Bearing Grudges

The new testament speaks at length about the importance of forgiveness. Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter: “If you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Mt 6:15).

Even more severely He says, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Mt 18:35). “So” refers to what Jesus just said in the parable of the unforgiving servant: “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him” (18:34).

Paul issues a softer appeal to the Corinthians: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (1 Cor 4:32).

Joseph is a stellar example of forgiveness toward the brothers who sold him into slavery. He had the might of Egypt at his disposal to crush them if he chose, but he refrained from using it (Gn 45:5-8; 50:17-21).

Both Jesus and Stephen, innocent men in the midst of being murdered, cried out for God to forgive those who were killing them (Lk 23:34; Ac 7:60).

Some thoughts:

1. Holding a grudge is more than feeling hurt. Sometimes it manifests itself in ugly behavior toward an offender such as ignoring them, refusing to speak to or show interest in them, acting icy and aloof (even where the offender has tried to make amends and correct the situation.).

2. Such ill-will doesn’t often stay private. We have our confidants, who have their confidants, who have their confidants … and our aggrieved feelings end up being broadcast far and wide. We soothe our pain by endless rehearsing the wrong done to us.

3. Grudges take a lot of energy to maintain. If our offender reaches out to us, we remind ourselves of the pain they have caused. We must show them that we cannot be run over and return to their good graces so soon. If they smile at us, we must return a deadpan look to remind them they have hurt us (or someone we love). Our gloominess must be on display so others (and especially our “foe”) will see that we have been hurt.

4. For these reasons and others, grudge-bearing is not as satisfying as it promises to be. In fact, it is downright miserable. It poisons our soul and ruins our relationships. You see, it’s not just the offender whom we are estranging; it is others who become weary of dealing with our ongoing drama and see through the pettiness of reliving the hurt.

5. Grudges make it impossible to move forward, for we spend so much time focusing on the past. Everybody gets hurt – multiple times – in their lives. Everybody experiences the pain of having someone offend them, whether deliberately or unintentionally. Those who cannot cope with this truth display an immaturity that belies their professed faith in Christ. One of the greatest blessings of our great covenant with God is His willingness to forgive us and allowing us to make corrections, mature in godly character, learn to serve Him better and be a productive servant to others. We will not be able to do this if we keep brooding over the past, feeling sorry for ourselves and nursing grudges against those who have hurt us.

6. Grudges actually play directly into Satan’s hands. Paul instructs the Corinthian church regarding the incestuous brother: “forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him … I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor 2:7, 10-11). Some of Satan’s most effective devices are resentment and harboring ill-will. No sin feels more justified than payback to the one who hurt you.

7. Think about grudge-bearers you have known (we’ve all known them because such bitterness becomes self-evident). Would you say that in your experience those who held grudges are ones you would categorize as spiritually mature? Probably not. In fact, it is usually the opposite. Grudge-bearers are self-absorbed, inward looking, emotionally restless and spiritually uninvolved, and the reason is that the opposite of these things – humility, focus on others, emotional security and spiritual industry – are infertile soil for grudges. It’s not that strong people cannot be hurt; rather, they do not dwell on it to the point of debilitation.

8. We all need to take Jesus’ warning to heart: “neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is serious business. Has someone hurt or offended you? Have they tried to make amends? Have you forgiven them “from your heart” (Mt 18:35)? Have you worked to rebuild bridges with them? If not, you are on dangerous ground: “He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 Jn 3:14). Forgiveness is a fundamental characteristic of God which He has demonstrated frequently throughout history. If we harbor ill-will in our heart, we are not of God (1 Jn 3:10).