Forgiven and Forgiving
When I was a young pastor, there was an elderly woman who had a long and storied history with my church. She was something of a matriarch who had controlled committees, decisions, and even pastors throughout the years. When I arrived, her power, though still evident, was waning.
What was most signiﬁcant about this woman’s life was the bitterness that came to light as one got to know her and her life story. Her story was etched on her face, and her anger and distrust still dictated her responses to those around her. This stalwart church member illustrated the undeniable importance of forgiveness and the consequences of a life marked by unforgiveness and bitterness.
Life naturally brings opportunities to exercise forgiveness. Jesus told us that it is necessary that offenses should come. They are a part of what God is doing in our lives. Friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow-church members are all possible candidates as offending parties.
But nowhere is the need for forgiveness greater than in the context of immediate family relationships. The dynamic relationships between husbands and wives, siblings, and parents and children bring delightful interaction but also friction and hurts. The Apostle Paul addressed some of this when he instructed fathers not to provoke their children to wrath and husbands not to be bitter against their wives. Unfulﬁlled promises and disappointed expectations can lead to resentment but are opportunities to exercise the ﬁne art of Christian forgiveness. Some offenses can be relatively small, like calling a sibling a name. Others may be quite large like marital unfaithfulness. But left unresolved, every offense has the potential to be devastating.
The problem is, we do not naturally have or cultivate an attitude of forgiveness. Our thoughts and responses in this area may be governed by a limited perspective. There are some things we may ﬁnd easier to forgive. Others are much more of a challenge. Then there is the problem of repeated offenses, which is very common in family relationships and others as well. This was the issue behind Peter’s question to Christ: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him; seven times?” This seems like a reasonable question from a human perspective, and the teaching of Peter’s day said that three times was enough. So seven may have seemed spiritual and generous.
But that is the problem with a limited, human perspective. It fails to see the larger perspective of God’s work and the limitless opportunities of a forgiving heart. And that leads us to the basis of all forgiveness. Forgiveness is, at its heart, a Gospel issue. It is an issue of the children of God exhibiting the very nature of their Heavenly Father. “For You LORD are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy unto all who call upon You.” (Psalm 86:5) Christ’s dying words were; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”(Luke 23:34) The reason we forgive is that we have been forgiven. Our Father has forgiven us a great debt of sin for Christ’s sake. We who know Him are the beneﬁciaries of untold grace and mercies. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:31,32) Christ is the reason we forgive.
The reason we forgive is Christ. The refusal to forgive is evidence that we do not know Christ or His forgiveness. Those who understand the basis for forgiveness are forgiving. Those who refuse to forgive do not understand or know forgiveness. So forgiveness is necessary for our salvation, our sanctiﬁcation, and as the fruit of a forgiven life. “Even as Christ forgave you, so do also.” (Colossians 3:13b) Perhaps their is no greater Gospel fruit. Let us purpose, by God’s grace, to walk in the way of forgiveness.
In the Grace of Christ,