WAKE FOREST, N.C., August 18, 2013 — Forgiving others is a key and essential element for all who subscribe to Judeo-Christian values.
You may not be familiar with the names Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, but if you are old enough to remember their scandalous behavior, it is possible that you are still shaking your head in disgust.
Have you forgiven them? The question is rhetorical. But if by chance you are among those who still hold either of them in contempt — why?
It is true that both men, self-proclaimed ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, were guilty of bringing shame and disgrace to Christianity because of their immoral behavior. Take a look at the following to reacquaint yourself with their past actions:
For some, revisiting the Swaggart and Bakker scandals can be likened to reopening a wound. You may now have a rekindled disgust and disdain for one or both of them. Can such negative feelings be justified? That is between you and God. But as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:
“For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:31)
Our forgiving others is by no means absolving them of wrongdoing. Nor does it mean that we condone their behavior. In fact, if the person committing the wrong is a professing Christian, their egregious and reprehensible example is amplified in the eyes of those outside the faith:
“You and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, Do not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you secretly bow down to them? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For ‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,’ as it is written.” (Romans 2:17-24)
Make no mistake about it: God will hold them and us accountable for our actions.
The truth is that we are hypocritical if we continue to harbor unforgiveness towards others. When we forgive others, we are following in obedience to the Word of God. There have been ministers of the Gospel who have been scorned for suggesting that prominent figures be forgiven. The late Rev. Lawrence C. Callahan of the New Philippian Church, Jacksonville, Florida, provided this account to his congregation in the early 1990’s:
“Folks will get mad at you when you say: ‘I’m praying for Jim Bakker.’ They want you to thumbs-down on him; they want you to write him off the books. Oh, but I say: ‘I hope God restores the brother.’ Ain’t nothin’ wrong with saying that, y’all. Be merciful, because your Father is merciful.” (excerpt from the sermon: “God’s Amazing Grace”)
Forgiveness does not necessarily equate to opening the door to allow that person to resume a relationship with you, or to be entrusted with roles or responsibilities that you allowed in the past. You may even decide to part ways with someone with whom you have had your trust violated. But never forget that God does not want us to harbor ill feelings towards others.
So whether it’s Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, a business partner who betrayed your trust, or a former spouse who has mistreated you, God says to let it go. Forgiveness is not a spiritual act. It is an act of obedience, which is an act of the will. In other words, we choose whether or not we will allow God’s love to be preeminent in whatever the situation:
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
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