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This week we continue our journey studying New Testament “one another” passages by focusing on the admonition “to forgive one another.” Forgiveness, of course, lies at the heart of the Christian gospel. Although all people are created in God’s image and reflect God’s goodness and dignity, human sinfulness has marred the image. We all have turned inward--like sheep we all have gone astray.
God’s good news announces that God offers forgiveness in Jesus Christ who died for our sins. God’s forgiveness is the basis for our relational practice of forgiving one another. We are studying texts from Ephesians and Colossians but we also find a word about forgiving in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our sins (debts) as we forgive those who sin against us (debtors).” Don’t be unduly distracted by the words “debts” or “trespasses.” God forgives our debts, sins and trespasses and tells us to do likewise with our neighbors.
Of course, that does not mean granting or seeking forgiveness is easy. It is a rehabilitation practice. If no one offended anyone, we would not have to practice this. But we do harm one another, slander each other, lie and deceive our family and friends, and withhold love and kindness. So forgiveness becomes the crucial practice of trying to set things right and pursuing reconciliation.
Hard cases make the possibility of forgiveness seem exceedingly difficult. Could a Holocaust survivor forgive the Gestapo? Could a wrongfully convicted prisoner forgive judge and jury? Can apartheid victims forgive those in power? What about the Hutus and the Tutsis in East Africa?
The power of God makes the miracle of reconciliation possible. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of righteousness, peace, love and human flourishing. It is a kingdom where disciples learn to love enemies and put others first. This becomes possible when God’s grace transforms us. And this grace meets us as sinners overwhelmed by Christ’s forgiving love.
Ephesians 4:25-32, 5:1-2
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
5:1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
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