Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. -Colossians 3:13
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
It’s a tough gig, this forgiveness thing. Especially when you are deeply hurt, it is incredibly difficult to even think about.
But Paul found it necessary to make nearly the exact same statement to both of these churches. Because although it is tough, it is also important.
Jesus spoke of forgiveness on several occasions:
“Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” – Matt 6:12
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” – Matt 6:14
Jesus even told a story in Matthew 18 known as the parable of the unforgiving servant. It’s the story of a servant who was forgiven an incredible amount of debt (one he could never repay), only to hit the street and demand the few dollars owed him by another. The result? Because he failed to show the same mercy he’d received, the master imprisoned the servant until he could pay every last cent of his large debt.
We sneer at the unforgiving servant, and we cheer the master for his intervention, resting in our satisfaction that justice was served.
And all the while, we are not much different from this unforgiving servant.
As Christians, God has forgiven us a debt that we cannot even fathom, let alone repay. He sent Jesus to a brutal death to pay that debt so we could be forgiven. And all the while we hold against others offenses that are minuscule compared to that debt He released us from.
Mirriam-Webster defines ‘Forgive’ as “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone): to stop requiring payment of (money that is owed)”.
Notice it doesn’t say that forgiveness is “to deny that you were hurt.” It doesn’t say “to pretend nothing happened.” It doesn’t say “to forget what was done to you.” Forgiving is not ignoring or dismissing. It says “to stop feeling anger and stop blaming and stop requiring payment.” That definition presupposes that you first acknowledge the offense.
This is what the master did to the servant when he initially forgave him – he recognized what was owed and then made an intentional decision to not expect repayment. This is what God did through Jesus’ sacrifice – He recognized our offenses against Him and then made a conscious decision not to lay blame to our account. This is what is expected of us – not to ignore the hurt, but to stop laying blame, being angry, and expecting payback.
And as with most of God’s commands, He doesn’t make arbitrary rules that He expects us to follow ‘because He said so.’ The rules He makes are for our own good. The act of forgiveness is freeing, healing, and life-giving…to the one doing the forgiving!
So let loose of that death-grip you are holding on whatever was done to you. Release it. Drop the stone from your hand. Forgive. Be free!