And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:30-32
Here’s a piece of advice I learned the hard way: if you want a peaceful shopping trip, don’t wear a red shirt and khakis inside of Target. Unfortunately, I made this dreadful fashion mistake the other day and as a result had people left and right asking me questions. Can you point me towards electronics? Do you offer rain checks? Where are the bathrooms?
A few times I’d play along, and other times I’d confess that I wasn’t an employee of the giant superstore. I couldn’t blame people for the case of mistaken identity. After all, bright red shirts are what makes Target employees stick out. Their outfit has become so ingrained in our thinking that shoppers will ask anyone in red for help. Trust me, I know.
Scripture talks about clothing ourselves with the character of Christ (Romans 13:14). As Christians, we are called to stick out. Our charge is to be different. We are to live in a way that when people see our actions and our words, they recognize Christ’s work taking place within us. Forgiven people are supposed to be forgiving people. Since forgiveness defined Christ’s life, God measures the health and maturity of our relationship with Him by our relationships with the people around us.
When we do not understand that who we are in Christ is due solely to God’s grace, forgiving others will never take root as a habit in our lives. Failing to recognize the hand that has been extended to us by God will keep us from offering our hand to others after they fall. Our ability to forgive is merely an extension of the grace we have already received. The way we treat others is an indication of how well we understand what God through Christ has done for us.
We’re confronted with this dilemma on a daily basis thanks to the messiness of humanity. Some moments we are the offended while other times we are the offender. This comes with the territory of being in relationships. Without a willingness to forgive we will be relationally bankrupt. Where there is no forgiveness, eventually there are no relationships. We are going to be hurt, taken advantage of, by the people closest to us. The closer they are, the more it hurts. The closer they are the more frequent we will be hurt. Learning to give the gift of forgiveness continually is a requirement if we are going to have any long-term relationships with anybody.
Unfortunately, our humanity makes us hesitate in extending forgiveness. The idea of canceling out a debt when the wounds seem so fresh makes us cringe. What causes us to flinch is something deep down inside reminding us of the great cost of forgiveness. It could be an affair, divorce, abuse, gossip, dishonesty or hurtful words. Your story might be distinctive, but the struggle to forgive others or to ask for forgiveness on your behalf is not unique. One would assume that as children of God, forgiveness would be a natural action. The reality is that uttering words of forgiveness like “I was wrong,” “Will you forgive me?,” and “Yes, I forgive you” are few and far between.
We don’t forgive because people deserve it. We forgive due to an encounter with Christ’s mercy. Forgiveness doesn’t make any sense unless you are a forgiven person. Seeking and extending forgiveness can be a costly endeavor on our part, but when compared to the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf it is a drop in a bucket. There is no cost comparison. In light of Jesus, we no longer have a right to seek revenge or withhold our forgiveness (Colossians 2:13-14, Isaiah 53:1-7). Our concern should now focus on how our actions will advance the kingdom of God and not on our well-being or selfish desires.
Forgiveness is one of our primary exports as believers. We are exporting the message of forgiveness. Our message is, “Come meet our God. He will forgive you no matter what.” There’s something hypocritical about a bunch of forgiven people assembled to tell others about forgiveness who won’t forgive. If we do not extend grace, it demonstrates our lack of understanding God’s forgiveness, which stands as the crux of the gospel. Our message of love and mercy then falls on deaf ears. We must model our message.
- Where there is no forgiveness, eventually there are no relationships. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? How has a lack of forgiveness influenced your relationships?
- Who are you finding it difficult to forgive? In your eyes, what does that person owe you? Why have you been unwilling up till now to extend forgiveness? What would it look like for you to forgive this individual?
God, I lay my heart before You and ask that you examine the places where unforgiveness resides. Expose my strained relationships. Let me trust You with the hurt and pain someone else has caused. Help me to forgive those who created scars, not because they deserve it, but because I am forgiven. In Your name, Jesus. Amen.