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Forgiving - An Inconvenient Duty

Mark Twain used his typical humor to talk about forgetting and forgiving — "Forget and forgive. This is not difficult, especially when properly understood. It means that you are to forget inconvenient duties, and forgive yourself for forgetting. In time, by rigid practice and stern determination, it comes easy." If you are old enough to read this you have surely learned by now that it is inviting and convenient to forget inconvenient duties. And the more inconvenient and demanding the duty, the more inviting and convenient the forgetting becomes! Maybe that's why so many people forget to forgive. Forgiveness is one of the most basic duties of those who seek to live the Christian life. Jesus taught His disciples to be forgiving toward others. Though sometimes extremely challenging to practice, we must have a lot of help to misunderstand what the Lord said about the need to forgive in Matthew 6:14-15: "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Of course sinners have to repent, but these words are not directed to sinners. They are directed to saints who seek God's forgiveness. Difficult and even agonizing to do at times? Yes. Convenient to forget at times? Absolutely. But the willingness to forgive, or at least the willingness to work toward forgiving, is a Christian duty. 

Two passages sum up all the New Testament says about our duty to forgive. First, Ephesians 4:32: "And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you." Clear enough. The verse not only tells us what to do ("forgiving one another") but also why we are obligated to do it (" just as God in Christ forgave you"). The second passage is Colossians 3:13 and is very similar to the first: "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." What does that mean? Listen closely — it means, "bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do." Did you catch the scope of this? Paul didn't identify any specific person or the specific kind of problem that caused the complaint. The King James Version says if any man have a quarrel against any" and the New International Version says "whatever grievances you may have against one another." That "anyone" and "one another" catches all of us, does it not? The verse seems to assume that sooner or later all of us will cause a quarrel, complaint, or grievance with another. And while the causes of the complaints and quarrels between us can be large or small, the cure is always the same. To get past the complaints that come between us, somebody has to do some forgiving! You can struggle to forgive, and still be like Christ. You can find it inconvenient to forgive, and still be like Christ. But one thing you can never do and still be like Christ — forget and refuse to forgive. The cross of Christ forcefully reminds us God knows how hard and how inconvenient it is to forgive. But He didn't forget. To be like Him, we should forgive, and then forget what we have forgiven. Think about it.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ