Today we are going to consider the importance and power of forgiveness. Everyone in this room is either needing to forgive someone or will need to forgive someone or needing forgiveness from someone else. In your life people are going to be unkind, impolite, and rude. Some of you have been mistreated and abused. Some things in your life should not have been said or happened, but they did happen and it was said. Listen carefully, without forgiveness your life will be governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. For your personal growth and peace you must learn to be a forgiver of people.
There are many instructions and examples about forgiveness and many warnings about not forgiving in the Bible. I want to share two of them with you today and we will focus on one of them.
- The first is Ephesians 4:31, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. (32) Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (NLT). We are in a series of lessons called Body Language and we are looking at some of the “one another” statements in the Bible, like love one another, encourage one another and today we focus on forgiving one another. When you start forgiving others you will discover that the bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander toward the person begins to melt away.
- The second statement about forgiveness you need to see and the one we will focus most of our attention on today is Colossians 3:13 which says, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (NLT).
I want us to unpack Colossians 3:13 and examine some key truths and principles about forgiveness.
Forgiving one another is letting go of your resentment toward others
Number one, forgiving one another is letting go of your resentment toward others. Colossians 3:13 says we are to “forgive.” You are told to “make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you” (NLT). The word “forgive” (aphiemi) literally means to let loose, release, or let go of something. For example, if you take out a loan from a bank, you are in debt to that bank, but if that bank were to forgive you of your debt they are letting go of that debt, they are releasing you from paying them back. They are forgiving you of that debt.
When someone sins against you: they lie to you or about you, they break a promise or vow they made to you, they steal from you, they hurt or violate you in some way, they were rude to you, they offended you… they sinned against you in some way. If you are not careful you will begin to hold a grudge against them and you will feel like they owe you something. This grudge shows up in the form of resentment, bitterness, and anger. To forgive someone is to let go of the grudge, let loose of the offense, and to not hold them in debt for what they said or did. You are releasing them from the debt of sin against you. You are letting go of the resentment and grudge you have against them. This is why Jesus said, “But when you are praying first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against…” (Mark 11:25, NLT). Stop holding the grudge and let it go. You let it go with forgiveness.
Before we go any further with trying to understand forgiving others we need to clarify some things about what forgiveness is NOT:
- Forgiveness is not denying, approving, or diminishing the wrong that was committed against you. You cannot say you are fine, that it was not a big deal, or that, since it was in the past, you’ve just moved on. You must be honest about the reality of the wrong done to you if you want the forgiveness to be equally serious. In forgiving, you are saying the person was wrong, you do not approve of their action, and that it really is a big deal and not a trivial matter to you. Forgiveness doesn’t excuse their behavior. Forgiveness prevents their behavior from destroying your heart.
- Forgiveness is not ignoring the wrong. Some people are prone to live as if the world were not filled with depraved sinners capable of sin, hurt, pain, and evil. Some people simply try to ignore the sin committed against them and think that by ignoring it they are forgiving it. Ignorance of or ignoring the wrong committed against you is not forgiveness. You must acknowledge the wrong done to you in order to forgive them.
- Forgiveness is not enabling sin. Even though you are to forgive a person many times, your forgiveness should be given in such a way as to not encourage or enable the person to continue hurting or violating you. Forgiveness is not giving permission for the person to do it again.
- Forgiveness is not forgetting about sin committed against you. It is actually impossible to completely forget such things. You are not going to forget about some pain, abuse, or violation that was made against you. Just because you still remember and the memory still hurts, does not mean you are walking in unforgiveness. That may be more of an indication that you are still hurting or grieving over the hurt. When God says, “Their sin I will remember no more,” He does not mean that He has no memory, but rather that He continually chooses not to bring it up or keep it in the forefront of His thinking. He does not hold it against them anymore. You can forgive someone and still feel hurt by the offense but not hold it against the person.
- Forgiveness is not dying emotionally and no longer feeling the pain of the transgression. Rather, forgiveness allows you to feel the appropriate depth of grievous pain but chose by grace not to be continually paralyzed or defined by it.
- Forgiveness is not a one-time event. Those who have been sinned against commonly have seasons when they feel afresh the pain of past hurts and have to forgive their offenders yet again. A thought, a smell, a picture, a sound, or word can trigger an emotional response and maybe rekindle the bitterness you once had. Even if the person is out of your life, you still may have to forgive that person in your heart again.
- Forgiveness is not reconciliation. Forgiveness is you forgiving the offender. Repentance is the offender asking for forgiveness and to stop doing the offensive actions. Reconciliation is when both forgiveness by the victim and repentance by the offender meet. Sometimes, reconciliation requires time, a lot of time especially when trust has been violated.
- Forgiveness is not neglecting justice. If a crime has been committed against you, you can forgive the criminal and call the police to arrest him or her at the same time. Just because you forgive someone does not mean they get off free. Forgiveness and justice do not oppose each other. The thief on the cross was forgiven of his sins, but he was still punished for the crimes he had committed.
This takes us to our second observation.
Forgiving one another is based on Jesus forgiving you
Number two, forgiving one another is based on Jesus forgiving you. Look again at Colossians 3:13, “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (NLT). This is significant. What we have a tendency to do is forgive people based on what they say or don’t say, do or don’t do. If they apologize or ask for forgiveness, but it doesn’t seem genuine or real enough we don’t forgive them. Our forgiveness is based on whether or not we see enough humility, repentance, or sorrow.
The truth and reality is you are to forgive them because the Lord forgave you. Your motivation to forgive others is based on Jesus love and forgiveness toward you, not the character or actions of the other person.
This concept is repeated in Ephesians 4:32 where it says, “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ as forgiven you” (NLT). I think one of the signs that you have truly forgiven someone and let the grudge and resentment go is when you can treat that person with kindness and tenderness. I don’t think it’s an accident that God’s Word connects treating others with kindness and tenderheartedness with forgiving others.
Forgiving one another is unlimited
Number three, forgiving one another is unlimited. It has no boundaries. Colossians 3:13 says, “forgive anyone who offends you” (NLT). The word “offends” refers to any complaint against you (right or wrong), sin against you, or wrong against you. When you are offended by someone you are to forgive them. Let’s talk about being offended for a couple of minutes.
- Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense” (NIV 84). It is to your glory and honor to overlook many of the offenses you encounter. Have you ever been around someone who was easily offended? It’s one thing to be offended by something that is offensive, it’s another thing to be offended by constructive criticism. For some people they are easily offended. You cannot give them constructive criticism because they get offended by it. You cannot offer real advice to them because they feel attacked by it.
Overlooking an offense is immediately forgiving an offense. It is to your glory to overlook an offense and it is to your shame to hold on an offense. Let it go.
- Proverbs 12:16 says, “A fool is quick-tempered, but a wise person stays calm when insulted” (NLT). When you are insulted by someone how do you normally react? Do you lash out in anger? Do you pout? Do you go off and complain to others about the insult? Do you hold a grudge? Do you get mean and rude? Do you manipulate? The Bible says “a fool is quick-tempered.” He is easily offended. She is easily insulted. But the Bible also says, “a wise person stays calm when insulted.” One of the reasons for this is they are quick to forgive, quick to overlook an offense.
Why do I want you to see Proverbs 12 and 19? Because you live in a fallen world. You are going to have parents, spouse, children, friends, coworkers, bosses, coaches, teachers, students, and strangers say things and do things that are going to offend you and insult you throughout your entire life. You must learn how to deal with being offended and being insulted or you are going to be bound up in your own prison of holding grudges, being bitter, and being angry at people all your life. You will become someone you don’t want to be.
The point I’m making is forgiving one another is to be unlimited. Your forgiveness toward others is unlimited in regards to three aspects.
- Number one, your forgiveness has no limits in regards to the person. Colossians 3:13 says, “Forgive anyone who offends you” (NLT). It doesn’t matter who they.
- Number two, your forgiveness has no limits in regards to the offense. Colossians 3:13 says, “Forgive anyone who offends you” (NLT). Any offense.
- Number three, your forgiveness has no limits in regards to the amount. Jesus made it clear in Luke 17, “Even if that person wrongs you seven times a day and each time turns again and asks forgiveness, you must forgive” (v.4, NLT; see also Matthew 18:21-35). A constant flow of forgiveness.
As we wrap this up let me ask three quick questions:
- Who do you need to forgive? Who has hurt you? Who lied to you? Deceived you? Violated you and your trust? When you forgive someone you set a prisoner free… and that prisoner is you.
- Who do you need to ask forgiveness from? Who have you hurt? Lied to you or lied about? Have you violated someone? Have you misused someone’s trust? It takes courage to ask for forgiveness. You can do it. God supports you on this.
- Have you accepted God’s forgiveness that He offers you? You can be forgiven of your sins. The only way you can have eternal life is for you to receive God’s forgiveness. Paul stated this clearly when he said, “that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in Him is declared right with God” (Acts 13:38-39, NLT).