Have you ever heard this said or perhaps said it yourself? “I can’t forgive.” Somebody has done something to us and we simply cannot forgive that person for what they have done. Our series theme this year is called Overflow. The basis for our study comes from John 7:37-38.
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37–38 NIV)
Each month we have considered this amazing picture that we would be able to come to Jesus and find the satisfaction we desire. Jesus quenches the thirst we have. Not only this, we will overflow with living waters to the rest of the world. So throughout this series we have asked this important question. What flows from us? Do we have life-giving, healing waters flowing from us or is something else flowing from us? In this lesson we are going to consider that the people of God overflow with forgiveness. Listen to what the apostle Paul says to the Colossian Christians.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12–13 NRSV)
We know that God’s people are to be a forgiving people. There are so many scriptures where we are taught to forgive others. We can go to Peter asking Jesus how many times he need to forgive his brother (cf. Matthew 18:21). Seven times sounds like a lot of times. Yet Jesus multiplies that number. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that if we do not forgive others that we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15). Now we are looking at what the apostle Paul said in Colossians 3:12-13. But before we can get going in considering what the scriptures teach about forgiveness we need to stop and evaluate ourselves.
Why Are We Unforgiving?
Why do we think that we cannot forgive someone? What has happened that we come to this point in our minds that we simply say that it is over and we can’t forgive? I think there are a few possibilities. We are hurt and we think that we need to protect ourselves. Someone has harmed and see this as a matter of self-preservation. We live in the cancel culture right now. So we will just unfriend, block, mute, or drop whatever voices we do not want to hear. We will even go to a different church. So we will not talk to that person anymore because we are hurt. Another reason that we cannot forgive is because we are angry. We just want justice for that person who has wronged us and so we believe that we must be the ones who bring about that justice. No one else is going to do anything against that person so we will. We will punish them. We will not forgive because that is the power we have over that person. Finally, we say that we can’t forgive someone because we do not want to. If we are honest, we are simply choosing to not forgive. We do not want the relationship anymore. We do not want to be around that person. We do not want to talk to that person. We are just done. So we are choosing to not forgive. These are usually the reason why we cannot forgive. We are hurt and are protecting ourselves. We think we need to bring justice on this person for what they have done. We simply do not want the relationship anymore.
One of the things that we need to see that is going on with being unforgiving is that we are being self-centered. We are thinking about ourselves. We are thinking about how we have been treated. We are thinking about what has happened to us. We are thinking about how we have not received what we deserve. So we have to admit that we are thinking about ourselves when we say that we cannot forgive someone.
Further, we need to realize that God does not give us the option of being unforgiving. Jesus does not say that you do not have to forgive under certain circumstances. Jesus did not say that if someone does something really bad or really hurtful then you do not have to forgive. Jesus just simply said that if you do not forgive others then you will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15). Jesus simply said that you must not forgive seven times but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21). So how do we get to this point? How can we overflow with forgiveness towards others? Let us come back to the text that we started with at the beginning: Colossians 3:12-13.
Overflow With Forgiveness
Listen to the picture of who we are. We are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. This is what the Christian wears. This is what flows out of us. We overflow with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Notice how Paul describes this. This is what God’s chosen people look like. These are the characteristics necessary to move ourselves to be a forgiving people that God calls us to be.
Then Paul says that we are to bear with each other. This word carries with it the idea of patient endurance. Here is what we are called to do toward one another: patiently endure. We are called bear with each other. Therefore, we are already coming into our relationships with people realizing that they are not going to be perfect, not do what we want, be thoughtless and careless, and will hurt you. Think about it: we would not have to bear with each other if everyone did what you wanted. You would not have to patiently endure others if everyone did what you liked. It is a presumption that people are going to wrong us and we are asked to deal with that. Why should we deal with it? Why should be bear with one another? We must do this because we are God’s chosen people. We do this because we are people who are clothed with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Think about it: if we are not bearing with one another, then we are not compassion. We are not be kind, or humble, or meek, or patient. Bearing with each other is how our compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience are displayed. But now look at the rest of verse 13.
If anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Now sometimes we can be like the Pharisee, trying to justify ourselves by asking what does it mean to forgive. Often what we are doing when we ask this question we are trying to find what is the minimum. How little do I have to do to say that I have forgiven another person? We know we cannot look at God and his laws in this way. This is the kind of mentality that Jesus condemned. We know what forgiveness looks like. But I will add some of the imagery of the scriptures to fortify our understanding of forgiveness.
This word is used to describing graciously giving someone something undeserved (cf. Romans 8:32). You are giving a kindness or granting a grace. The word is also used to speak of canceling a debt (cf. Luke 7:42). You see when we understand the word is takes away our excuses. We will say that the person does not deserve forgiveness. Exactly because that is what forgiveness is. It is giving a kindness and granting a grace to the other person. We will say that there is a number of hurts that we have received and so we cannot forgive. Exactly because that is what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is canceling a debt. Forgiveness is not making the person pay back the debt. Forgiveness is not waiting for the other person to do enough positive things toward us to erase the negative that has been done. You see if that if we say that we cannot forgive, then we truly do understand the word or the concept.
To help us see this further, notice that Paul says at the end of verse 13. “Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Let’s apply our human logic to this. Does God forgive us in Christ because we deserve it? Since our forgiveness is undeserved, then we cannot say that we cannot forgive another person because they do not deserve it. Can we repay the debt that we accumulated against God with our sins? No, it is unpayable debt. So we cannot say that we cannot forgive because the person has done so much wrong against us and must try to repay the debt. Forgiveness erases the debt. It does not keep a record of the debt any longer. Forgiveness is always undeserved. Notice in verse 13 that Paul says that you have a complaint. It is not ignoring that something happened against you. Jesus is asking you what you are going to do about it.
We are to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven you. Think about how the Lord has forgiven us. God desires forgiveness and attempts to reconcile himself to us. God does not stand far away from us until we come back to him. God came to us. God came with a way for reconciliation. God came to us with the offer of forgiveness. We see this pictured in Luke 15 with the parable of the lost son. When the son insults his father and leaves, his father does not cross his arms and say that he could never forgive his son for all the evil he had done. Rather, the father is looking for him to come back and facilitates the reconciliation. The Father wants forgiveness. We should want to forgive. We should want to be peacemakers. We should want to show compassion and mercy. We should want to try to restore what is broken. There is nothing begrudging about the Lord’s forgiveness of us. Forgiveness is not an action that lacks empathy or grace. This is what Paul means when he says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18).
So let us return to where we started. When we say that we cannot forgive someone, we are simply forgetting everything Jesus has done for us. We are forgetting how much we have been forgiven. We are forgetting how undeserving we are. We are forgetting how our debts are unpayable. We are forgetting how gracious God has been toward us. So when we think that we cannot forgive, stop and remember how completely unforgivable we are. How do we overflow with forgiveness? Remember how you are being forgiven by God every moment. Imagine if God said to us, “I don’t want to forgive” or “I cannot forgive.” The heart of God’s people is a forgiving, compassionate, and merciful heart. Remember the hurt you have inflicted on others that you want forgiven. Remember the hurt you have inflicted on God that you want forgiven. Then go and forgive others if you have a complaint against them.