There are two types of offenses: those that can be overlooked and those that can’t. First, those that can be overlooked. Proverbs 19:11 says “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”1 The proverb is pretty self-explanatory, but the main point is that it is not good for a person to get angry easily. It is good for a person to overlook—to look past, to look over, to look beyond—an offense against him or her. It is good to “brush it off” when someone says or does something to you has potential to offend you. First Peter 4:8 gets at the same truth: “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love for neighbor covers, or enables one to overlook, a lot of offenses.
The Bible gives us a category for being sinned against and not becoming angry over that sin. The Bible gives us the option to look past someone’s sin against us and still be able to love that person, to treat them no differently after that sin than before it. The Bible gives us the option not to blow up, not to avoid, not to ghost, not to functionally excommunicate (a loaded term, I know; see 2 Cor. 2:5-11) someone who has sinned against us. In other words, there may be sins against us that we can simply forget about—we can forgive without even being asked to forgive.
I would even go so far as to say that the Bible encourages us to overlook as many offenses as possible, and only confront the offender (the person who sinned against us) when we can’t bring ourselves to forget, or forgive, the sin automatically out of love for that person. The Bible encourages us to cultivate such a spirit that we are not easily offended by other people’s actions. The Bible encourages us to love our neighbors, and especially our brothers and sisters in Christ, with a patient and kind love that mirrors the steadfast love of God for sinners (Ps. 136). The Bible encourages us to cultivate a love for those around us that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things to the extent that, because of our love for our neighbor, we are not easily offended by their actions (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
But how do we do that? How do we cultivate that kind of love that “overlooks” or “covers” real offenses, real sins, that have been committed against us? We look to no other source than the deep, deep well of the gospel itself. As we reflect on all of redemptive history, we know God to be a God who is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…” (Ex. 34:6-7a). God, throughout redemptive history is a God who remains faithful to a people who are repeatedly unfaithful to him, just read the prophet Hosea. We see a God who became clothed in flesh to the end that he might save sinners (Mk. 2:17). We have a God who, while we were dead in the trespassers and sins, was rich in mercy and made us alive in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:1-10). As we look at our incredible sin debt, and as we look unto the Lord Christ Jesus, who saved us from that sin out of sheer grace, we see a mine from which to dig the grace and love to forgive and pardon others of their sin without their even asking.
How do we overlook offenses? How does love cover a multitude of sins? How might we be sinned against, yet move on and never talk about or even think about that offense again? We do that by remembering all the grace and mercy that the Lord has given us in Christ, whose grace abounds over and above our sin. By internalizing the gospel itself, by God’s grace through the Spirit we are enabled to cultivate a spirit of forgiveness and love for neighbor that is not easily offended and regularly overlooks real sins committed against us.
But what if we can’t “overlook an offense?” What if we can’t get a particular thing a certain person said or did to us off our minds? What if we’re tempted to become angry about it? What if resentment begins to build? The Bible offers a category for sins of this nature as well. We’ll pick this up next time.
1 Scripture quotations are in the English Standard Version.