Perhaps second only to loving one another in the hierarchy of instructions we have been given about getting along is the command to forgive one another. Christians can’t get along and churches can’t function if we don’t forgive each other.
The first passage I want to go to is Eph. 4:1-3:
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
No, this passage doesn’t mention forgiveness, but it does say that we should forbear one another, or bear with one another as the ESV puts it. Forbearing each other is simply putting up with each other. Remember the first phrase in Paul’s definition of love in 1 Cor. 13? “Love suffers long”. This is the idea. We bear the burdens of each other and put up with them. Have you ever heard someone described as coming with a lot of baggage? Well, as Christians, we should help them carry that baggage.
The real command in this passage though, is in verse 1 “Walk worthily of the calling wherewith you were called.” All the rest are subpoints, or descriptions of how to walk worthily. But what is my calling? 1 Thess. 2;12 says we have been called into God’s kingdom, and Romans 9:25 calls us God’s people. We have been called to be subjects in God’s kingdom, to be His people. Being identified with a group carries some responsibilities. The military will still kick people out, or even send them to jail, for conduct unbecoming a military person. They acted in a way that did not live up to the calling of being in the military. If that is true of the earthly military, don’t you think it would also be true of being one of God’s people? We are to walk worthily of the calling. Of course, Romans 8:30 and Hebrews 2:11 up the ante a bit when they say we have been called to be the Lord’s brethren. Now we really have need to walk worthily of the calling.
How? In lowliness, or humility. In meekness, or putting God first in everything. With longsuffering. And forbearing one another IN LOVE. Notice that the motivation for forbearance is love. Have you ever noticed someone with a special needs child or sibling and seen all the trouble they go to for that person, and all the annoyance they overlook from that person and think “I could never do that”? But if you talk to them, they barely even noticed that there was any annoyance involved. They just put up with it without even thinking about it, because they loved that special needs child. That is how Christians should be with each other. We just automatically overlook most “burdens” put on us by our brethren because we love them. We hardly notice that brother so-and-so is sometimes hard to get along with because we love him. Essentially, forbearance is automatic forgiveness of minor issues.
Sometimes, however, bigger things arise. I put up a post a few weeks ago about when brothers don’t get along. We went down the instructions the Lord gave in Matthew 18 for how to handle that. The major takeaway, though, was to forgive. “If he listens, you have regained your brother”. At that point, we need to forgive them and move on. After all, the point here is not to work through all three steps, but to regain that brother. Paul offers some instruction on this point as well.
Eph. 4:32 “and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.”
Col. 3:13 “forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye.”
Notice that in Colossians Paul links forbearance and forgiveness, so I wasn’t nuts. Also, in Ephesians kindness and forgiveness go hand in hand. Part of being kind is forgiving and a motivation for forgiveness is kindness. But the big idea here, mentioned in both passages, is that we are to forgive “As the Lord forgave you”. Uh oh. How do I forgive as Christ forgave? First, let’s look at OT prophesies of how things were to be in the Kingdom:
Isa. 43:25 “I, even I, am he that blots out thy transgressions for mine own sake; and I will not remember thy sins.”
Jer. 31:34 “. . . for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith Jehovah: for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.”
God says that when He forgives, He “will not remember your sins”. When He forgives iniquity “their sin will I remember no more.” So, if this is how the Lord forgives and I’m supposed to forgive like Him, then I can’t hold grudges now can I? I can’t say that I forgive something and then bring it up later in an argument. I’m to treat my brother as if the offending action had never happened. Christian forget about forgiven sins. For the next idea, let’s look at some of the instruction of the Lord Himself.
Luke 17:3-4 “Take heed to yourselves: if thy brother sin, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in the day, and seven times turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”
Forgive your brother if he repents, ok, but forgive seven times in the same day? The same thing? That’s ridiculous! Yet, that’s what the Lord teaches about forgiveness, and if I’m to forgive like Him. . . let’s also remember, with shame, the times in our lives that we had to go to the Lord multiple times in one day for forgiveness for the same thing. Aren’t we glad He is willing to forgive over and over and over? I need to forgive my brother again and again, even in the same day. Something similar is said in Matt. 18:21-22:
“Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.”
This isn’t in one day, but over time. Your brother is still annoying you in the same way two years later, but still repenting of it? You still forgive him. Also, when the Lord said “70 x 7” He didn’t literally mean 490 times. “That’s it! That’s the 491st time Julia has done that to me! I don’t have to forgive her anymore!” Of course, that is ridiculous. Jesus was using 70 x 7 as a figure meaning a really big amount. A never to be reached limit. [Also, if you are counting the times a brother or sister is sinning against you, then you have failed the first point, not remembering forgiven sins.] As long as your brother keeps trying, as long as he keeps coming and repenting to you for his fault, you keep forgiving him. After all, aren’t we glad the Lord keeps forgiving us?
Finally, look at Matt. 18:23ff
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.' So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
Not only do we need to make sure we forgive after the same manner that the Lord has forgiven us if we want to ensure He keeps forgiving us, but we need to recognize that there is no way we can possibly forgive to the same amount that the Lord has forgiven us. Any forgiveness we do of our brethren is trivial compared to the forgiveness God has granted us. In the parable, the amount the servant owed the king would translate roughly to hundreds of millions of dollars, if not billions of dollars in modern currency. That is the amount the king forgave when the servant pleaded. The amount the second servant owed the first might translate to a couple thousand dollars. While a couple thousand dollars is not insignificant to everyday people, it’s not even a blip compared to hundreds of millions of dollars. And while forgiving my brother his insult to me might not be insignificant to every day people, compared to the forgiveness God has offered me, and the price He had to pay to be able to offer it, it is not even noticeable.
We need to forgive and forbear our brethren in love.