Get rid of all bitterness… Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Philippians 2:1, 3b, 5
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate?... Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves… You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.
1 Peter 3:8
Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.
God has been prompting me lately to keep a tender heart. You wouldn't believe how hard that can be. It's so easy to get hardened, calloused, bitter, and angry. Here's an example:
Just the other day one of our workers came to the door asking Jon if we could "loan" him some money for his wife's school fees. I instantly shut down on the inside; last year we gave out hundreds of dollars in "loans," and only one person—one—ever paid us back. One Mozambican even advised us, "Don't give loans. Either give a gift or don't, but certainly don't expect anything to come back." Many of the people we "loaned" money to, we never even saw again after the "loan," and even if we did see them they never once considered paying us back. We're white, white people don't need their money back because they have an endless supply, so they think. I also grew bitter about using our personal money to give "loans" to the workers, because they already receive so much more in their salaries than most other people live on and they are allowed to get loans from the ministry. They are automatically upper-middle class citizens by having a minimum-wage job, because minimum wage is so high—they receive in about two months what most other people make in a year. This particular worker doesn't even have to pay for housing, because of a fluke of situation we bought him a nice house last year and he doesn't have to pay rent or anything (long story). I thought there was no way he could possibly need money above and beyond his salary for his wife's school fees, and I knew that what most people do is as soon as they receive their salary they'll spend it on nice clothes, cell phones, TVs, and other nonessential items, so that they can honestly go begging from the missionaries that they don't have any food in their houses and their families are starving, or in this case a deadline has come up for school fees, and all their money is gone.
As Jon reached for my wallet and explained it was a "loan," I muttered bitterly, "There's no such thing as a 'loan'."
"He said he'll pay back next month," Jon replied with what I considered gross naivety.
"You don't actually believe that, do you? They always say that, it never happens," I said.
"But I have to keep hoping," he responded. Somehow Jon has managed to keep his heart tender while mine has grown hard as stone.
It's not just "loans" and money, either. I've grown so hard in my view of people in general.
They're not really worshiping God. They just like having the microphone and being in the limelight.
People don't come to the conference for spiritual reasons, they're just here for the free food.
The evangelism team just uses the outreaches as a chance to hang out with their girlfriends.
That kid is a kleptomaniac who is never, ever going to change. He will just steal and steal and steal until he gets caught and thrown in jail or killed one of these days.
Even the pastors lie and steal every opportunity they get. They only became pastors because of the lure of power and money.
I guess if they were a perfect people, God wouldn't have called us here because they wouldn't need the gospel. Still, it's so hard to forgive, forgive, forgive, and show mercy, mercy, mercy. So hard.
"How many times must I forgive my brother?" Peter asked. "Up to seven times?" I'm sure he suggested the seven thinking it was quite generous. Not just two or three times, no, let's go extravagant and forgive up to seven times. I can keep count up to seven, and that is a lot of times for someone to blow it and still get off scot free.
"No," Jesus replied, "Seventy times seven." Four hundred ninety times. By which, of course, He meant infinitely. Who is actually going to keep count of almost five hundred offences and at the last one be able to say, "Okay, last forgiveness! After this, you're through!" One time a friend and I had a running joke for a few weeks of how many forgivenesses he had left for his random offences against me, but when I lost count he still had four hundred seventy-something to go.
Three of the four verses above mention tenderheartedness together with humility, which is obviously important. Pride doesn't want to forgive. Pride wants to keep a record of wrongs done. Pride hardens the heart against a repeat offender. It is a humble person indeed who can keep forgiving over and over and over again, and keep a heart tender enough to believe the best of everyone even still. To believe that they can change. To believe that when they say they'll "never do _____ again" that it's true. To believe that this "loan" will come back, that he's being honest. To not let bitterness set in.
I'm not there yet. I'm still struggling, fighting, daily taking up my cross to keep a tender heart, to put others first, to believe the best. Two of the verses above tell us why we should forgive: "Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."
Boy, I'm glad God isn't keeping count of how many times He's had to forgive me. I'm sure I'm past even my four hundred ninety by now.