If you are feeling a sense of déjà vu regarding our verse for today, yes, it is the same verse from yesterday. But today I want to focus on a different part of the verse. Here it is: Ephesians 4:32
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Yesterday we talked about kindness, today we’re going to talk about forgiveness.
There are few if any qualities amongst relationships within the family of God that greases the wheels of love and peace as does forgiveness, and little that gums up the works as the lack of it.
Forgiveness and forbearance are closely related. We are to forbear much in one another. When the lien is crossed, when an act which we might just forbear becomes an offence we must forgive, well, that line is not described for us, and not well defined, and I think differs from person to person. Some people just more easily put up with things in the forbearance sense. For the most part I think that is a virtue, but there are times when it isn’t, when it enables others to sin, or when we just become doormats.
But today we’re talking about forgiveness. Forgiveness implies a wrong suffered. Does our extension of forgiveness require the other’s repentance. The Biblical data is kind of confusing on that score. But I think we err too much on the side of holding grudges and nursing hurts and slights. Relationships are complex and messy, and often the thing to be forgiven isn’t as cut and dry as your brother sneaking into your house and stealing your jewelry. Thus often, picking apart precisely to what degree a person has properly repented can be tricky. Again, we are to err on being too forgiving if we must err.
Why? It’s simple. We forgive because we have been forgiven. No one has ever sinned against us to the degree we have sinned against God. And, remember, God renewed us, He regenerated us before we believed and repented. Regeneration precedes faith and repentance. Regeneration produces faith and repentance.
Sometimes it takes us really messing up before God and feeling the utter helplessness before Him, desperately needing His word of forgiveness, and understanding how much we have been forgiven, before we become good forgivers of others. Do we come close to knowing how much God has forgiven us?
As one of our brethren said, forgiveness is not so much a feeling as a decision, and action. Forgiveness in its essence is a decision not to hold or count one’s sins against them, not to old their sin over their head. This means that we choose to resume brotherly relations, despite our feelings. You know, we so idolize our feelings, as if they are the or should be the determining factor of so much in our lives. Feelings are running too many trains. We resume normal relations before our feelings have decided; we choose not to hold what we think are the other’s sins against them; we carry on. We may still feel the sting of the thing that hurt us, but forgiveness acts despite the hurt. Forgiveness extends the right hand of fellowship despite the hurt. Eventually, well almost always, when we choose in obedience to forgive, our feelings will follow, and the sting will decline, and true brotherly affection will return.
Failure to forgive destroys families, church fellowships, and Christian communities. It weakens our witness. It becomes generational. It is a cancer eating away at the health of the people of God.
As often as not we are not actually so good at knowing when we have been sinned against. We are inclined to read motives into people that aren’t there. Our pride gets wounded and we feel great offence even when there has been no real offence. Our pride is often the real sin, more than the thing we feel so offended by. So, we need to keep an eye on our own selves, on the planks in our own eyes.
But real offenses do happen, and real forgiveness must follow. Forgiveness greases the wheels of relationships in the church. It shows love to be alive and well. Without it the church cannot be the church. Period.