Today we will be looking at the topic of forgiveness, and how God expects us to honor and forgive our adversaries; yes, not just our family and friends but our adversaries. Retaliation against personal injustices are meant to be met with godly forgiveness and meeting the needs of our enemies. Thankfully, as we shall see, he has also provided us the ability to do so.
1 Samuel 24:9-13 – “David asked Saul, ‘Why do you listen to rumors that I am trying to harm you? Today you saw how Yahweh 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 Yahweh’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 Yahweh decide between you and me. May Yahweh 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.
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.
Matthew 5:38-41 – “Never retaliate; instead, offer to go above and beyond for those oppressing you.”
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?
We can gain some additional insight into this concept by reviewing the text a little more closely. David mentions a saying that was prevalent in his culture and his time, “Wickedness comes from wicked people.” Yet even a thousand later, Yeshua substantiated that very same perspective in his teachings.
Luke 6:43-45 – “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.”
In the same way David affirmed “wickedness comes from wicked people,” Yeshua also says, “evil people do the evil that is in them.” Even though this may be the case, Yeshua also encouraged his followers to take a very specific stance with those who may be displaying this wickedness that comes from inside of them:
Matthew 5:38-42 – “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.”
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. Yet none of these principles come naturally. If we are slapped, our reaction is to slap back. If someone sues us unjustly, we want to fight back and have our day in court. If we are forced to comply with governmental initiatives, we try to find ways to circumvent them. We typically avoid those who would ask us to give and borrow so we can hang on to our own resources.
In John 14:15, Yeshua says, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Yet if all of these principles he commands his followers to do are contrary to our natural reactions, then how is it that he expects us to follow his commandments? In just a moment, we’ll review one of the key teachings that Yeshua brought forward to tell us how to do just that.
During his last few hours before he was given up to the authorities in Jerusalem, Yeshua provides some insight for us in what were to become his parting words to his disciples.
John 14:15-17 – “If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever– the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.”
Yeshua says that after his departure, provision would be made for the disciples to continue to follow his teachings. The Spirit of truth would be given to them and would provide the following benefits:
- dwell with and be in them (14:17)
- teach them all things (14:26)
- bring to remembrance his teachings (14:26)
- testify to the truth of Messiah (15:26)
- guide them into truth (16:13)
- tell them things to come (16:13)
Additionally, Yeshua mentioned in other teaching settings how the disciples would be able to provide irrefutable answers to those in authority when they were arraigned before judges: this would be possible only because the spirit of the Father would be speaking through them (Matt 10:20; Mark 13:11).
This “Helper” would help the believers in all of these ways. Notice, all of these ways are characteristics which were supernatural, not just improvements on the natural: indwelling, teaching, remembering, testifying, guiding, providing foreknowledge; these were all characteristics beyond each of the disciples individually, yet they were to be empowered with these abilities by the Spirit of God dwelling in them.
So, the types of non-retaliatory actions that Yeshua encouraged his followers to abide by must have required a very special form of forgiveness. This type could only be displayed when relying on the Spirit of God providing the strength to do so by indwelling them.
In the passages just mentioned, Yeshua painted in broad strokes in what ways the Spirit of God would be assisting the believers. The apostle Paul, however, expands on this further when he writes about the contrast between the Spirit and the corrupted nature evident in the world “which cannot receive” the Spirit because it “neither sees nor knows him,” as Yeshua had said.
Romans 8:3-9 – “For what the law couldn’t do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God did, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh; that the ordinance of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace; because the mind of the flesh is hostile toward God; for it is not subject to God’s law, neither indeed can it be. Those who are in the flesh can’t please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it is so that the Spirit of God dwells in you.”
The dynamic of the holy Spirit living within the believer is the fulfillment of the covenant that Israel had been looking forward to for centuries.
Jeremiah 31:33 – “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
Ezekiel 36:26-27 – “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”
This is how the believers were to live up to standards that were unattainable by purely doing their best to live out of the flesh. This is why fleshly works have no value in the sight of God; they cannot accomplish the depth and complexity of what God intends. The believer must be transformed to allow God to work through them; this is what makes biblical faith come alive. This is how we become image-bearers as God intended, ruling and reigning in his Creation with the wisdom and understanding that comes from him.
Romans 12:1-2 – “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
In order for believers to do things that are not natural, but supernatural, they must go through a transformative process. Paul here calls it a “renewing of the mind.” This mind renewal transforms the believer into an individual accomplishing the will of God in this world.
Yeshua called it being born anew, or born from above.
John 3:5-8 – “Yeshua answered, “Most certainly I tell you, unless one is born of water and spirit, he can’t enter into God’s Kingdom. That which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Don’t marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’ The wind blows where it wants to, and you hear its sound, but don’t know where it comes from and where it is going. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
To be born of the Spirit is to be transformed and empowered to accomplish God’s will on the earth. This is the good news of the kingdom, and how the kingdom continues to grow within each generation.
So a logical question then becomes: How then does one receive this holy Spirit in order for this transformation to take place? Yeshua and the apostles provide that answer and more throughout the pages of the New Testament writings.
While there are many religious traditions that may answer this question differently, the teaching of Yeshua and the apostles is that the holy Spirit is available to all who simply ask.
Luke 11:9-13 – “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. “If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? “Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
James 1:5 – “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach; and it will be given him.”
Asking God for us to be participants in his will through his Spirit working in and through us is the answer. When we ask in sincerity, he will provide us what we need so his will can be accomplished on this earth as he intends.
2 Peter 1:3-8 – “…his divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and virtue, by which he has granted to us his precious and exceedingly great promises; that through these you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust. Yes, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence; and in moral excellence, knowledge; and in knowledge, self-control; and in self-control perseverance; and in perseverance godliness; and in godliness brotherly affection; and in brotherly affection, love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to not be idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Yeshua Messiah.”
See, God’s provision of his Spirit causes us to not be idle nor unfruitful in the things that Yeshua has instructed us to do. So if we are instructed to be forgiving to the unforgivable, we can now do so. If we are instructed to not seek revenge for offenses against us, we can now do so.
This is a highly significant truth in the panorama of religious life because this is the very thing that sets apart a biblical faith from every other worldly religion in the world that boasts some code of ethics or good works. Those religions may provide lofty goals that some of their followers may discipline themselves to achieve some of the time, but God has provided not only lofty ethics but the power to accomplish all of them all the time!
This is such a foreign concept among believers today because we are generally taught that our flesh is sinful and useless and we will only experience freedom from these sinful tendencies in the life to come. However, the gospel message is the complete opposite! The good news of the Kingdom is that we can begin to live by its standards here and now AND also into eternity beyond this life! We have been set free from the sinful tendencies that weigh people down so we can exhibit the love of God here and now.
John 8:34-36 “Yeshua answered them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is the bondservant of sin. A bondservant doesn’t live in the house forever. A son remains forever. If therefore the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
A true biblical faith is not just one religious tradition among a host of world religions, but an empowered lifestyle of burning brightly with the energy and power of God. As Peter says, to “escape from the corruption that is in the world by lust” in our lives, and to overcome the evil in this world with good actions.
Romans 12:17-21 “Repay no one evil for evil. Respect what is honorable in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as it is up to you, be at peace with all men. Don’t seek revenge yourselves, beloved, but give place to God’s wrath. For it is written, ‘Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay, says Yahweh.’ Therefore, ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing so, you will heap coals of fire on his head.’ Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
1 Peter 2:11-16 – “Beloved, I beg you as foreigners and pilgrims, to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; having good behavior among the nations, so in that of which they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they see, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore subject yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether to the king, as supreme; or to governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evildoers and for praise to those who do well. For this is the will of God, that by well-doing you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: as free, and not using your freedom for a cloak of wickedness, but as bondservants of God.”
As believers, God has provided us the resources needed to carry out his expectations that we overcome our adversaries through forgiveness and kind actions. This is not just some hope for a distant future in another age, but real-world, practical advice for believers in this day and age. Why would the early believers have been commanded these things if they were not attainable then? And if they were attainable then, why would they not attainable now?
Our goal, no, our mission, is to exhibit godly characteristics in the face of an ungodly world as a demonstration of the reality of the One who dwells within us for his honor and glory. To merely profess lofty ideals but never attain them is not an option that has been provided by the message of Yeshua and the Bible. We are to be the lights in this world, a light that stems from the light of God himself.
1 John 1:5-7 – “This is the message which we have heard from him and announce to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and don’t tell the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Yeshua Messiah, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.”
Therefore, we can truly forgive our adversaries and not seek retaliation as Yeshua instructs us, but only as we walk in the light of God with the provision of his Spirit.
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