Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:13-14 NIV)
Have you ever been stuck mentally? I’ve been stuck at these verses. I could make many excuses, but they won’t get me unstuck. What will get me unstuck is to start writing. That’s generally what gets us unstuck with anything we’re struggling to do. Nike’s slogan is often the encouragement we need. “Just do it.”
In his book, What You Might Not Know About Forgiveness, Steve Diehl explains something that many of us struggle with. Paul’s instruction is clear. We are supposed to forgive as Jesus forgave us. Here’s my attempt to summarize what Steve says in the book to help us apply this verse to our lives and relationships. If this concept is new to you I encourage you to get the book and read it.
The basic concept is that there are two sides to forgiveness. One side deals with the penalty of the sin committed against us and the other deals with the consequences of the sin against us. When we think of penalties for sin, we often think of someone owing us something. The challenge is that we can rarely repay the debt we owe. If I insult my wife in public, I will owe her more than I can ever repay. If my wife chooses not to forgive the penalty I will forever be in her debt. God tells me that this kind of behavior results in a death penalty. The good news is that Jesus paid my debt to God when He died on the cross. This is how Jesus forgave us. My wife can choose to wipe away the debt because Jesus already paid for it. He took my penalty and hers on Himself and the penalty is gone.
The other side of forgiveness deals with the consequences of sin. In the case of insulting my wife it is very likely that she trusts me less after this incident than she did before. She has been hurt and forgiving the penalty of my sin will not remove that hurt. Something else is required and since this sin has damaged a relationship it will take more than one person to complete the forgiveness process. Jesus, in His teaching, approaches this process from both sides, offended and offender, to ensure that we are without excuse. If a relationship is damaged, the person recognizing it first is responsible for going to the other party. The offender needs to fully understand what was done and the consequences of that behavior. This will likely require some explanation from the offended. If the offender wants to see reconciliation in the relationship, there are at least two steps: confession and repentance. Confession is agreeing with the offended about what I have done. Repentance is committing to act differently in the future. When these two things are done the relationship can begin to be restored.
In a marriage relationship the process of forgiveness is continual. We are imperfect people who most often think of ourselves more than our spouse. That’s why Paul’s final instruction is important. The only way we can get out of this cycle is to become better lovers. Paul isn’t talking about romance. He is talking about putting the needs of others ahead of my own needs. That’s what Jesus did. He went to the cross because He put our need for forgiveness before His own need for survival.
For my grandchildren:
Learn how to forgive and be forgiven.