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Three Steps to Peace

When we've been unjustly treated, we can become hurt, angry and confused. We need a plan that helps us address the injustice and work through it in a way that honours God.


"I am so hurt and angry. I don't know what to do," said a young Christian wife and mother of two. After ten years of marriage her husband had been unfaithful to her. In her pain and confusion she had come seeking Christian counsel. "He says he is sorry and wants to work on the marriage, but I am devastated. I am so angry; sometimes I want to hurt him back. I know this is not godly, Dr. Rennie, so what can I do to get peace in my life?"

Forgiveness is the key …

On a daily basis in my practice, I meet people who, like this woman, have been unjustly treated, and they are often angry, hurt and confused. Apart from offering comfort, it is imperative to offer the wisdom of God to break through the confusion, to outline a plan to address the injustice, and to work through it in a way that honours God.

There is a three-step plan for peace revealed in God's Word that powerfully promotes peace. The steps, in set order, are: making peace with God, finding inner peace, and making peace with others. As I offered this plan to my patient, so I offer it to you.

Step One: Making peace with God

Whether I am the one who has been offended or the one who has offended, I must make peace with God first, either to forgive or to be forgiven. Forgiveness is the key to peace with God. How is this accomplished?

Forgiveness is a legally binding transaction where one surrenders the right to collect on a debt.
It is the centrepiece of the Lord's prayer. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:12, 14, 15). The word for forgiveness is the Greek word, aphiemi, and it means "to send away from." Combined with the Greek word for debts, opheilema, we get the idea of giving up the legal right to collect on an account of sin. In other words, we give up the right to get revenge or to get even.

Forgiveness is business, not emotions.
One of the greatest misunderstandings that many Christians fall into is to confuse the business of forgiveness with the emotions surrounding it. There are usually emotions of anger and hurt, and perhaps fear when we have been sinned against. Someone might say, "I feel I have forgiven the person who faulted me because I don't feel badly or angry about it anymore." But our feelings can deceive us. If the business has not been done, it is not done!

Another person might say, "I have obviously not forgiven that person, because I am still angry about it." But these are only the emotions around forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is business, spiritual accounting. We make a choice to forgive despite our feeling and once that business is done, it is done! It does not need to be repeated again and again simply because we feel it is not done. We need to believe it is done, and rest on that fact.

Forgiveness is for guilty people.
Someone might say, "I know he did wrong to me, but I can understand that he didn't mean it. He was just upset, and so I forgave him." Often what is being done is not forgiveness at all, but rather excusing the offending party.

If he is guilty according to God's standard, then he is guilty …

In order for someone to be forgiven, he must first be truly guilty. Another person might say, "I can't really say that he is guilty because he doesn't think he has done anything wrong." Guilt is not to be determined by what the other person thinks, or even by what I think, but rather what God thinks. If he is guilty according to God's standard, then he is guilty, and needs to be forgiven.

Forgiveness is toward God first.
Forgiveness is first and foremost a transaction I make with God. It is expressed in prayer to God. "And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25).

Some people might say, "It is enough that I made the decision in my heart. I don't need to pray about it." However, forgiveness is a business transaction which requires two parties, you and God. The right of revenge is to be given up to God who alone has the right to administer judgment for sin. "Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). Forgiveness is therefore an act of faith in God's justice. If one does not believe in God's justice, then forgiveness is really a giving up on justice altogether, a kind of hopeless acceptance that justice will not be served.

Forgiveness is an act of obedience to God.
Forgiveness is an obvious command of God. I am to forgive because I have been forgiven. I must see that forgiving others is a small price compared to the great price of my own forgiveness. The parable of Christ in Matthew 18 illustrates this well. Note that there are serious consequences to unforgiveness. "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart" (Matthew 18:34-35). And "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14-15).

Step Two: Finding inner peace

There are natural means to find inner peace after we have been wronged. Some of us are able to so minimize the offence that it no longer affects us. We say to ourselves, "Don't sweat the small stuff," and we will to forget the offence and move on. The problem here is that truth is lost in the effort to get back to peace.

Peace without truth is not true peace!

The Bible opposes any way that denies the truth. Peace without truth is not true peace! "These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbour, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this, declares the Lord. Again the word of the Lord Almighty came to me. This is what the Lord Almighty says: The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace" (Zechariah 8:16-19).

Others who are not so able to forget, seek to control disturbed emotions by distracting themselves. "As long as I don't think about it or are reminded of it, I'll be okay." This becomes enslaving, because reminders have a way of intruding on our consciousness, and we are constantly frustrated. Others learn to cover their angry or sad emotions with emotions they are more able to handle. They may employ fear to cover anger, in which case the more angry one is, the more fear is necessary to cover it. This can lead to anxiety disorders, like unexplained panic attacks. Still others anaesthetize their emotions with drugs—prescription or otherwise. God shows us a supernatural means to find inner peace.

Bring your troubled mind and emotions to God in prayer.
Be specific. If you are sad and hurt, ask Him to comfort you. "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort" (2 Corinthians 1:3). If you are angry, tell God you are angry. Anger itself is not a sin, but if you have lost your temper you will also have to ask the Lord to forgive you. "In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry" (Ephesians 4:26). "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6-7). This will not work if you are still unwilling to forgive. Pray for the wisdom and courage to seek to make peace with the one who wronged you.

Keep bringing your emotions to God.
Emotions are like the waves of the sea, they keep rolling in at intervals. Each time the emotions rise, take them to the Lord in prayer again. Keep on asking and you will keep on receiving. "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7). On hearing this, one patient said, "Then I would be praying all day long!" But surely that is the point! God wants us in His presence all day long. "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Pray a blessing on the one who wronged you.
No longer seek to forget the offence or the offender, but rather pray for your enemy on a daily basis, and indeed as often as you think of the offence. In this way you will keep your heart in positive territory, and not sink into bitterness and hatred. It is hard to curse those who you are choosing to bless. "You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44). And "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (Romans 12:14).

Step Three: Making peace with others

Transacting forgiveness with another person is a command of God.
There is a directive to the one who has done the wrong: "Leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift" (Matthew 5:24). "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over" (Matthew 18:15). There is the same directive to the one who has been wronged. In both instances the command is to "go" and be reconciled. Therefore, to neglect going to someone to make peace can be seen as an act of disobedience.

Forgiveness is to be seen as a gracious gift.
The Greek word for forgiveness is different from the Greek word used in the Lord's prayer: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32). This new word, charisomai, literally means "to grace toward another person." The words "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing" (1Peter 3:9), convey the same idea, "giving a blessing instead." In the same gracious spirit that forgiveness comes to me, I am invited to give it to others. It is to be offered as a gift.

Forgiveness requires a mutual agreement.
On a personal level we are to forgive in the same way God forgives us. Note the "just as" in Ephesians 4:32. God gives forgiveness if I confess my sin. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).

God never demeans forgiveness by giving it where it is not wanted.

I am, by my confession, humbly admitting that I need the gift of forgiveness. Likewise, there is the same if here: "So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). And, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over" (Matthew 18:`5).

Therefore it is not biblical to unilaterally give forgiveness. If I have sinned, I can initiate the transaction by asking for forgiveness. But if I have been sinned against, I can only make an offer to transact forgiveness, i.e. "I would like to forgive you. Would you like to be forgiven?" I must leave room for the other person to express agreement with the truth that he has sinned, and to ask to be forgiven. If I don't provide this liberty for the other person, then the gift of forgiveness may well be given where it is not wanted, and therefore may be despised. God presents the gift of forgiveness to me as a gracious offer which I am free to accept or reject. God never demeans forgiveness by giving it where it is not wanted. "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (Matthew 7:6).

When asked to forgive, I must forgive.
This applies even when I doubt the other person's sincerity. "If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, I repent, forgive him" (Luke 17:4). Remember, the goal in dealing in forgiveness is to honour God and obey Him, not to change the other person, or get him to stop sinning. Sometimes our attitude is, "I won't forgive him until I see a change in his behaviour." God alone sees the person's heart. Let God be the judge. Act on faith, not feelings, and give grace when it is requested.

If the other person refuses to transact, I must continue to show the grace of love.
Matthew 18 describes the further steps one may take if both parties are under the authority of the church. All these steps are to be done in love with a view to restoration. It takes much grace to return love when evil is being done to you. "You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbour and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44). It requires the control of the Holy Spirit. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness" (Galatians 5:22).

If there is no agreement, I must still recognize the spiritual benefit.
There is honour to God because His grace and truth are being upheld. There is blessing to the other person. A spiritual seed is being planted that may take time to bear fruit. "Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness" (James 3:18).

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

There is personal blessing for me, because I am doing the work of a peacemaker. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9).

If I suffer for doing right, I am blessed. "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.


"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:10-16).

My prayer is that God will indeed bless you as you seek to follow the path of peace.

Dr. James Rennie is a general practitioner in private practice in Ontario. For 17 years he has specialized in Bible-based and faith-based counseling and psychotherapy. He maintains a busy schedule of Bible teaching in various churches and has conducted numerous seminars on counseling related topics. Prior to this, Jim and his wife Kathy, an RN, spent 14 years in medical missionary and church work in Zambia, Africa. For more information, or to order CDs of seminars including the full seminar on "Three Steps to Peace," visit Dr. Rennie's website, www.pursuingwisdom.org.

Originally published in Mosaic, July 2006.

 

 
 
 
 

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