I walked into Walmart the other day and had no trouble discerning what season of the year we are in. The aisles were decorated in pink and red, reminding the potentially clueless shopper (would that be me?!) that Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching. As I pondered how I should respond to the visual overload that day, the familiar lines of a tune from 1967 came to mind: “All you need is love, all you need is love, all you need is love, love. Love is all you need.”
But is that really the case? Is there another ingredient which leads to successful relationships?
I have often told young people who are moving toward marriage in their relationship, “You will never know how selfish you are until you are married.” My intent isn’t to discourage but rather to prepare the starry-eyed, often less-than-realistic love birds for the difficulties ahead. In other words, I want them to understand that there’s something they’re going to need in addition to their love for one another.
So what is it? What is that other necessary ingredient to a successful relationship? Forgiveness. As I have observed relationships, what I’ve learned is that the relationships that stand the test of time are the ones which have learned to practice forgiveness.
Do you remember the account of the woman who anointed Jesus in Luke 7:36-47? Jesus was reclining at the table with Simon, a Pharisee who had invited him to dinner when a sinful woman came along and anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive ointment, wiping his feet with her hair. When Simon saw it, he said to himself, “If Jesus knew what kind of woman this was, he would not allow her to even touch him!” Jesus responded to Simon’s thoughts by telling the story of a moneylender who had two people who owed him money; the one owed ten times more than the other. Because they were both unable to pay their debt, the moneylender cancelled the debt of both. Jesus asked the question, “Now which of them will love him more?” Simon responded correctly: the one who was forgiven the larger debt. Before Jesus tells the woman that her sins are forgiven, he makes a profound statement which should cause us to stop and think today: “he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
Perhaps the multitude of syllables didn’t allow for the 60’s ballad to go differently. (Imagine it being sung this way: “All you need is forgiveness, All you need is forgiveness. All you need is forgiveness, forgiveness, Forgiveness is all you need.”) However, I don’t think it was the number of syllables that kept the song from going differently as much the soul-penetrating truth which must be acknowledged in order for true forgiveness to take place among sinful people.
The soul-penetrating truth is this: unless I receive forgiveness from the One with whom I have a debt I can never possibly pay, I am without hope of ever loving much and consequently forgiving much. The motivation for my actions will either be driven from a sense of having been forgiven by God, or a sense of self-righteousness.
True forgiveness is driven by the grace of God which confronts the sinner with the holiness of God to the point that he recognizes his sin as an offense against God and the one against whom the sin was committed. No minimization of the sin. No negotiation of the size of the sinful act or its consequences. Just an acknowledgment of the facts and the confession of the sin for what it is and the request and reception of the forgiveness that God in Christ Jesus offers to anyone who will come to Him and ask for it.
So as we celebrate this day when love seems to be measured by an elaborate card, the size of the gift, or the expense of the jewelry, consider the quantity of the forgiveness you have received, which in turn motivates the love displayed in your life. To the degree you are forgiven, you will love.