Forgive One Another
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Eph. 4:32d (Holman) “. . .forgiving one another. . .”
“Forgive” is a sticking point for many believers. A wrong done to us by others often leads to a root of bitterness being long nursed within us. This is tragic. The depth of our commitment to Jesus should not be determined by the actions of others.
As Christians, we represent our Lord, and thus have to forgive, for forgiveness personifies the essence of all we know about Jesus. He showed it in His earthly life, to the very end. Soldiers beat and mocked Him, and gambled for His garment, but in His dying hour, He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
“Forgiving” is essential among Christians. It is unbefitting for us to participate in public worship if we know we have not forgiven, and been forgiven by, others. In public worship, we are forced to ponder the extent of our forgiveness for others.
Our Master said, “If you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). The door also swings the other way. “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven will also forgive you” (Mark 11:25). Christians must be “forgiving.”
Each believer has many opportunities to obey this command to forgive. A church consists of sinners saved by grace, not angels. Many Christians need to accept this fact and become less sensitive about their feelings. We need to take the chip off our shoulder, and be as slow to take offense as to give it. Remember, people are creatures of emotion, beset by temper and infirmities. We all have a prideful nature.
Each of us will be affronted at times. Expect to have interpersonal conflicts. John the Beloved had trouble with Demetrius (3 John 9). Paul was opposed by Alexander the coppersmith (2 Timothy 4:14). Jesus met opposition everywhere.
Christians, of all people, should be realistic about this. Our faith is not naive. Our theology should make it easier for us to forgive people because we understand human nature. We realize people are sinners, weak and frail, with a sin nature. We know this is true of us too. Don’t be not harsh toward the faults of others. We have our own aplenty. It is easier to forgive if we remain mindful of our shortcomings.
Eph. 4:32e “. . .just as God also forgave you in Christ.”
We are not at liberty to decide how far we will go in forgiving others. The standard is predetermined, measured by the actions of God. He sets the example we are to imitate. We are to forgive “as God also forgave you in Christ.” Forgiven ones should forgive. The reason Christians exist is; they are the people God has forgiven. We who live due to forgiveness from God must surely be willing to forgive like God.
God forgave us without retaining a grudge. Our sins are gone, as far as the east is from the west. God shows no displeasure. Consequences abide, and we must someday give an account at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but our relationship with God here on earth can be as absolutely flawless as if the sin were never committed.
God forgave us eagerly. He thoroughly enjoys forgiving us. When affronted, spontaneously pray, “How can I initiate reconciliation?” And if the chance comes, “don’t dwarf the opportunity, but enlarge it, and when thou dost forgive, have so much forgiveness left that thou couldst do it seven times again, and then 70 times seven; for thou drawest thy forgiveness from the fountain of the cross” (Parker).
God forgave us freely. We did not merit His forgiveness. It came by grace. People who wrong us may not deserve our forgiveness. We did not deserve God’s. The forgiveness we enjoy was unmerited, and since we cannot forgive God in return, we express our appreciation to Him by forgiving others who do not deserve it.
God forgave us at great cost to Himself. Has our forgiving others ever cost us a cross? Have we ever been out money, time, or pain to forgive another? Forgiving is often painful. We don’t play make believe, fantasize, or dream the offense was not as painful as it really was. We deal with reality, face pain head on, and choose to absorb the hurt into our heart, even as Jesus absorbed into His own body the pain of our sins.
God forgave us generously. He forgives all sins, the worst without exception. He does not pick and choose, forgiving some sins, but leaving others uncovered. Jesus forgives a repentant sinner completely. Have we decided some offense done against us was extra heinous? Have we chosen to forgive some, but not all, wrongs?
If we grasp the huge amount of mercy that was needed to pay our huge debt, we say, “I cannot refuse to forgive, whatever the offense.” Once we understand the enormity of our own cancelled sin debt, our ability to forgive others is as natural as opening a hand. Christians who cannot forgive have not begun to grasp the amount of forgiveness they received from God. No one can ever wrong us as much as we wrong God. All the abuses we endure are nothing compared to what we do against God.
God forgave us, in a way, before He was asked. Technically, our sins are forgiven when we repent and ask for forgiveness, but His forgiveness sought us before we sought it. New believers think we find God; mature saints know God finds us.
God’s forgiveness of us took wing before we were born, and began to fly our way long before we turned to receive it. Has someone hurt us, and not apologized? Have we forgiven them already, even before they ask our forgiveness? When they speak to us about it, can we honestly say the incident is already a thing of the past?
In relationships, a believer should always have all accounts up to date. Others may hold a grudge against us, but we must refuse to sink to their level. With people, we should be bold as a lion, no hesitation in our handshake, no fear to look anyone in the eye, no need to avoid any hallway or store for fear of seeing a particular person.
We are to forgive others “as God” forgave us in Christ. My immediate reaction to this challenge is desperation and hopelessness. I cannot do this. We all stand condemned before this challenge. Adhering to this standard requires a miracle, which is what God provides. Every Bible command is a promise by God to supply power needed to obey it. What He commands us to do, He empowers us to do.
By the Spirit’s power, we can forgive. Others have done it. Archbishop Cranmer was so forgiving that it became a proverb; be unkind to Cranmer and he will be your friend as long as he lives. A ruthless tyrant, having a Christian beaten almost to death, taunted his victim, “What great thing did Christ ever do for you?” The Christian cried in pain, “That I can forgive you, though you use me so cruelly.”
Living a life like this is hard to fathom or imagine, but is viable. During the Revolutionary War, Peter Miller served as Pastor of a small Baptist church in Pennsylvania. In his community lived a man who hated and derided Baptists.
This antagonist was found guilty of treason during the War and sentenced to die. When Peter Miller heard of his persecutor’s plight, he made a decision that still blesses all who hear of it. He chose to seek a pardon from George Washington for the old enemy. Miller walked sixty miles to see the General at Philadelphia.
Washington told the Pastor his request could not be granted “for his unfortunate friend.” The pastor replied, “My friend! I have not a worse enemy.”
Washington was stunned, “You walked 60 miles to save the life of your enemy? This puts the matter in a different light; I will grant you his pardon.”
The pardon was written and handed to Peter Miller, who immediately began the fifteen mile walk to where his enemy was to be executed. Miller arrived not long before the man was to be conducted to the scaffold. The condemned man, seeing Miller approaching, scoffed, “There is old Peter Miller; he has walked all this way to have his revenge gratified today by seeing me hung.” These words had no sooner left his lips than he was told of his pardon, and his life was spared.
There is a beauty in such behavior that the world cannot resist, and the Church cannot thrive without. Our Master said people would know we are His disciples if we love one another (John 13:35). Taking this one step farther, we can say people will know we love one another, if we forgive one another, as God forgave us.