Making Forgiveness Easier

Making Forgiveness Easier

Ephesians 4:32
by Bob Burridge ©2018

Forgiving people for hurting us or for hurting others we care about isn’t easy. We’re created with a sense of justice. We know there should be consequences for what people do.

Even though our fallen nature distorts what justice is, we still know it’s there in some way. In the most corrupt and fallen mind there’s still an awareness that bad things deserve consequences. Sin might confuse us about what things are really bad, and what penalties are deserved. But there’s not one soul that isn’t at least inwardly aware that there are principles of right and wrong to which we all answer. He might suppress that awareness, or deny to himself that it’s there. But he can’t escape the basic facts of God’s Universe.

When someone commits a crime, God requires that a penalty that fits the offense should be paid. This is why he came as a Savior to pay the penalty his people owed so that they can be forgiven without violating this principle of justice. It is not just amnesty as if justice could be ignored or set aside.

Civil crimes against the laws passed by the government have civil penalties. They may receive an official warning, have to pay fines, make restitutions for damages done, spend time in prison, or even face execution for capitol crimes. Only the state that made the laws can decide when the appropriate penalty is fully satisfied.

There are penalties that a church can give out within its congregation to those who persist in breaking God’s laws. They may have to receive a formal word of correction, or in some more serious situations they may have to be suspended for a time from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. In more serious cases where there is no repentance a member may have to be removed from membership.

Personal hurts against us are very different. The principle of justice does not require us to impose penalties on those who insult us or make us feel uncomfortable.

For the Christian, there must be a growing ability to forgive others for personal hurts. This doesn’t mean we should neglect the deserved punishments of the state or church. But it does mean that we should work on getting beyond personal hatred, vengeance, and grudges. There’s no question that God tells us in his written word that this is his way for his people.

In Ephesians 4:31-32 Paul summarizes it for us and helps us in making it easier.
31. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

God’s people are those who are forgiven in Christ. They’re not his true people just because they join a church, or talk about religion. True believers come in all types but they have one thing in common: they rest in the work of Jesus Christ alone for their forgiveness.

Those who are truly forgiven by God are changed inwardly in those first moments of faith. Then they need to be maturing so that God’s ways become more and more their ways. One area in which we need to always be improving is how we forgive others.

First, this verse says that Christians should be kind to one another. Verse 31 shows a contrast with the opposites of this ability to forgive.
31. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.

Instead, we should treat one another in ways that encourage goodness in them. Striking out in a rude way only encourages them to strike back in the same way. Hebrews 10:24 tells us to “… consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” Unkind actions and rude attitudes can stimulate wrong reactions in people. Christians are obligated by Christ to learn to be kind to others, even to those who have done something that needs forgiveness.

In Colossians 3:5-10 Paul tells how we are to come across to the world.
5. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
6. On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
7. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.
8. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.
9. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
10. and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

The “new self” is the new relationship we have toward God and others. Instead of the old rude ways, we learn to be kind — even when it’s hard.

Second: Ephesians 4:32 tells us that Christians should be tenderhearted. The Greek word Paul uses for “tenderhearted” is “eu-splankh-nos” (εὔσπλαγχνος). The usual Greek word for “heart” isn’t actually used here. In this verse it’s “splankh-nos” (σπλαγχνος), the more general word for our internal organs: the stomach, intestines, and other organs in the body. It is often used to describe those deep emotional feelings we have. The form of the word here includes the Greek prefix “eu-” (εὔ-) which means “good“. This tenderness is the good inner feeling of compassion you should have for others. You should understand deep in your soul the tragedy of any human in rebellion against God.

This doesn’t mean excusing wrong behavior and hateful attitudes in others. But it does mean appreciating how horrible it is to be living in that condition. It means you see a creature of God not living as he should, and you see how sad that is. You need to consider that pain his sin brings him. Your obligation is to be an encouraging example. Show Christ acting in you, rather than showing the way you would be without Christ.

It’s these tender mercies Paul wrote about in Colossians 3:12, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”

These are feelings from deep in the soul, not just fleeting moments or single acts of kindness.

Third: the verse tells us that Christians should be forgiving. This isn’t a judicial forgiveness like amnesty. It doesn’t mean we should want to let criminals out of jail or cancel deserved executions. It doesn’t let terrorists have their way when they threaten us and build up their arsenals. Civil justice must be upheld.

Paul is dealing with the personal side of forgiveness. Believers are to learn to let insults remain just words. Let rude behavior condemn the rude person by itself. Don’t let it provoke rudeness in your heart in return.

While you let civil justice deal with those who commit crimes against you, don’t be eaten away with vengeance and hatred in your own heart. Such things will destroy you more than any crime against you or against your loved ones. Don’t give Satan the satisfaction of a double victory by letting bad behavior instigate a crime in you by your hatred in return.

Our forgiveness by Jesus Christ is the model for our forgiveness toward one another. He endured the suffering our sins deserve. This is how we should personally treat those who are antagonistic toward us. We should be strong enough to willingly put up with the pain of their cruel attitude without being drawn into reciprocal hatred or grudges.

This isn’t easy.
But there are some key elements here that can make it easier:
1. Understand that forgiving personally does not mean ignoring the need for justice. The Bible says, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord.” Let him deal with the sin, and let those he appoints deal with earthly punishments. Never take civil justice into your own hands.

2. Remember that you too deserve God’s wrath. Those who hurt you show how you would be if it wasn’t for God’s restraining grace toward you in Christ.

3. Remember that you were changed by the forgiveness of Christ. He made you able to forgive when he died in your place taking on himself what you deserve. When you were forgiven by God you were rejoined to him spiritually. This enables you to do what fallen human nature can’t even imagine doing.

If you have trouble forgiving others in this personal sense, consider your relationship with Christ. Come before him in humble repentance, grateful for him paying the penalty you deserve. He suffered to relieve your suffering even though you have offended him by your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Ask him to change your heart to do what’s right toward God and others.

Pray that God will help you to care about the tragedy of that other person’s sins. Pray for the person who offends you, and for your ability to see the greater issues. This is how we need to live as a child of God, as a true Christian redeemed by grace. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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