I was doing some devotional reading through Ephesians and this verse really stood out to me: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). About how many times do you think you’ve come across this verse in your Bible reading and sermon hearing? If you’re a regular Bible reader, and if you’ve been a Christian for a decent number of years, then you’ve probably come across it numerous times. I know I have; but it can be real easy to miss the full force of such biblical truths. We tend to keep reading and therefore neglect to meditate on such weighty commands and glorious indicatives. Don’t we?
You do realize that this is a command, right? Paul’s not simply giving good advice on what he thinks is going to be most beneficial in our relationships with others (especially those of the household of God). No, he’s laying down a command for those who name the name of Christ to obey. What is more, it’s not an empty, groundless command. As is true of all of Paul’s commands, he grounds it in something. What does Paul ground this command in?
…The gospel! Look at it again: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, [that’s the command] just as God in Christ also has forgiven you [that’s the gospel; the indicative].” This is huge! The way in which we relate to others — in this case, showing kindness, gentleness, and forbearance — is to be according to the way in which God has related to us in and through His Son, Jesus Christ. You see, it’s pretty easy to forgive someone when they openly confess to us and ask for forgiveness. In other words, they’re actively seeking reconciliation; restored relationship. (Of course, how frequently do we continue to contain resentment and hold grudges for that person? That, of course, is not true forgiveness). But here’s the reality of the situation. We didn’t go to God seeking reconciliation. We didn’t go to Him while He was far off, pouring out our hearts to Him in remorseful words. No, we were His enemies, actively engaged in rebellion and hostility. We were the offending party, yet it was God who sought us and redeemed us through the blood of Christ’s cross.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11)
This is indeed amazing grace. God saved us, not when we were seeking to be on good terms with Him, but while we were actively rebelling against Him. If anyone has reason not to forgive, it’s the holy and righteous Judge of the universe. However, He has been gracious and merciful to us. Now He calls on us to demonstrate the same kind of forgiveness to those who wrong us. If we don’t, then what are we saying about our own salvation? How can we appreciate the forgiveness that God has shown to us, if we’re not willing to forgive others, especially when they seek out reconciliation? When we choose not to forgive those who have wronged us it’s as if we’re saying the following: “Look. I’ve been in your shoes before, and grace and mercy was extended to me, of which I am eternally grateful; but I simply can’t bring myself to show that same kindness to you. Therefore, I’m going to resent you and remain angry at you.” Too harsh? Not at all. That’s exactly what we’re saying, not in words, but in action (or lack of action).
This is a truly sobering verse that should cause us to pause a while and recall God’s lovingkindness toward us in forgiving us of all our sins through the shed blood of His holy Son, in whom He was well pleased. Oh, for grace to obey this command to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ.
(See also Matthew 18:21-35)