Today we’re going to focus on one phrase in these verses. Love keeps no record of wrongs (or is not resentful). This phrase is in connection with our relationship & actions towards other people... In other words, this is one way in which we are called to love each other! Especially others who have or we feel have (which can be different things) offended or wronged us in some way. We will look at this phrase under the heading forgiving love.
The love Jesus loves us with & calls & empowers us to love with is a radically forgiving love. The gospel at its core is a message of forgiveness & a message which makes us forgiving. To the point that we refuse to dishonour even people who have wronged us while choosing to keep no record of wrongs done to us. It’s also a message which has the liberating power to even help us protect the reputations of those who have wronged us & to desire good for them. I was struck by the forgiving words of Alan Greaves widow this week...
Of course it has to be said that resenting others needs to be extended to those who have done us no harm as well. Sometimes people resent others or try to tarnish the reputation of another because they are envious of them (think of the stories of Joseph & King Saul). This is something we will look at before we finish the series, but today we’re going to focus on the reality that loving the way Jesus loves means forgiving the way Jesus forgives.
A number of Doctors have described what unforgiving & vengeful feelings do the human brain. Based on biochemical research, neuroscientists have documented the toxic chemical flood that our bodies release into our brains whenever we think malicious thoughts. Their microphotographs show how the chemicals that are released burn tunnels into the branches of our nerve cells. One doctor calls these burned-out neurons “emotional black holes.” They are empty spaces in the brain produced by the resentments of a bitter soul - resentment harms our brain. But, amazingly, it is possible for the brain to grow nerve fibres that fill in these black holes. And one of the virtues indentified as bringing most healing is forgiveness.
Issues like un-forgiveness & resentment are things which affect us all. We have all resented at some level for some length of time. Is there a person you struggle to forgive? Is there resentment in your heart towards another person? Is there a sin you are counting against someone? Such things limit our ability to truly love. They colour our reasoning & outlook on life & they affect our relationships with others, including those who have done us no harm at all. For example if someone breaks our trust in a significant way it affects the level of trust we extend towards others. It makes us more cautious about whom we trust in future, sometime understandably...
However if we allow un-forgiveness, resentment or bitterness to get hold of us, if we allow them to become part of who we are, to colour our whole outlook on life & church & relationships, then it can give us a warped view of reality. It can affect our whole personality & wellbeing. It can cause us to see ourselves as always the victim & blind us to our own issues... And as we’ve seen, this is partly because of how things like resentment affect our brains. With all this in mind we conclude that learning to love like Jesus is the quickest path to personal freedom & wellbeing in regards this whole area.
But of course humanly speaking this is not always an easy thing to do. Sometimes the wounds we have suffered run deep, & in some cases still bleed. People have betrayed us in some away. Spoken hurtful words we can never forget or abused us in some other way. Perhaps we even feel they have stolen our happiness... When such things happen many find it easier to hold onto the pain than let go of it. They keep replaying wrongs they have suffered on the Youtube video of their heart & mind, or repeating the same old stories to anyone who will listen. When resentment builds this kind of wall, only love has the power to break through &, as one person has put it, release “memories grip on yesterday’s evil.”
Love does not ignore evil (as we will see when we look at verse 6). But rather than returning evil for evil, it does seek to overcome evil with good. One person writes that love “absorbs evil without calculating how to retaliate. On another occasion when Paul was writing about love in action he wrote “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (Rom 12:17) & “Do not overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21). This is the way of love. This is the life all Christian’s are called to!
As we turn to think about how Jesus displayed forgiving love it is natural for our minds to turn again to the cross. When in his dying hours, being mocked & crucified by evil men, Jesus said “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). But there is another act of forgiveness in Jesus’ life that we’re going to look at. Remember these words in 1 Corinthians are written to a local church – this is firstly how Christian’s are to love each other. So it seems appropriate to look at a story in which we see Jesus forgiving one of his own disciples. The story is recorded in John 21:15-19. This story is the last story recorded in the gospels. It is a story in which Jesus beautifully forgives Peter. How beautiful is it that the final story of the gospels is a story about Jesus forgiving one of his closest disciples & friends, but before we go there we need to set the scene. We will start in John 13:33-38, Jesus is with his disciples:
“’My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I have told the Jews, so I tell you now: where I am going, you cannot come. A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’ Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’ Jesus replied, ‘Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.’ Peter asked, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the cock crows, you will disown me three times.”
Peter’s whole experience from this point on would have helped him understand the depth of forgiving love Jesus had towards him. And how Jesus responded to his denials would have taught the other disciples a lot about the new command he gave them in these verses. Jesus could have just as easily said ‘As I have forgiven you, so you must forgive one another.’ Truth is we could insert any of the qualities highlighted in 1 Cor. 13:4-7.
Peter was the first & the boldest of the original 12 disciples. He was the first one that Jesus called to be a disciple (Matt 4:18-20), the first & only one to get out of the boat & walk on water & the first to recognise Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” But Peter was also the first to fall away. The story of his denial is honestly & painfully told in all four gospels. John records it like this (Read John 18:15-18; 25-27.)
Just as Jesus predicted Peter denied him three times. To understand the depth of Jesus’ forgiveness it’s important we understand something of the nature & extent of his sin. Perhaps we think of Peter committing one sin three times, but he actually committed a number of sins three times. He betrayed Jesus. He disowned Jesus. He lied to protect himself. He showed cowardice. We might even say he was complicit to a murder, because rather than standing up for an innocent friend, Peter refused to have anything to do with him. It’s not just what he did; it’s also what he didn’t do that needed forgiven. All this is made worse when we consider he was one of the privileged 12 & he had been warned he was in spiritual danger & the sins he committed where directly against the very son of God!
How do you think Jesus should have responded to Peter? How would you respond if a close Christian friend did something similar to you? Would the friendship have any hope of surviving? Sadly often such friendships are never recovered, and for reasons much less I might add... Perhaps you’re here & you can think of a relationship with another Christian that up to this day has never recovered because of how they treated or wronged you. Well today the Holy Spirit wants to do something about it in your heart...
What did Jesus do? How did he respond to Peter in his moment of betrayal? The first thing he did was simply look at him. Luke 22:61 records “The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him.” Luke does not tell us what expression Jesus had on his face, but he looked at him. Often when someone has wronged us we look away from them. If we’re in town & we see them coming we try to avoid them. But Jesus didn’t try to avoid Jesus he looked straight at him & we can imagine him doing so in love.
Jesus knew exactly what Peter had done, remember he predicted it. In fact Luke 22:31 tells us Jesus had committed to praying for him because he knew he was going to deny him & he didn’t want his denials to be the end of him. Would you or I commit to praying for someone if we knew they were going to disown us in the time of our great suffering? The love of Jesus is radically forgiving. Instead of keeping record of Peter’s wrongs him Jesus was going to suffer for all Peter’s wrongs on the cross. Reconciliation was more important to Jesus than keeping records. This reminds me of 2 Cor. 5:19 “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. “ Or as Psalm 103:10-12 says; “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removed our transgressions from us.” Our God is a radically forgiving God & we are set apart to reflect this forgiving love in Christian community & in all our relationships with others.
When Peter seen Jesus he was broken man, Luke records “And he went outside and wept bitterly.” One loving glance from Jesus was all it took for him to know he needed to repent. This sets the stage for the reconciliation that happens in John 21:15-19. Let’s read it.
This happened on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The disciples had gone fishing & caught nothing until a stranger on the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side, then they caught so many fish they could not get them in the boat. As soon as Peter realised the stranger was Jesus, he jumped out of the boat & swam to the shore. Peter was not moving away from Jesus but toward him, which is what we should always do when we know we have sinned. He is forgiving, not counting our sins against us. In Mark 16 the angel said; “But go, tell his disciples and Peter.” Jesus did not make things hard for Peter to continue in relationship with him because of his fall. He did all he could to make it easy (including sending a personal message via an angel). We must also make it easy for those who sin against us. This is what forgiving love does.
Anyway, soon all the disciples are back on the shore & Jesus kindly cooks them breakfast. And afterwards, Peter & Jesus have this heart-to-heart by the Sea of Galilee. This is also an important part of forgiveness... It’s worth mentioning what Jesus didn’t say. He didn’t condemn him. He didn’t make him feel he had to earn his favour back. He didn’t cast things up. He did not speak to Peter resentfully at all. He does not even bring it up. Jesus has already forgiven him... Peter then could join the Psalmist in saying; “If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Psalm 130:3-4).
All Jesus did was ask Peter a simple question, three times, “Do you love me?” Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times Jesus now leads him in affirming his love for him three times. I believe this was for Peter’s benefit; sometimes we struggle to forgive ourselves. This was a hard conversation for Peter; because of his past actions it would have made it hard to answer that question three times. I think Jesus is helping Peter leave the past in the past. Forgiving love helps others to forgive themselves...
Jesus not only asks Peter three questions he also entrusts him with taking care of & feeding his people, which would at times take the same forgiving love Peter experienced from Jesus. Peter would have understood Jesus words “Love one another as I have loved you” in a whole new light. A way helped equip him for taking care of God’s people. Jesus also helped Peter see that even though Peter’s words ‘I will lay down my life for you’ must have seemed to empty after his denial, one day he would indeed fulfil them by laying down his life for Christ... And then Jesus says to Peter “Follow me!” (v19). These are the first words Peter ever heard from Jesus. They are the words that started his journey with Jesus & now Jesus uses them to assure him the journeys not over. It’s almost as if he’s saying, ‘pick up from where you left off...’
Peter’s restoration helps us understand our own calling to forgiving love. To love the way Jesus loves is to be towards others the way God in Christ has been towards us. This includes offering others the same forgiveness we have received. If we fail to forgive, then we fail to live out the implications of the gospel we proclaim & we ignore this new command Jesus gave us to love one another. Loving the way Jesus loves always starts with understanding how much God has loved us. When it comes to forgiveness, we find that, because of the cross, he does not count our sins against us. We have all denied Jesus like Peter in many ways, yet we are still forgiven.
The same Peter who experience Christ forgiveness wrote in 1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” This is what forgiving love does... It’s doesn’t go around exposing the sins others have committed against us; that is what resentment does... Love protects, love forgives, love seeks reconciliation & look at what our reconciliation cost Jesus & we have been called to love the way Jesus loves... Let me finish with these words from Lewis Smedes;
“Love lets the past die. It moves people to a new beginning without settling the past. Love does not have to clear up all misunderstandings... Love prefers to tuck all the lose ends of past rights & wrongs in the bosom of forgiveness—and pushes us into a new start.”
Church cannot survive & thrive unless we learn to forgive the way Jesus forgives...