Friends of Forgiveness

Pastor Michael Bowman

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you and pray for those who abuse you.”  (Luke 6:27-28)

One of the things that I have tried to make clear in this series on forgiveness is that you have to start with God’s forgiveness and a changed heart. If you don’t start there, you aren’t getting on the wrong flight, you never even made it to the airport. Now, because it all starts with a changed heart, you shouldn’t be surprised that a spirit of forgiveness is never alone. When forgiveness comes to the party, he brings all of his friends along as well. A spirit of forgiveness is a part of a matrix of heart attitudes that should all be understood in light of each other. Though we can’t go into detail about each one of these here, it would be good to look at some of these “friends” of the spirit of forgiveness. 

Look first at the passage above from Luke 6. Think about the difference between your natural heart attitude and what Jesus requires of us. There is a sort of parallelism going on. You are told to love/do good/bless/pray for those who are your enemies, who hate/curse/abuse you. That’s a pretty serious command, and it comes from the same attitude as forgiveness. You aren’t looking to get others back for how they harm you, instead you seek their good. You love them when they hate you. Your mouth speaks blessing over them, and prays for their good, even though they are trying to curse you, slander you, and even find ways to harm you. Think again of Jesus’ example on the cross as he prayed forgiveness for those who were literally killing him. 

Forgiving others is often listed among other character traits that are supposed to be seen in a Christians life. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Forgiveness is simply one item on the list. As a Christian you shouldn’t have a heart that dwells on the wrongs or perceived wrongs that have been done against you (bitterness). You shouldn’t get worked up and heated over the actions of others (wrath and anger) or try to even things out with your words (clamor and slander). Get rid of it all. Put it away, you don’t need to respond that way. Don’t let others have that kind of power over you, controlling your reactions by their actions. Don’t react, act. Do what the Lord has called you to do. You can choose to be kind and tenderhearted, working for the good even of those who seek harm for you. 

Paul has similar words in Colossians 3. In his list of things you should “put on” as a Christian, he includes compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love, peace, thankfulness and more. So you see again that forgiveness is one of many different character traits in this matrix of heart attitudes. Let’s zoom in on one of these. In vs. 13a Paul speaks of, “bearing with one another.” That’s a great phrase because it captures the emotion of it.  When you group a bunch of sinful people together in a family household or in the greater church body what you find is that, you guessed it, they are still sinful. I know, hard to believe, but it’s true. This results in hurt feelings, conflict, tension, stress, misunderstanding and all kinds of other relational friction. When that happens it will all fall apart if you aren’t willing to bear with one another. It’s not easy, hence it’s “bearing” not “frolicking”, not “laughing”, not “chilling”, but “bearing.” It’s like carrying a large weight. It’s difficult. It’s not always straightforward. It’s confusing and sometimes you will probably groan under the pain it brings you, but it’s worth it.  This is all part of the spirit of forgiveness. A heart of forgiveness doesn’t travel alone.