‘And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32).
One of the practical ways of one-anothering is forgiveness. There are times when we can get on each other’s nerves, or our opinions don’t coincide with our fellow members’ views. There are times when a hasty or out-of-place word is spoken that causes offence, or a thoughtless action causes distress.
It is in such situations that forgiveness comes in. Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness are the means by which peace is made between believers.
In this area we have a pattern set for us already in the way that God for Christ’s sake forgave us. We need to forgive others as God forgives us – unconditionally, finally, and forever. He has remembered our sins no more. He has consigned them to the depths of the sea, never to resurface. He has promised to do that.
But what do we do? We say, ‘Yes, I’ll forgive you,’ but under our breath we might say, ‘but I’ll be watching out for you in the future to see if you do it again.’
My friends, that is not true forgiveness. That is not the way that Christ forgives. That is not genuine ‘readiness to forgive’.
The apostle Peter writes, ‘Not returning evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing’ (1 Peter 3:9).
Peter says that forgiving means not retaliating, not paying back. Rather, we are to repay evil with good; unkindness with kindness. Blessing and not cursing; accepting, not resenting.
This is how brothers and sisters are to love, says Peter. They do not have to go around saying ‘I love you’ to their fellow believers all day; they can show it, they can demonstrate it in the way that they show forgiveness. When that happens, others take notice!
The apostle John tells us how the Lord Jesus Christ forgives: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9).
Forgiveness and cleansing all in the same verse! The Lord also tells us how to forgive in Luke 17:3-4: ‘Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, “I repent”, you shall forgive him.’
Do we come anywhere near this, my friends? We should, if we claim to have renewed minds in the Lord Jesus Christ along with a truly converted heart that has become tender. That is the kind of heart that the Lord Jesus wants from us so that we may be able to respond to the exhortation of these verses.
The Dutch Holocaust survivor and Christian Corrie ten Boom tells of once not being able to forget a wrong that had been done to her. She had forgiven the person, but she kept rehashing the incident and so couldn’t sleep.
Finally, Corrie cried out to God for help in putting the problem to rest. ‘His help came in the form of a kindly Lutheran pastor,’ Corrie wrote, ‘to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks.’
‘Up in the church tower,’ he said, nodding out the window, ‘is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding, then dong. Slower and slower until there’s a final dong and it stops. I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive, we take our hand off the rope.
‘But if we’ve been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn’t be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They’re just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down.’
Corrie continued, ‘And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversations, but the force – which was my willingness in the matter – had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at the last stopped altogether: we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.’
May the Lord help us to forgive one another, as he has forgiven us.