My birthday was on Sunday (be sure to mark it down so you won’t forget next year!), and birthdays are good times for reflection. I have made it a habit of doing this over the years and I always reach the same conclusion: God has treated me over the course of my life so much better than I deserve. I can so relate to Paul when he refers to himself as a “wretched man” and “the worst of sinners.” I feel the same when I look back over the course of my life. So many times, I acted in ways that brought shame to my Lord. Yet, he continued to use me and bless me in ways that are still difficult for me to believe. I literally marvel at the way the course of my life has gone. Without the Lord’s amazing grace, things would have gone far worse and I would now be living a very different life.
I didn’t earn it; I didn’t deserve it. God’s love and mercy just went deeper than my sin. This is why John Newton wrote the hymn for which he became famous and that we still sing today—“Amazing Grace.” He was a trader in human flesh, but he humbled himself before God and was miraculously forgiven. A wretched man, blinded by his sin and lost, was found and saved. Because he was treated so much better than he deserved, his heart burst with effusive praise. A wretch became a saint in the blink of an eye.
Yet, even with this understanding of how undeservingly blessed I am, it is still so easy to be judgmental of others, to lack the same grace towards them, which I have continually received from the King of kings and Lord of lords. Just yesterday I was treated rudely by an older gentleman at the gym. Though I didn’t say anything to him, I brooded much of the way home about his treatment of me. Then the Spirit reminded me of the Lord’s grace toward me when my behavior and attitudes toward others has been less than stellar. It is so easy to receive grace and yet so difficult to give it.
The Scriptures command us to reflect the grace we have been shown in our treatment of others. Jesus used a parable to make this point.
21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.
29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’
30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”(Matthew 18:21-35 NIV)
And Paul commands us to “bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13 NIV)
The amazing grace we have received from God we are to show toward others. Yet the cultural currents and our natures which have produced them push back hard against this. We are seemingly more likely to be quick with a condemning or mocking comment rather than being merciful, more likely to hold a grudge rather than letting it go in an act of mercy and kindness. To the point, we are less inclined to show the same grace we ourselves have gladly received.
The truth is we cannot be authentic followers of Jesus and withhold the grace from others which he has so generously given to us. If and when we do this, we must humble ourselves, confess our sin, and repent. The amazing thing about God’s grace is that we receive it when we don’t deserve it. Do we dare then to withhold our grace from people because we believe they haven’t earned it?
© Jim Musser 2019