Forgiveness in Action

Colossians 3:13 — “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” 


  1. Last week as we started this difficult topic on forgiveness with a summary thought that we will need to carry with us for three weeks. Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.Repeat
  2. Here is a general definition of forgiveness: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, let’s go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, renounces payment from or punishment of the offender, however legally or morally justified it might be, and with an increased ability to wish the offender well.
  3. Defining Christian forgiveness is done with words and actions. The word “forgive” is a grace word in the English, as well as the Greek, meaning “to give or to grant.” The meaning is “to remit a debt, to give up resentment or claim for compensation, or to pardon an offense.”
  4. Christian forgiveness also encompasses action. Our confession with God involves us seeing our sins as God sees it, which brings God’s forgiveness. When we sin against others, we sin against God. For this reason, we ask God to forgive us of our sins, but we must also forgive others.
    1. Please remember that the word “sin” means in the original translations of the Bible, means “to miss the mark.” The mark, in this case, is the standard of perfection established by God and evidenced by Jesus.
    1. Viewed in that light, it is clear that we are all sinners.
  5. Pause
  6. Lord’s prayer Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory, For ever and ever. Amen
  • Slow
  • In some ways it’s not easy to talk about forgiveness because although the directions from the Gospel are crystal clear, forgiving is one of the hardest things we are ever asked to do.
    • So hard, in fact, that we can easily talk ourselves out of it.
  • But as Christians we have to take forgiveness seriously, because not many things are stated in the Bible with such deadly force as this: Unless you are willing to forgive, you cannot be forgiven (Matt. 6).
    • Still, that stark and unequivocal commandment leaves us with all sorts of issues to resolve, so let’s think about some of them.
  • First: Do you, as the victim, forgive even if the offender has not asked for it?
  • As I understand person-to-person forgiveness, that would be impossible. We may ask God to forgive someone who has harmed us, but in our relationships with each other forgiveness happens when one person asks for it and another person grants it.
    • We can be willing to forgive, but until there is a request for forgiveness, and acceptance of it, the circle is not closed.
  • The reference that I am using this morning describes an interesting short story of the smugness of offering forgiveness when it is not requested.
    • It is an Irish novel where a pagan learns how some so-called Christian forgiveness may work:
    •  A servant in the household of St. Patrick brings a pagan guest a breakfast so thin and tasteless that the strong, healthy visitor cannot bring himself to eat the stuff. When the servant, with a holier- than-thou look, implies that desire for good food is a weakness of the flesh, a sign of wickedness, the pagan guest claps the bowl down on top of the servant’s head and boots him out of the room. Keep in mind – the pagan is the victim and the servant initiated the pagan’s action by said – “good food is the weakness of the flesh”
    • That evening the servant comes with dinner and says with nauseating piety, “I forgive you for lifting your hand against me.”
    • The pagan, who had not asked forgiveness, remarks that people should tell the truth — and when the servant looks puzzled, the pagan explains: “It seems to me that you do not forgive me at all. If you did, you would act as if that little scene had never occurred. Instead of this, you come to be revenged on me by seeking to assert superiority over me. To say that you forgive me is to exult over me, and to exult over me is to be revenged on me….I will not permit myself to be debased by your humility. I will not be enslaved by your meekness.”
  • I wanted to cheer when I read those words, because I’ve seen on occasion that gloating offer of forgiveness.
    • In reality “Some people forgive in such a way that one would prefer their continued condemnation.”
  • To say smugly, “I forgive you,” to someone who’s thinking, “I couldn’t care less whether you do or not,” diminishes the whole process and can be a nauseating form of self-righteousness.
  • Let’s look further about forgiveness.
    • The martyred German Christian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, once wrote that it is a form of “cheap grace” to preach forgiveness toward those who haven’t asked for it and have no thought of repentance.
  • To guard against this cheap grace, repentance has traditionally involved remorse, restitution, and renewal.
    • First, a genuine “I’m sorry and I beg you to forgive me.”
    • Next, insofar as possible, a restoration of what was destroyed, which can mean accepting legal, financial and moral consequences.
    • Third, renewal — a change of behavior, some evidence that the offender does not intend to keep on offending.
  • Please remember: “Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.”
  • Forgiveness is not a cheap and easy commodity to be handed out.
    • It’s a relationship that must be entered into by both parties.
    • It is high-minded to be willing to forgive, but to say “I forgive you” to a person who acknowledges no wrong is to make oneself absurd.
  • Pause!
  • Well-meaning people often tell the wounded party to “forgive and forget,” but there is no necessary relationship between forgiving and forgetting.
    • It is not reasonable to expect people who have been terribly wronged to wipe that out of their memory. Our minds don’t work that way.
    • But if we truly forgive someone, we can’t keep bringing up what happened. Forgiving is not a form of amnesia, but it can become a way of coping with memories that might otherwise destroy our lives.
      • You told me you had forgiven and forgotten,” the husband said. “Why do you keep finding ways to remind me of my past mistakes?” “I have forgiven and forgotten,” his wife said, “but I want to make sure you don’t forget that I have forgiven and forgotten.”
  • Pause
  • Another question we will ask is: When you forgive someone you know, is everything supposed to be the same afterwards?
    • As much as possible, Yes, but there may be ways in which you cannot return to relationships exactly as they were.
      • If a friend borrows your car a couple of times and does careless damage both times, but apologizes and pays for the damage, your forgiveness can be genuine even if you decide it might not be wise in the near future to lend her the car again.
  • Forgiveness is not dependent on either approval or liking, but it’s absolutely dependent on your exercising the kind of unconditional love which Jesus stresses.
    • It is where you desire good things even for people you may not like or seek out as companions.
    • I may not be able to reach this level, as a flawed human being, but ideally forgiveness will go beyond wishing for good things to happen to the one you have forgiven and will express itself when possible in actually doing something good for the offender. Forgiveness in action!
  • If this strikes you as nonsense, I can only say that while it’s not the wisdom of the world, this is what Jesus taught.
  • We may have to confess this is too much for us, especially while our wound is still fresh, but if we profess Christian faith at all we have to be serious about the demands and the complexities of this thing called forgiveness.
    • I said as we started that it may be the hardest thing we are ever asked to do.
  • No one has put it better than C. S. Lewis, who in a crucial time spoke these words over a British radio network just before the end of World War II: “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive, as we have in war time. And then to mention the subject at all is to be greeted with howls of anger. ‘That sort of talk makes them sick,’ they say. And half of you already want to ask me, ‘I wonder how you’d feel about forgiving the Gestapo if you were a Pole or a Jew?’ So do I [Lewis says]. I wonder very much. I am not trying to tell you in these talks what I could do. I can do precious little. I am telling you what Christianity is. I didn’t invent it. And there, right in the middle of it, I find, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. There is no slightest suggestion that we are offered forgiveness on any other terms. It is made perfectly clear that if we don’t forgive, we shall not be forgiven.” It would be hard to improve on that. All I can say is that as long as we profess to be disciples of Christ we have no choice but to wrestle long and hard with this tough requirement. I don’t mind telling you that there have been times when I wished Christianity would just let me alone.
  • Trying to live life on the terms Jesus set can be a pain in the neck. Jesus’ message to me about unconditional love can take me through painfully honest self-examination.
    • I don’t want to forgive, I say, because look what he did to me!
    • But just enough of Jesus has gotten into me that I am forced to ask myself, Was I, in some part, to blame for what happened? and much as that hurt, I have to tell you that an honest answer has at times made it easier to forgive someone.
  • So, I discovered again during last week that the more you read and meditate on the complexities of forgiveness, the harder it becomes to put it in a neatly built box. Then I remembered, finally, that one picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a short vignette of forgiveness in action.
  • Rebecca Pippert relates the powerful story of the late Corrie ten Boom. This Dutch woman and her family were sent to Auschwitz for hiding Jews in their home during the Second World War. Corrie was a Christian woman and had been invited to speak at a conference in Portland Oregon. This is what she said,
    • “My name is Corrie ten Boom and I am a murderer.” There was total silence. “You see, when I was in prison camp I saw the same guard day in and day out. He was the one who mocked and sneered at us when we were stripped naked and taken into the showers. He spat on us in contempt, and I hated him. I hated him with every fiber of my being. And Jesus says when you hate someone you are guilty of murder.”
    • “When we were freed, I left Germany vowing never to return,” Corrie ten Boom continued. “But I was invited back there to speak. I didn’t want to go but I felt the Lord nudging me to. Very reluctantly I went. My first talk was on forgiveness. Suddenly, as I was speaking, I saw to my horror that same prison guard sitting in the audience. There was no way that he would have recognized me. But I could never forget his face, never. It was clear to me from the radiant look on his face while I spoke, that he had been converted since I saw him last. After I finished speaking he came up and said with a beaming smile, ‘Ah, dear sister Corrie, isn’t it wonderful how God forgives?” And he extended his hand for me to shake.
    • “All I felt as I looked at him was hate. I said to the Lord silently, “There is nothing in me that could ever love that man. I hate him for what he did to me and to my family. But you tell us that we are to love our enemies. That’s impossible for me, but nothing is impossible for you. So if you expect me to love this man it’s going to have to come from you, because all I feel is hate.”
    • She went on to say that at that moment she felt nudged to do only one thing: “Put out your hand, Corrie,” the Lord seemed to say. Then she said, “It took all of the years that I had quietly obeyed God in obscurity to do the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I put out my hand.” Then, she said, something remarkable happened. “It was only after my simple act of obedience that I felt something almost like warm oil was being poured over me. And with it came the unmistakable message: ‘Well done, Corrie. That’s how my children behave.’ And the hate in my heart was absorbed and gone. And so one murderer embraced another murderer, but in the love of Christ.” [Hope Has It’s Reasons p. 189, 190]
  • Forgiveness, at the end of the day, puts the amazing power of the Gospel on display.
  • Pause  -then prayer
  • In all our dealings with one another, gracious God, teach us to forgive others as we ourselves have so often been forgiven by those who love us. Amen.
  • [1] Most of this is paraphrased from Dr. Robert Myers, University Congregational Church Kansas City, MO 1999