As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13 NRSV
Recap last week.
Forgiveness is the way of life for the new creation. As the people of God, forgiveness allows us to walk free in three ways, receiving forgiveness from God, forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Last week we spoke about how God gives us a fresh start in our lives and forgives us. Though our debt of sin was so big God’s forgiveness is a free gift of grace. Forgiveness releases us from the bondage of sin. God is looking for Repentance, not just regret or pay some penance. God’s Forgiveness brings a real change of heart and mind.
Defining human forgiveness or asking for forgiveness, we can begin by apologising to the person you've hurt by saying, “I'm sorry.” Then, explain your actions to them and take responsibility, but avoid making excuses for what you did. Next, tell the person what you plan to do to make things right between you and how you'll act differently in the future.
Jesus places so much importance on our need to forgive others. Jesus includes this as he preached on the sermon on the mount, which was the inauguration speech of God's kingdom, which fulfilled much of what Isaiah wrote. Jesus also in teaching his disciples to pray, he notes that as we ask for forgiveness, naturally we forgive others.
Jesus' emphasis is that the people of God, in Christ's kingdom don't enact vengeance and says again these people are blessed and humble even when reviled. This new kingdom is made up of people who are different to the world around them. It is a place where God is king, ultimate ruler and lives obedient lives, free from idolatry. It is also where there is this new kind of people, who act contrary in the way they love, forgive and treat others.
As the people of God, in this new kingdom, God’s grace opens a gateway in our inner being, that receives love and forgiveness, it’s the same gate we open towards others, as a person who has opened this gate, we understand that the love of God flows both ways.
The big picture
in Matt 6, Jesus is representing this big picture in his most famous sermon. While there are some difficult scriptures in which we find Jesus suggesting that God's forgiveness is conditional upon our forgiving others. How we approach this remains within the big picture of what Christ was doing, creating a kingdom of forgiveness. I do not believe that Jesus is suggesting that forgiveness is transactional or conditional.
An example of this we find in verses 14-15
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15 NRSV
As stated Jesus is teaching a principle here and not a conditional promise. Jesus is saying that living this kingdom life means that forgiveness is a two-way system. Paul confirms this to the church in Colossae
Additionally in Matt 18 forgiveness is a major theme. it begins with a discussion on how to deal with someone who sins against you, Jesus suggests a private conversation, saying go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member of the church listens to you, you have regained that one. however, if this is not successful take someone with you and then the church as a whole. Jesus then talks of the power of binding and losing, which, incidents in context is not about spiritual warfare, as some may suggest, rather than expressing the power of forgiveness both in heaven and earth. Perhaps what Jesus is saying is that forgiving others and relationships within the church is worth the effort. Something bigger is going on here than just our relationship with one another.
What follows is Peter asking the number of times we should forgive, Jesus answer is 490, I know some of us if we have been married any length of time, we could be approaching that number. Jesus wasn't probably asking us to count and suggesting that forgiveness has its limits.
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18:21-22 NRSV
Do we count the number of times someone sins against us, ensuring they don't overdo it? Sometimes we like Peter treat the forgiveness of others as transactional, or conditional. Peter is proud of himself, perhaps thinking Jesus would be impressed, with his 7 times.
Forgiving others can happen as a deliberate act of our will, creating a context that brings a positive reaction and healing to our soul. The act of forgiveness is a choice that does not depend on the other person saying sorry. We choose not to hold a charge against them. If in the context of a relationship forgiveness means that while we, by supernatural means, no longer hold ill will, it doesn't follow that it is wise to continue in that relationship.
Consequently, we see Jesus telling the story of the unforgiving servant.
There was a king and he had someone who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, he fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
However that same servant, as he went out, and demanded that he fellow servant ‘Pay what you owe.’ he also pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.
Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’
And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:34-35 NRSV
This message, like a great deal of the parables Jesus taught, was a making a point towards the attitudes of the self-righteous religious teachers of the day, the people we mentioned before whose hearts were not for the kingdom. The lesson here is that we have been forgiven so much, that should forgive much, we have been given so much love we love in return.
The new way of life
Paul in his letter puts this so well, summarising what it means to be ‘new creation’ people and how we act towards one another. We are to be one body with one mind, the church is a group of people following Christ, filled with God’s Spirit and overflowing with love and forgiveness.
Paul begins by saying that because you have been raised with Christ, we now seek the things that are above and that we need to set our minds on things that are above because our new life is now in Christ.
Consequently, we put to death the old life of fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). Furthermore, we get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. We no longer lie to one another, seeing that we have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed ourselves with the new self. We are now the chosen ones, made holy and blameless and as such we should
clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:13 NRSV
This is the example we began with, we are different to the world around us.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.
Colossians 3:14 NRSV
Rather than clothing ourselves with vengeance, bitterness and unforgiveness, we clothe ourselves with Christ. This new kingdom is made up of people who are different to the world around them. It is a place where God is king, ultimate ruler and lives obedient lives, free from idolatry. It is also where there is this new kind of people, who act contrary in the way they love, forgive and treat others. As the people of God, in this new kingdom, God’s grace opens a gateway in our inner being, that receives love and forgiveness, it’s the same gate we open towards others, as a person who has opened this gate, we understand that the love of God flows both ways.