bitterness, anger, forgiveness: reflections in ephesians 4 (part 3)

Forgiveness by Eyob B Kassa

This is the final part of a three part series reflecting on Ephesians 4:31-32. You can see the other parts on anger & bitterness here and on forgiveness here.

This part is going to focus on how we can “put off” bitterness and “put on” forgiveness. What drives us to forgive in this extravgant manner? How can we forgive this way without burning ourselves out?

Let’s remind ourselves of the passage in Ephesians 4 one more time:

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.

The way we can forgive like this without burning out is found in the last part of v32. Paul instructs his readers to forgive, not out of obligation, not purely so to obey a command, not out of guilt or in order to be pious. Paul says, forgive because in Christ you have been forgiven.

Unless we see that we are just as broken, just as evil, just as in need of forgiveness as the persons who sin against us, we will not be able to forgive.

Forgiveness requires us to treat someone in a way they don’t deserve, to forgo holding them liable, to treat them as if they hadn’t sinned. Forgiveness requires us to forgo being the executioner and the judge. We need to be enraged by injustice, but then look toward the cross.

The cross shows us how God was enraged by injustice and evil and sin. The penalty for sin, death, had to be paid. We deserved to be destroyed, consumed by the wrath of God. And yet, because of his great love for us, God who was rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions and sins (Eph 2:4-5).

Although we were enemies with God, although our list of transgressions against him was great and worthy of anhilation, God’s love and grace triumphed. His love and mercy meant he did not hold us liable for our sins. He is angry at sin, absolutely. He detests sins. Sin is so far contrary to his holiness, how could he not? But like the burning bush, in his anger he did not desire us to be destroyed. Although his anger burns against us, he does not desire us to be consumed.

Jesus Christ took that penalty, our penalty, the one we could not stand against without being destroyed. Christ took our penalty on himself, not out of obligation, but out of love.

Shane Claiborne writes:

As we look at the cross we see what perfect love looks like as it stares evil in the face. It says, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” […] And it is his resurrection that gives us hope that, in the end, life is more powerful than death. Grace does triumph over hatred.

Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (1432)

When we understand what Christ has done, how he forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, we can forgive others, even though they may not deserve it.

But forgiveness is costly – it hurts. A debt cannot be dissolved. It cannot go into thin air. Someone has to pay. If you smash my car, either you pay for it, the insurance company pays for it, or I forgive… and in doing so, when I forgive, I absorb the cost. I pay for it. It costs me. There is no such thing as free grace, as free forgiveness. It always costs, and the cost is great!

When we see the full extent of our own sinfulness and what we owed God… when we see the full extent of God’s forgiveness for us, it frees us to forgive others. If you cannot forgive, if you hold onto bitterness, if you continue to hold someone liable for sin and cannot treat them with love and mercy, then perhaps it is because you’ve forgotten or are yet to know the forgiveness we have in Christ. If you know you are forgiven, you cannot do anything but forgive. If you know the extent of your debt and the cost it was to Jesus, you can love your enemies too.

But the great part is, God forgives that person also. In the same way God forgave us, he forgives them. Their sin is on Jesus too. It still hurts us to forgive, but if God has forgiven them there debt is with him and we don’t have to make them pay it back. We don’t have to seek revenge. We don’t need to make them pay. We are freed. We are freed from revenge. We are free to love. We are free to forgive…

Jono

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About Jono Ingram

I am a Baptist Pastor in North West Victoria, Australia. I enjoy writing about issues relating to theology, biblical interpretation, social justice and ethics and relating this to life. I also love my veggie garden...

Posted on April 1, 2012, in Christianity, Ephesians, Exegesis, Forgiveness, God, grace, Jesus, Love, mercy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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