Eph 4:32 32 Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
Last week, we considered how to respond to a relational conflict, especially with a brother or sister in the church who has wronged us. When necessary, there is wisdom in loving, gentle confrontation. The Lord taught this to His people throughout the Bible.1 In fact, a false kind of flattery is considered wickedness, while loving rebuke is considered wise.2 But that is not always necessary. On other occasions, we can overlook and “cover” the offense.3
One critical aspect of that is forgiveness. Forgiveness is a uniquely Christian ethic because of how utterly central it is to God’s plan of salvation. At the center of God’s redemptive history stands the cross – the ultimate emblem of God’s love, wisdom, justice, humility… and of course, our forgiveness. Heaven will abound with forgiven voices praising the Lamb that was slain.4 Our willingness to forgive and proficiency in forgiving will inevitably mark us as those who have been abundantly forgiven. If someone has wronged us, we need to be prepared with this skill of the heart. So, how do we forgive?
Jesus taught us that how we forgive, must first be based on why we forgive. In Matthew 18:21, Peter asks the Lord an appropriate question in the context, “Lord, how often shall I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?” Jesus responds, “No…but up to seventy times seven.” And then he launches into a crystal clear parable of the two debtors.5 In short, this parable illustrates what it is like for a Christian, having been abundantly pardoned by God, to withhold forgiveness of a much smaller debt from those who sin against us. Why should I forgive? Because I’ve been fully and overwhelmingly forgiven. The “punch line” of the parable comes in verse 32, “…
‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’” The answer is obvious. If my eternal life is based on abundant forgiveness, rather than justice – how can I demand justice for my offender? How can I withhold the same forgiveness I depend on? The answer is, of course, we can’t…or at least we shouldn’t.
And this is Jesus’ point to all of his followers. He ends, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” The last phrase is so critical because our hearts will try to wriggle our way out of this obligation. We can forgive superficially and hypocritically. We can say things in our own minds like, “Well I forgive, but I don’t forget!” Or, “Well I love him, but God never says I have to like him!” Jesus doesn’t leave from for glazed over hatred in our hearts. Our forgiveness must be genuine.
Why should I forgive? Because I’ve been abundantly forgiven! How should I forgive? Paul answers “…just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”5 There are some specifics to consider here. More on that next week…
Thanks! See you Sunday,
1 Matthew 18:15, Galatians 6:1, Matthew 7:5, James 5:19, and Leviticus 19:17-18.
2 Proverbs 27:6; 28:23
3 Proverbs 10:12, 15:18, 17:9; 1 Peter 4:8
4 Revelation 6:9-10
5 Ephesians 4:32