I have read the New International Version of the Bible for many years, but for a change of pace, recently I have incorporated the King James Version into my personal devotions. The King James’ phrasing often has a familiar ring to it, like “Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name” (Matthew 6:9), although some of its terminology is hard to decipher, like “all manner of concupiscence” (Romans 7:8). Occasionally, the words selected by King James’ translators in 1611 help me to see the text with fresh eyes. For example, there’s an interesting turn of phrase in the King James translation of Proverbs 22:29, which says, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.”
What does the phrase “mean men” mean? To us, mean means malicious, nasty, and cruel; but the translators of theKJV used the word to denote someone who is average, ordinary, or insignificant. In the same verse, the NIV translates “mean men” as “officials of low rank.” The King James phrasing strikes a chord with me, though, because I have encountered some mean people along the way. I’m guessing you have, too. Pharaoh was a powerful ruler, but he was a mean man in every sense of the word. So were cruel, self-absorbed individuals like King Ahab and King Herod.
Joseph’s brothers were mean men. Envious and spiteful, they considered murdering their brother and eventually sold him into slavery. Believing they would never see Joseph again, they misled their father Jacob, allowing him to wallow in grief because he presumed his beloved son was dead. Yet, after years of painful disconnection, Joseph forgave his brothers with tears, hugs, and reassuring words.
Mean men crucified Jesus, but he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV). Mean men threw stones and crushed the life out of a faithful preacher, but as Stephen died, he prayed, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). Early in his life, Paul was a mean man, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (9:1), but after accepting Christ, he considered himself Exhibit A of a sinner saved by grace. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” Paul wrote, “of whom I am the worst” (1 Timothy 1:15). That’s why Paul could say from a deep place in his heart, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Because all of us have sinned against God and against each other, forgiveness is an essential ingredient of all healthy relationships. Sin reduces me to a mean man, so I need God’s forgiveness. When I have offended others, to them I have been a mean man, so I need their forgiveness. As Joseph Joubert put it, “An ounce of apology is worth a pound of loneliness.” Someone else pointed out, “The one to apologize first is bravest, the one to forgive first is strongest, and the one to forget first is happiest.”
No matter which translation you read, Scripture makes it clear that the Lord wants us to forgive our brothers and sisters from our hearts (Matthew 18:35). He really means it.
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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