Over the years my observation — as well my experience — has been that we don’t always have a handle on forgiveness. We often struggle with every aspect of it, so this series is designed to help us take a closer look at what the Bible says about forgiveness, so that we can live it out more effectively in our daily lives.
There’s another word for unforgiveness. Resentment. And resentment is a nightmare to live with. Nelson Mandela has been quotes as saying…
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
If you’ve ever struggled with resentment or unforgiveness, you know how true that is. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I really struggle with it.
We find ourselves, even years after the fact, still really ticked off about something, still a little unwilling to let it go, still letting something from the past get in the way of my relationship with that person today. That not only takes its toll on our one-on-one relationships, it takes its toll on us personally, and it takes its toll on our walk with God. It’s like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets a tummy ache.
When Paul was writing the letters of the New Testament, he had a lot to say about the way that we manage our relationships. And this is one of the things he said that we need to do.
“bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
That’s the model we’re to live by. In order to do this, we need to understand that forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Resentment is a feeling. Unforgiveness is a feeling. But forgiveness is more of an attitude — a conscious choice we make that leads in the direction of forgiveness in action. How do we do that?
There are three ideas that I want to present to you over the next 3 weeks that will help you put forgiveness in action in your relationships with others. The first thing to remember is that when you’re faced with the need to forgive someone…
- Put yourself where they are, and put them where you are.
I mean that when you forgive someone, you’re not forgiving someone beneath you, someone less than you, someone worse than you. You’re forgiving someone who shares the same human condition as you. You’re both sinners.
God is the only one who “condescends” to forgive, who reaches down to forgive. He is a holy God, there is none like him, he has offended no one but we have offended him — and so in his perfection he reaches down to forgive us. But he’s the only one who can do that. For the rest of us, we don’t forgive down, we forgive across. We forgive horizontally.
Forgiveness in action requires not just an awareness of that other person’s sin, but also an awareness of your own. You may not have done exactly what they did, but neither are your hands completely clean. You’ve done things for which you need to be forgiven — not just from God, but from other people, as well.
I’m saying that you don’t forgive others as Mr. High and Mighty and Above It All. You forgive others as one sinful wretch to another. It’s very easy — and too often too tempting — for us to justify our bad behavior, and minimize it, and even blame others for it, while at the same time we hold everyone around to a much higher standard. And you might be able to fool yourself into thinking that’s OK, but you’ll never fool God into thinking that it’s OK.
So, when you’re in a situation in which you need to forgive someone, remember that you’re forgiving across, not down.