Where there are people, even when it is God’s people, who are the best folks in the world, from time to time there will be problems in human relationships. There can be tensions and conflicts. In some cases, one member of the church sins against another one.
As a new person in the Christ, every child of God is expected to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering” (Colossians 3:12). Paul went on to say, “Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (3:13).
It is clear that our Lord wants us to be forgiving people. Part of the greatness of God’s family is the understanding that when we mess up, our brothers and sisters stand ready to encourage, help, and forgive us.
Jesus was the perfect pattern of being forbearing and forgiving. From the cross, His appeal to the Father was, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Though He had been hated and mistreated, the Christ maintained a forgiving spirit. And what did we see in Colossians 3:13? The divine decree is for us to forgive one another, even as the Christ forgave us. In another passage, the instruction to Christians is, “. . . forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Yes, we need to imitate the Godhead’s model of forgiveness.
None of us should look at God’s call to forgive each another as being a burden. Not one of God’s commands, including the one to be forgiving, is burdensome/grievous (1 John 5:3). Forgiving one another is what true disciples do. When Jesus was teaching His disciples about how to pray, He told them to approach the Father like this: “And forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Yes, that is the way His followers conduct themselves (at least we should act that way).
What else did the Master teach His disciples about dealing with sin among them and showing forgiveness? “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him” (Luke 17:3,4).
What if? What if you and I refuse to forgive one another? We would be showing the same disposition that the elder brother showed when he refused to forgive and welcome his younger brother back home. That depiction of his lack of forgiveness in “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32) was an ugly picture, was it not?
If we are unwilling to forgive each other, we are not doing the Father’s will, and only those who do His will can enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). Another statement of the Christ really grabs our attention: “But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” (Mark 11:26). So, one of the conditions of receiving God’s forgiveness is being willing to forgive others. If I do not, I will not: if I do not forgive others, I will not be forgiven by God.
In some instances, we might find it challenging to forgive a sister or brother who has sinned against us. Perhaps her personality or habits annoy us. Maybe the person has sinned against us multiple times through the years and it feels like, “Here we go again.” Let us guard against such an attitude. Remember, Jesus said if one sins against us seven times in one day’s time and in each case apologizes/ repents, we need to forgive them (Luke 17:4).
It may be that a saint said something untrue about us that damaged our reputation. It could be that a fellow Christian did something to harm our child or grandchild. When emotions are involved, it can be tough to control our tongue and temper and maintain a forgiving spirit. We have known cases when a child of God or one of their loved ones was wronged and they responded by saying, “I hate him for what he did,” or, “I hope he burns in hell.” The devil’s disciples may use such language, but those words should never come forth from the lips of God’s children. God did not forgive you and me because we deserved it. He did it because of His marvelous mercy. He wants us to demonstrate the same merciful, forgiving spirit.
Jesus told a story about a king and his servants (Matthew 18:21-35). The king showed compassion on a servant by forgiving the man’s ginormous debt. The forgiven servant refused to show such pity to another servant who owed him an extremely small amount of money. When the king heard of the servant’s lack of mercy, he was so angry that he had him imprisoned. Jesus added these final thoughts: “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). If forgiveness comes from the heart, it is sincere, genuine, and unforced. It is undeniable: forgiving each other is the right thing to do.
— Roger D. Campbell