Throughout our lives, we will have many opportunities to hold hard feelings against someone. Friends, family, or strangers may slander our name, deceitfully deal with us, or even physically harm us. Our first instinct is to go on the defense and become bitter. We would love to see those people pay for what they did. We may never want to speak to them again, or may be tempted to confront them with anger. It seems only fair, considering what they did to us. But according to God’s Word, it is not God’s way of handling offense.
Because being at odds with someone in our culture is so normal, we may not realize just how demonic it is. The devil is the author of the sin of strife. He was kicked out of heaven because he rebelled against God—the first example of discord (Isaiah 14:13-14, Luke 10:18).
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:13-18).
He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).
In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another… We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him (1 John 3:10-11, 14-15).
Hate brings death to many areas of life. It breaks apart relationships and destroys peace and health. It can affect our work and effectiveness in the Body of Christ. It also affects our relationship with God and our confidence before Him. Receiving an answer to prayer requires faith, but when we know we’ve done wrong, we cannot confidently stand before God and ask of Him. It also keeps God from hearing our prayer (Psalm 66:8; Isaiah 59:1-2).
A sister to strife and anger is unforgiveness. When we’re fighting with someone, we are not letting go of what they have done to us. Rather than halting the strife with forgiveness, we are keeping the offense alive by retaining bitterness. However, God has instructed us to forgive. It’s not a suggestion, but something we must do to open the door for peace and victory in our lives. We are instructed to imitate God. Only then can He forgive us.
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do (Colossians 3:12-13, NKJV).
Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32, NKJV).
For if you forgive people their trespasses [their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up resentment], your heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matthew 6:14,15, AMPC).
As we face the temptation to walk in unforgiveness, it’s important to remember who the source of the hurtful actions, negative feelings, or wrong behavior is. The author of this sin is the devil. He is the one who introduced hatred and strife into the world when Adam and Eve sinned. Without his influence, there would be no evil behavior in need of forgiveness. He is the one who is influencing others to hurt us (Ephesians 6:12). That being the case, we need to act against his influence before taking any action toward the other person. We should bind him from lying to our offender, and using them to harm them and others. We should pray that their eyes would be opened to understand how they’re being used, and how they will ultimately be hurt as well.
With this understanding, we should then act on our love and forgiveness toward that person. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we ignore the situation, or don’t seek justice when dealing with something that breaks the law. But it does mean that we don’t harbor bitterness in our hearts toward the other person. Our minds and bodies may be screaming for us to hold on to strife and retaliate in our defense. But a heart full of God’s love will cry out to forgive, even when emotions don’t match our actions (Romans 5:5). We can choose to rise above the other person’s actions and respond like Jesus.
I once had a boss who was cranky and fickle in his moods. He made going to work challenging because I felt like I was on eggshells every time I was around him. I knew God’s will was for me to forgive. I didn’t feel like it, but every day on the way to work I said, “I forgive John” (name changed for privacy). I also refused to talk bad about him with the other employees. This went on for months. Though my boss didn’t change overnight, I continued to receive promotions and raises. A year before I left the company, he had changed his tune. And when I moved to another town, he thanked me for my diligent work and longevity with the company. I’m convinced that had I not chosen to forgive, raises and promotions would not have come. I would not have left with his favor. God would not have been able to promote me to be on staff at a church. I would have sown seeds of discord into my future that would have grown to choke out God’s plan because I was in the territory of unforgiveness and strife.
The devil doesn’t want us to walk in peace and victory in our lives. He’ll send the sins of strife and unforgiveness to interrupt our faith and relationship with God because He wants us to be like him, to experience defeat life like he did. Thankfully, if we fall for his traps, we can repent. God will wipe our slate clean, allowing us to begin again (1 John 1:9). The key is to continue to stand on God’s turf of agape love, and off Satan’s turf of unforgiveness and strife. We must submit ourselves to Love so we can resist the devil’s ugly temptations and receive the peace God always intended us to possess (James 4:7). Remember, loving others is part of obeying and loving Jesus (John 13:34). God’s love has been shed abroad in our hearts, so we have the power to love others by not sinning against them (1 Corinthians 13, 1 John 3). It’s God’s grace to continue the pathway of love and forgiveness toward all!