The single, powerful stroke of contrast

Forgiveness is firmly integrated in the inner workings of love.

1 Corinthians 13:5 – “[Love] is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not easily provoked, and does not keep a record of wrongs.”

As an artist, I enjoy how each layer of a painting can modify the overall image, and enhance the original idea to the point of sometimes changing the picture completely. Typically, this is something that is controlled through the use of various shading and highlighting to bring out the intended emphasis. As a painting is nearing completion, I enjoy the highlighting aspect most of all because it begins to bring focus to the whole image.

On occasion, I have attempted to paint multiple paintings at once based on the same theme to see if I could duplicate an idea. No matter how hard I tried, even using the same colors and brushes, each finished painting would have a slightly different “feel” than the others.

I recently had a dream where I was commissioned to paint four similar paintings of a cabin in a snowstorm. In this dream, I was using the same colors and brushes, but I was purposely changing the brush technique to see how each painting’s emphasis would shift. All of the paintings were very dark and dreary, showing the intensity of the snowstorm.

Then, in an unintentional movement of my hand in the fourth painting, I had inadvertently created a shadow behind the roof of the cabin. It was a simple and quick move of the brush, and suddenly the entire character of the painting was transformed. Instead of the harsh, dreary, and hopeless nature of the the other three paintings, there was suddenly the sense of light breaking through the storm and creating this inadvertent shadow. The contrast of the single shadow changed the emotion of the painting from one of hopelessness into one of hope. The sun had broken through the snowy maelstrom in one small area of light, hinting that the storm would pass.

The reason this type of contrast is significant is because in art, contrast creates depth and meaning. A painting that is uniformly and methodically structured, even if done with great skill, lacks emotional impact and appears washed-out.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he has, in my estimation, penned the most comprehensive practical definition of love that exists. Most English versions will convey verse 5 as “[love] does not keep a record of wrongs.” In the original Greek, the sentiment conveys a harsher tone, more literally rendered as “[love] takes no accounting of the evil.”

In taking no accounting of the evil in others, we will need to operate within the principle of forgiveness. To forgive others is the only way that we can not take into account some evil that they may have done toward us. Just like in the painting process, forgiveness provides the contrast where all other natural responses of anger and resentment paint a washed-out picture of hopelessness. Forgiveness is the spark, the singular, powerful stroke of contrast that imbues a relationship with the depth and emotion that provides hope. It’s the sunlight through the snowstorm.

Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter approached him and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? As many as seven times? ” “I tell you, not as many as seven,” Yeshua replied, “but seventy times seven.”

We may not be able to control the way others choose to interact with us, but we can control our reaction to their influence in our lives. As believers, we are urged to provide forgiveness which contrasts with the world’s way of dealing with resentment. This single, powerful stroke of contrast makes us stand out from others and honors the One who desires us to be the catalyst of restorative and hope-filled relationships, just as He has been with us.


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Forgiveness always comes at a cost to someone

Forgiveness always positively changes a relationship, but it always comes at a cost.

The book of Leviticus is the heart of the “law of Moses,” the torah, or instruction that Moses provided to Israel. In it is outlined much of the ritual that defined the ancient Israelite worship of God. To our modern Western mind, some of the practices appear to make no practical sense, such as specific types of offerings that God expected his people to provide.

However, if one looks more closely at chapters 4-6, a pattern emerges that has significance even for us today. Amidst all of the rules and regulations, we can see that God desires to forgive his people when they have strayed from right paths.

Leviticus 4:26, 31 Through this process, the priest will purify the leader from his sin, making him right with the LORD, and he will be forgiven. … Through this process, the priest will purify the people, making them right with the LORD, and they will be forgiven.

Leviticus 5:6, 10 This is a sin offering with which the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD. … Through this process the priest will purify you from your sin, making you right with the LORD, and you will be forgiven.

Leviticus 6:7 Through this process, the priest will purify you before the LORD, making you right with him, and you will be forgiven for any of these sins you have committed.”

All of these instructions point to one thing: God desired for the people to be reconciled with him, otherwise, why would he spend so much time describing how they were to go about making that happen?

An often-overlooked aspect of this process of forgiveness is the cost that the individual had to incur when bringing a sacrifice. Bulls, goats, rams, sheep, birds; all of these were costly offerings for sin that had to be brought to the priest in order for God’s forgiveness to be granted.

This highlights an important principle: when forgiveness is granted, it always costs somebody something; it is never free.

There was nothing inherent in the animal itself that somehow provided this forgiveness. This is even brought out in the New Testament writings.

For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Hebrews 10:4

No, it was the value of the sacrifice that demonstrated the sincerity of the giver. The offerer had to demonstrate true intent (that is, repentance). Among other things (like the identity substitution), the giving of a perfectly good animal that could provide much personal benefit to the offerer was a way of showing they were sincere in asking for forgiveness.

The bringing of the animals to the priest was not for blood debts to be repaid, and God certainly didn’t need the animals for himself. But through this process, he was teaching the Israelites that there is a value to be exchanged for a renewed relationship with God.

Forgiveness always positively changes a relationship, but it always comes at a cost. This is why it is even still a custom today to bring a gift to someone when apologizing for some sort of relationship transgression. The thoughtfulness or value of the gift demonstrates the sincerity of the giver.

We are commanded by Yeshua to forgive others and to love our enemies when they don’t deserve it or when they are not demonstrating sacrificial repentance. Even if we are approached multiple times a day by the same individual, we are to forgive them. When these types of passages are discussed today, what is rarely mentioned is the cost that this forgiveness exacts from us. If the individual asking for forgiveness is not providing some sort of sacrificial benefit on their behalf, then the one who is absorbing or carrying the cost of the forgiveness is you.

This is why the act of forgiveness is so unique among God’s people today. Forgiveness that is freely offered is not cheap, it still comes at a great expense. It is a sacrificial lifestyle with real cost to the believer in every relationship. But the sacrificial obedience that God demands of us provides for positive relationships in all areas of life and honors him by demonstrating we have learned the true value of forgiveness.

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.