Excuse me for starting an article with an exclamation point. I don’t usually do that, but today I want to make an exception. After all, the title of this article is directly pulled from one of my favorite sentences from the Apostle Paul.
The reference I have in mind is Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Paul writes this letter while in Prison in Rome. Second Timothy is considered to be one of the pastoral letters, and here — when writing on his suffering — Paul is being as pastoral as ever. In chapter 4, when Paul talks about the damage he received from Alexander the coppersmith, he writes:
“Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:14-17)
Imagine. Paul is harmed by another person. Instead of having friends show up on his preliminary hearing before Caesar during his second imprisonment, he gets nothing. He receives abandonment. “No one,” Paul says, “came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” No one. Everyone deserted him. Paul was deserted by others in a time of need, and we do not see an ounce of resentment in his tone. Why?
He tells us in the next verse: “But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me.”
The Lord Will Strengthen You
Even when your family and friends let you down, the Lord never will. He will always be there for you. He will strengthen you, and he will stand by you. When you realize the strong foundation and security you already have in the Lord, you won’t rely on others as much. You will be more secure and less needy. And, in turn, when (not if) other people in your life reject you and let you down, you will be able to quickly forgive them.
It’s the expression, “May it not be charged against them!” that always stands out to me. Indeed, it has been and continues to be, a great source of encouragement for me. When I’m struggling with bitterness or unforgiveness, this is one of my go-to texts. When people do me wrong, I want it to be charged against them. I want them to experience pain because of the pain they have inflicted on me. But this is not what God calls us to. The key to fighting bitterness is to understand deeply how much you have been forgiven in Christ. The more you reflect on the gospel of grace and your forgiveness and right standing with a holy God because of Christ, the more readily you will be able to forgive others when wronged.
The footnote in the ESV Study Bible on this verse says, “In his extension of forgiveness to those who abandoned him, Paul is following the teaching and model of Jesus (Luke 23:34); the practice of Stephen, whom Paul saw die (Acts 7:60), and his own teaching (1 Cor. 13:5).”
Paul says the Lord stood by him to strengthen him “so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it.” So the Lord helped Paul not because the Lord was exclusively concerned for his feelings (although he is), but to equip Paul for mission. God strengthens us so that we can, in turn, be a blessing to others.
Are you struggling to forgive? Are you holding a grudge?
Of course, counseling and seeking wisdom from God’s people may be needed in some situations. But often we struggle to forgive because our understanding of the gospel is too deficient. We don’t realize how much we’ve been forgiven in Christ, and we don’t realize what we truly deserve.
When someone doesn’t text you back, leaves you hanging, forgets to invite you to the party, or disregards you all together — you will be tempted to hold a grudge. Don’t do it. It’s not worth the emotional drainage you will experience. Instead, ask the Holy Spirit to help you to forgive, and reflect on this text in 2 Timothy. Like the Apostle Paul, the hope is that you will be able to say, “May it not be charged against them!”