“As” is a big, little word. As and like are used in common and powerful little sound bites of communication known as similes. We use these because they make since. “Be quiet as a mouse.” “He is as strong as an ox.” Simple statements that are clear in communication because they give a clear and meaningful word picture.
Ephesians 4:32 says Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ Jesus forgave you.” AS…there it is. That is the word picture for forgiveness. Forgive as God in Christ Jesus forgave you. AS the cross, the scourging, the sacrifice, the love, the grace, and the bearing of our sins. That is what forgiveness looks like. The little word as is quite powerful.
What is forgiveness, really? There are 2 Greek words used to describe forgiveness. One means to separate offense from offender and offender from offense. It is the same word that is used for divorce actually. It means a complete and absolute separation. One that sounds Biblical. “As far as the East is from the West, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” The second Greek word means to give completely or to give up custody of. It is the concept of giving generously but not how we consider generosity. It does not simply mean to give much. It means to give all. It means to give away authority and control of.
Knowing what forgiveness is and being able to forgive are two very different things, though. All the word studies in the world will not change the difficult challenge of forgiving a hurtful offense.
Jesus gives us the process of forgiving someone in Matthew 18:15-20. Here are some key points we must remember, understand, and (most importantly) do.
- An offense is committed.
The Biblical process for dealing with an offense helps us establish the offense. We bring 2 or 3 witnesses (not allies) into the situation to help us understand IF an offense exists at all and what it is. We are also challenged by this process to consider our part in the problem. (We are challenged to see the plank in our own eye as we consider the sawdust in our brothers.)
2. The Price is paid.
Forgiveness always costs the who forgives, never the one who is forgiven. Jesus died “once for all sin.” He paid the full price of sin…that price is death (Romans 3:23). The question we struggle with is “when do I pay the price?” Do we pay the price of forgiveness before or after the offender makes right toward us. Well if we are to forgive as God forgave us in Christ then we must remember that “God demonstrated his love for us in that we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Pay the price now. Make the decision to release custody of the wrong owed you, first. It is God’s kindness that draws us to repentance.
- GO FOR FORGIVENESS.
This point is so key to this process. In Matthew 5:23-26 and 18:15-20 both sides of forgiveness are addressed. When you are the offender and when you are offended. In both situations, God calls us to GO and to be made right with the other person. The goal is to win our brother…never to win our argument.
- And apology is spoken (when appropriate)
Not every offense demands an apology. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” When you truly love someone you cover over many little wrongs along the way. We must realize, however, that this is a form of forgiveness. You cannot cover over and keep a record. If you are incapable of covering it over, you are responsible to go to the other person and deal with the offense.
When you offend someone and you know it, apologize. Pride comes before the fall.
- The Offense is released.
Now the full price of the offense has already been paid. Jesus paid the full price of sin on the cross. He died for sin “once for all.” Nothing else is needed. He has fully done the work to separate the offense from the offender. He did this by “bearing our sin in his body.” It was separated from us by being separated to Him. He is our “propitiation (or atoning sacrifice). “Not only for our sins but for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus paying the full price of sin does not, however, cause the offender to be separated from the offense. This is the decision of the offender. They must accept this grace “through faith.” When this offer of grace is given to a person (by Christ or by us when they have sinned against us) the offense is separated from the offender and the offender is separated from the offense…as far as the East is from the West. You have to release it. Give it up…completely. It is no longer yours. You no longer have any right to hold that offense against the person who offended you. We must remember that forgiveness is given, not gotten.
- Restitution given (when appropriate)
Restitution is the right result of real repentance. True restitution is not gotten from the offender but is given by the offender. Restitution does not make the wrong right. It is just right. When Zaccheus paid back all he had stolen 4-fold, he did not make right all of his treachery. He simply did what was right. If you have left someone else in a wrong position through the wrong you have done against them, make right what you can, not to be made right, but simply because it is right.
- Reconciliation continues.
Forgiveness is the unavoidable cost of reconciliation. It must be done. Forgiveness is like the invitation to a Ball. Reconciliation is the dance. Spouses must forgive one another innumerable times over a lifetime of marriage. Through our kindness and love toward one another, we draw (or invite) one another to repentance and reconciliation. Once the invitation is accepted…we dance. Dancing is often awkward at first. A couple of steps on the toes here, a little out of rhythm there, and turning in different directions here and there, but after awhile we get the rhythm going.
Forgiveness is an action. Reconciliation is a process.
Who do you need to go to this week concerning forgiveness?
How different would forgiveness toward others look in your life if considered fully the forgiveness of God in your own life?
A Few Resources on Forgiveness
1. Another blog will come out this week title “But what if…” I will be dealing directly with some of the more difficult and practical issues concerning forgiveness. Watch for it by Thursday at www.blog.fellowshipchurch.cc
2. Forgive! As the Lord Forgave You by Patrick Morrison
3. Forgiveness: I just can’t forgive myself by Robert Jones