of them:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to oppose an evil person. If someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn your other cheek to him as well. If someone wants to sue you in order to take your shirt, let him have your coat too. If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to everyone who asks you for something. Don’t turn anyone away who wants to borrow something from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

If we are to be considered followers of Yeshua, then we need to abide by the principles he endorses, or rather, requires, of those who would claim to be his. These types of non-retaliatory actions require a very special form of forgiveness that can typically only be displayed as we rely on the Spirit of God providing us the strength to do so.

It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand because of the weakness our human nature has. But by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, God condemned sin in the flesh, in our corrupt nature. Therefore, we, who do not live by our corrupt nature but by our spiritual nature, are [now] able to meet God’s standards. Those who live by the corrupt nature have the corrupt nature’s attitude. But those who live by the spiritual nature have the spiritual nature’s attitude. The corrupt nature’s attitude leads to death. But the spiritual nature’s attitude leads to life and peace. This is so because the corrupt nature has a hostile attitude toward God. It refuses to place itself under the authority of God’s standards because it can’t. Those who are under the control of the corrupt nature can’t please God. But if God’s Spirit lives in you, you are under the control of your spiritual nature, not your corrupt nature.

Romans 8:3-9

As believers, God has provided us the resources needed to carry out his expectations that we overcome our adversaries through forgiveness and kind actions. It’s time for us to do so.

Why would we ever withhold forgiveness?

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

John 20:23

The context of this passage is the day of Yeshua’s resurrection, in the evening of that very day. The disciples were still trying to understand what had happened since their Teacher had been crucified a few days before. A strange report of Messiah’s appearance had come from Mary, and Peter and John had both been to the tomb and found it was empty.

Suddenly, Yeshua is among them all, proclaiming peace and wholeness (shalom), and providing an admonition to remain receptive to the holy Spirit of God and to exercise the privilege of forgiveness with others.

Most commentators view this as a special privilege, anointing, or commissioning of the twelve disciples (or, in this case, the ten disciples, since Thomas and Judas were not among them). However, there is no indication this admonition was just to Yeshua’s closest circle, but it was conveyed to all of those present.

The significance of this cannot be minimized: the first collective teaching Yeshua provides his followers after being resurrected is to remain receptive to God’s Spirit and to be mindful of how they exercise forgiveness, because to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then the state of unforgiveness remains.

In reality, this should not be surprising to us, since Messiah consistently taught of the importance of forgiving others, and how the believer’s use of forgiveness with others will be an indicator of God’s forgiveness with them.

Matthew 6:12, 14-15 – “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … “For if you forgive others their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. “But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your offenses.

Mark 11:25 – “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you your wrongdoing.”

Luke 17:4 – “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

If we can cautiously peel back the prejudice of our religious orthodoxy regarding the historical commentary of this passage and simply consider the Messiah’s words for what they say, the importance of forgiveness in the teaching of Yeshua cannot be understated.

If we are allowing the Spirit of God to guide our lives, then we need to always be mindful of how important the role of forgiveness plays in our interactions with others. For to whomever forgiveness is not extended, then a state of unforgiveness remains. And if we are to maintain a consistent view within the larger context of Yeshua’s teaching during his life and ministry, that state of unforgiveness can be measured against our own standing with God.

The fact that the operation of the Spirit and forgiveness are knit together so closely should cause us to evaluate how receptive we are to the influence of the God’s Spirit in our lives. A life guided by the Spirit is, by default, a life of forgiveness.

Peace and Forgiveness

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 7 – Peace and Forgiveness

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of forgiveness by looking at Yeshua’s admonition for believers to be peacemakers.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Matthew 5:9

I have paraphrased this verse as “Make peace; do peace, and you will be blessed, being recognized as a child of God.” It is our obligation as believers to be the vanguard of peace among the lives of those around us.

What’s interesting in this verse is the active nature of what is being expressed. Yeshua appears to be emphasizing the doing or the making of peace. By this reckoning, peace is not something that just happens; it involves work and effort to bring it about. That’s what we are discussing today; what is involved in bringing about peace in our lives and the lives of those around us?

So let’s explore the definition of peace, to find out what it is that we should be actively working towards in our relationships with others.

The word in the original Greek is eiréné (i-ray’-nay) meaning oneness, peace, quietness, rest. In usage it conveys peace, peace of mind. It is also the equivalent of the Hebrew shalom, an invocation of peace and a common Jewish farewell, in the Hebraic sense of the health (welfare) of an individual.

HELPS Word-studies focus on the wholeness aspect of this term as coming from a root word which means “to join, tie together into a whole”. It essentially conveys when all necessary parts are joined together there is peace (God’s gift of wholeness).

Through these definitions you can see that the biblical notion of peace brings so much more to the table than just attitudes of non-aggression; it has to do with a sense of wholeness and essential unity. Wholeness and unity can only come about when individuals are in agreement or have a common purpose or emotional bond. If this is the case, and if we are to be peacemakers, it is our responsibility as believers to bridge disagreements and work to bring others towards common purposes and feelings towards us and towards each other.

One aspect of being a peacemaker is to be reconciled to a family member or someone you are close to.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Matthew 5:23-34

This word for reconciliation carries the idea of changing or exchanging something for something else. It means to thoroughly experience change, such as where people in conflict come together through meaningful change. Enmity or disagreement has been exchanged for friendship.

Many times, disagreements between friends or family exist because no one wants to be the first one to budge from their position of perceiving they have been wronged by the other. But according to Yeshua, we as believers need to actively work towards these types of resolutions. It is our responsibility to initiate these exchanges; that’s what makers of peace do. So if we have unresolved conflict in our close relations, then it is upon us to to be the ones who begin to pave the way toward resolution of these conflicts.

However, if we continue to be caught up in dissent and factionism by pressing our righteous indignation at every offense, we are denying our heritage as makers of peace in the character and likeness of Messiah and his kingdom.

“…for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this [way] serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” –

Romans 14:17-19

When wrongs are committed between individuals, the faithful believer must look beyond the immediate injury to the larger objective of peace and unity. There is no denial a wrong has been committed, just a positive affirmation that is intentionally offered to overcome the sting of whatever injustice was perceived to have been incurred.

Sometimes our perceptions are incorrect, or we misunderstand someone, and we react to a perceived injustice. This is why we must exercise care. If we focus on peace rather than justifying our perceptions, we are saved from potentially creating an issue where there was no real threat to begin with.

Another aspect of being a peacemaker is in reconciliation with an adversary:

Reconcile quickly with your adversary, while you are still on the way to court.

Matthew 5:25

Your adversary can be anyone who is simply working at cross-purposes with you, or who could be actively working against you at every turn. In the example Yeshua provides, this adversary would be someone taking you to court over some legal issues. This adversarial behavior can be frustrating and can cause our emotions to run high, wanting to reflexively do them harm, or to avoid them at all cost so no interaction has to occur to continue to feed into your emotional distress.

And yet, Yeshua says we need to be the instigators of reconciliation; we need to be the ones who begin the process of trying to find common ground for the establishing of a stronger relationship.

The type of reconciliation mentioned in this verse about our adversaries is a form of being well-minded toward someone else, to think kindly of them or to be favorable toward them. Who wants to do that with an adversary? Wouldn’t we rather want to respond in kind by trying to see how much harm we could do them because they were escalating things in the legal court system?

That may be our initial emotional response, but it should not be our continuing motivational attitude toward that individual. We are commanded by Yeshua to initiate reconciliation, to look kindly toward those who might be trying to do us harm.

These are the types of peacemakers we are to be: to be coming together with those who are near to us through exchanging our enmity for friendship, to be well-minded towards our adversaries. Being a peacemaker involves all others we interact with.

Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but enjoy the company of the lowly. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone.

Romans 12:14-18

Notice how Paul says our responsibility is towards everyone. That word is a primary word meaning all people, every person, the whole of everyone we interact with.

This goal of peace is so much more than just joining hands and singing kumbaya around a campfire; this type of exchanging enmity for reconciliation or being well minded towards others involves a difficult and sometimes emotionally painful exercise of a typically latent faculty that we all possess: forgiveness. When it comes right down to it, forgiveness is the basis of all peace.

So let’s explore this idea of forgiveness as a driver of the making of peace a little further.

Forgiveness comes from the Greek word charizomai (khar-id’-zom-ahee) which means to show favor or kindness, to give freely. It’s root meaning comes from the word xaris (char’-is)  which is where we get our word for grace, that is, freely giving favor or to grant forgiveness or pardon. (xarízomai) literally means, “to willingly (“graciously”) bestow.

I think you can begin to get the idea of where this topic is heading.

Now, we love all of these definitions as we apply them to our relationship with God: he forgives us, extends his mercy when we don’t deserve it, there is nothing we can do to earn it, but it is freely given.

But when we look to others who may have wronged us, we are not necessarily as quick to apply those same principles towards them. Why not? Because forgiveness isn’t something that is a natural response; it has to be intentionally bestowed upon someone else. This takes effort, and in some respects doesn’t feel natural because it isn’t reflexive. It has to be thought about and not carelessly offered.

Additionally, forgiveness involves another quality that does not always come easily: humility. It takes a humble person to not take action in pressing their potential advantage over someone else. To be willing to concede a perceived wrong is generally thought of as a weakness, but in God’s eyes  this is a strength.

The saying is that we may have lost the battle but we win the war. Forgiveness and humility both give us an opportunity to step back from the immediate conflict and gain perspective on the overall relationship. From the larger perspective, “losing” a battle for the sake of maintaining the relationship has real value, even if it doesn’t seem like it at that time.  Forgiveness is full of hope because it looks to a future of reconciliation, even if it isn’t readily apparent in the moment.

Now, the caveat in all of this is that while we may do all of these things from the truest intent of our hearts, our overtures of reconciliation, peace, and forgiveness may still fall on deaf ears and hard hearts. Those we are attempting to exhibit peace with may still remain at odds with us.

I believe this is why it says in Romans 12:18, “Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody.”

The phrase literally says “if possible, out of you, with all men live at peace.”

This implies that “out of us” should always be coming overtures of peace, even if met with resistance. It also implies that it may not always be possible to be at peace, at least not at the present time, due to whatever else the other person may be dealing with. But that doesn’t mean that their emotional state won’t be changed at some future point. For this reason, we are commanded that our  stance should always be one of unending peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness. In short, we should always act in love.

If we are to be mimicking God and representing his character and values in this world, then we should adopt the stance of God towards us. He constantly continues to offer his reconciliation, forgiveness and peace, even in our most rebellious and hard-hearted times. Yeshua admonishes us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Perfection in this instance refers to a measure of completeness. When we are agitated toward others, we are in a sense incomplete, however, when we advocate for peace and reconciliation, we are pursuing wholeness and unity, and we ourselves become whole in the process.

We are to be the makers of peace, the doers of peace. When we do this faithfully, we will be considered the children of God, because we will be doing what he does with us.

Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground today that I hope provides you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Being a peacemaker can be hard work, and forgiveness does not come naturally or easily. But we need to keep in mind that forgiveness is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, vigilance, holiness, trust, and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.

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