Unity - Forgiving is Required
The concept of forgiveness is prevalent throughout scripture, with the leading example being that of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. It is because of the forgiveness attained through the power of Christ’s blood willingly spilled on Calvary, that mankind is redeemed to a right-standing relationship with the God of creation (Matthew 6:28). Jesus Christ, and ultimately by extension God, forgives mankind of the sins committed against them (them being the plurality of God), when man accepts the sacrifice of Jesus through acts of repentance, baptism and faithfulness. God forgives despite the inevitability of man’s sinful acts, thoughts, etc. In fact, God not only reactively forgives man, in that those who put on Christ are forgiven, but demonstrates His love in an even grander way, because He knew since the beginning of time that man would succumb to the plight of sin and be removed from His presence. He had a timeless plan in place as to how He would forgive man (Romans 6:23). God loves mankind so much, that He made the decision to forgive us and save us from the eternally lasting pains of sin from the start. This decision is the prime example of God’s love in scripture and the very attitude that we should strive to adopt in our own treatment of others. In other words, be ready to extend forgiveness.
In Ephesians 4:32, Paul instructs the church in Ephesus (and by extension us) to “forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Matthew 6:14-15 states that we are to forgive others their trespasses, and our Father in heaven will also forgive us. This is a conditional assertion as clarified by verse 15 that states “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Polarizing words for anyone holding a grudge or struggling to move forward. This same conditional assertion is repeated in Colossians 3:13, Mark 11:25 and Luke 6:37. Jesus’ commands regarding forgiveness are broad and all-encompassing to include those in the world as well as those in His church. This can be observed in Luke 6:27, where Jesus commands us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us – which is paralleled in Matthew 5:44. How often do we go about either thinking negatively toward our worldly neighbors or end up resenting them and think nothing of it, because we keep it to ourselves? Forgiving is all about our own heart. Forgiving our offenders can be incredibly difficult, but keep in mind how much Christ has forgiven you, when it becomes difficult to forgive and extend grace to others.
The call to forgive those of the world and our enemies is clear and precise in scripture. There is little to no room for error in interpretation, when it comes to the matter. The letters to the churches penned by the apostles often appear to be directed to the treatment of the believers (how believers should treat other believers), but Jesus had extended this context to all when he said, “as God forgave you.” Believers in Christ are held to a higher standard of love than that of the rest of the world – as with most ways of life. Christians are called (I.E., commanded) to do many things differently than the rest of the populace. Are you carrying anger against a fellow heir to the crown of life? Is your own pride keeping you from forgiving others and following Jesus’ example and furthermore, command?
I have called out forgiveness as it relates to our relationship with the world, as well as forgiveness as it relates to the church, but I will call out one additional contextual relationship in which forgiveness has perhaps the highest expectation of fulfillment by the Christian… marriage. Think conceptually of each relationship mentioned (world, church, marriage) as layers where marriage is the deepest layer to which one can place themselves in the call of forgiveness. The forgiveness level inclusive in marriage differs from the others, in that marriage is not necessarily an expectation of God in the sense that if we do not get married, there are eternal punishments awaiting. We are told to “be fruitful and multiply” which is restricted to within a marriage. However, the apostle Paul stipulates that it is not for everyone. Marriage is a covenant (I.E. contract) between the married couple and made before God. In this marriage covenant, there are certain “Terms and Conditions” that both willing participants agree to uphold upon entering the covenant. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the church, bearing with her in understanding and patience, and the wife is to respect her husband (1 Peter 3:7, Ephesians 5:22-33). As Christians we are expected to love one another, which includes forgiving one another as Christ exemplified. As married Christians, we are vowing to love one another both as Christians and as spouses in a lifelong relationship. Is there strife in your marriage due to a lack of forgiveness?
How did Christ love the church? Unselfishly, willingly, sacrificially (meaning it absolutely cost him something), and as mentioned above, He loved proactively. Christ (God) had an attitude of forgiveness. He was ready to forgive when the time came for its necessity (granted He requires certain things but the point remains that He is ready and willing to forgive). What happens when God forgives? The relationship between God and the sinner is restored. We too, with our grudges (I.E. unforgiven trespasses against ourselves), place a divide among ourselves (the church) when we choose not to forgive (I’ll come back to that). This creates fractures in what should be a solid foundation of fellowship in Christ. We cannot be united or unified as one body, if there is strife among our numbers generated by unforgiven offenses. This reflects the attitude that Christ teaches in Matthew 18:21-22.
Going back to “choosing” not to forgive. It is exactly that – a choice. There is a simple way of proving that fact. God would not command us to do things (in which not doing is sin) if we were not capable of accomplishing them (1 Corinthians 10:13). God chose to forgive us – He was not bound to do so. He did so because of His immense and unfathomable love for mankind.
By forgiving others, we can live in unity with one another - as one body in Christ, as a solid partnership in marriage, and as strangers sojourning in this world. Forgiving is not fun, because it requires giving something that is quite valuable to someone whom we may deem as undeserving. But the next time you find yourself either refusing or delaying to forgive someone (saying “I will forgive them when I am ready”) think about it in terms of the big picture:
- God forgave you of far worse.
- God commands you to forgive for the sake of your own right-standing with Him.
- Forgiving is loving.
- We can’t be united in Christ without forgiving each other.
I leave you with this final verse for reflection:
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” – Romans 12:18 (NASB)