Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
The Bible talks a lot about the F word—forgiveness. A form of the word forgive can be found in over 100 verses of Scripture, both Old and New Testament. The concept of forgiveness is displayed and demonstrated throughout the chapters and books of God’s revelation to us.
Forgiveness is a big word conjuring up a sea of complex emotions welling up inside us. We want to be forgiven, but find it challenging to be forgiving. Yet, forgiveness paves the path to healing our hurts. Apart from it, our future is stuck with one foot deeply mired in the past.
In writing his letter to the church at Colossae around A.D. 60, the Apostle Paul teaches us that as Christ-followers we must practice forgiveness.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 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 3:12-13 (ESV)
There is always somebody in our life in need of forgiveness. It could be we work with someone who gets under our skin. Maybe a fellow member at church has slighted or maligned us, causing us pain. Too often, our own family does things that hurt us the most. Hurt caused by those we love cuts deepest.
Forgiveness can be called for in small things too.
As we go through our day, we naturally meet people. People being people, can tend to do things that make us angry or upset us. We’re driving down the road, simply minding our business, when someone abruptly darts in front of us, causing us to get caught at the red light as we watch them rush on down the road. We curse, pray a quick imprecatory prayer, and extend a finger pointing them to Jesus. After a long day at work we find ourselves picking up a few items for the family dinner when someone ungraciously cuts in front of us at the checkout line. We grumble, angrily placing our items on the counter voicing our disdain. Maybe we’re talking to a friend or co-worker when another person walks up, interrupts us in mid-sentence and hijacks the conversation. The nerve. We wonder if we’re invisible while simultaneously hoping no one hears the voices raging in our minds and screaming from our hearts. Each time, our body language and facial expressions betray us.
Whether silently or über vocally, we fail to respond kindly.
But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
Genesis 33:4 (ESV)
In Genesis, we see that the brothers Jacob and Esau had their differences and difficulties. Jacob had swindled Esau’s birthright from him, robbing Esau of his blessing.
Esau definitely had grievances and Jacob was fearful of what his estranged brother might do to him after all these years. Recall all that had transpired between the two of them even as they were in Rebekah’s womb! At one point, Esau had sworn to kill Jacob once their father Isaac passed. When they meet up again in Genesis Chapter 33, we see Esau do something unexpected—forgive Jacob.
In the Gospel of Luke, we see a father embrace his long-lost son who is returning home after having blown his entire inheritance, forgiving him and celebrating his return.
In the New Testament Book of Acts, as Stephen is stoned to death, we see him pray for his killer’s forgiveness.
As Jesus Christ, the Son of God, hung dying on the Cross, he asks God, the Father, to forgive those that hung him there.
In these instances, the offended party had every right to be angry, to feel hurt, and to sense pain. But they opted to break the cycle instead.
That’s what forgiveness does. It breaks the cycle. Forgiveness does not aim to settle all the questions surrounding hurts that we may have. It is not concerned with blame or fairness. It doesn’t even promise us justice. Forgiveness wipes the slate clean, just as in dying for our sins, Christ cleansed us, whiter than snow. Forgiveness transforms the darkest moments of our past into brighter possibilities for tomorrow.
Forgiveness isn’t necessarily the easiest thing for us to practice. To get better at it, we need to turn to God in prayer, confessing our faults and our hurts. Through prayer and practice, we will grow in our readiness to forgive, for our own sake as well as for the good of others.
Our inability or unwillingness to forgive others, including ourselves, separates us from God and from each other. Unforgiveness divides us, splitting us into separate camps, forever keeping score, continuing to pile on our heap of hurts by picking at the scabs of our wounds…for eternity.
In order to show forgiveness, each of us have to first ask and accept God’s forgiveness. Once we do that, we will discover the means to practice forgiveness ourselves, removing the chains that bind us to unleash the power within us.
What’s hanging onto you that won’t let go? What are you holding onto that you need to release through practicing forgiveness?
If we ourselves are to be forgiven, we must practice forgiveness.