Forgive as You Have Been Forgiven

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12-17)

We continue this morning with this paragraph regarding what we are to “put on” as God’s children. We have talked already from the previous paragraph about those things we are to put off. This is the Christian life. We have been saved, as we can read in 2 Corinthians 5:10, so that we can now live not for ourselves, for our selfish desires, but we are to live for Christ who came and suffered and died for us. We are to live for Him. If you are a Christian then this is your calling. This is not for a select few Christians, or so-called super spiritual Christians, but for all who have by faith embraced Christ. We are called to live for Him. And thankfully, He has given us instruction as to what that means, what it will look like to live for Him.

Last week we looked at verse 12. We are to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Remember that? How did that go last week? Ask someone close to you, how did I do with all that last week? No really, we all struggle with various aspects of living out the Christian life, let’s just all agree with that, no one needs to deny that or to hide in shame over it. None of us are fully sanctified, none of us have finally reached the perfection of being like Christ, no one living has. So since we all know that, we can be honest about where we are, and we can evaluate where we are, and we can seek God for further change. Don’t go around acting as if you are not a sinner, but instead confess where needed and ask God to help you, and begin practicing the change. And don’t forget the first part of verse 12. Remember who you are in Christ: chosen, set apart, and loved by Him – no matter what! Even if you blow it with your child or spouse or sibling or friend, that does not change your position before God. His love is not fickle, it does not come and go, your future is still secure, you are loved by Him. And knowing that can bring a sigh of relief and give us the impetus to go forward living for Him as He says we should live. His love for us and our love for Him should lead us to change – not guilt, not shame, but love.

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

In verse 13 Paul encourages us in mutual forbearance and forgiveness. These two things ought to mark our relationships with each other. Bearing with one another and forgiveness.

First we see that we are to bear with one another. This simply means that we are to endure, to hold out in spite of persecution, threats, injury, indifference, or complaints, and not retaliate. 

We live with sinners. We live among sinners. We are sinners. Even in the church community there are sins being committed against one another. This means that we are injured by each other, we sometimes complain about one another, sometimes we are indifferent toward others, we just ignore them, act as if they don’t exist – this too is a form of hurt. When these things occur, we can endure with those who have hurt us or we can write them off and walk away from them. To bear with each other is to refuse to walk away from relationships, it is to endure.

This is how Paul chose to live among the Corinthians. From Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian church we can see that there were all kinds of accusations hurled against him. Some in the church there were downright hateful toward him, unloving and uncaring. And yet he refused to return hurt for hurt, but chose another path, a path that may seem impossible to us at times, but one that pleased his Lord. 

and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

How about that? We daily have choices to make regarding how we will respond to people around us who are either treating us badly or are simply not treating us exactly the way we prefer to be treated. You say a kind word, and in return you get nothing. You do a good deed and you get back a complaint. Or you sin against someone and they retaliate by sinning against you. Even then, we can get angry, even when we initiated with sin. We ask forgiveness and someone refuses to forgive. What do we do, how do we respond, what are we supposed to think? 

We are to bear with one another – endure, hold out in spite of persecution, threats, injury, indifference, or complaints, and not retaliate. Or, as Paul did, “when reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.”

Some in the Corinthian church chose another way, and Paul calls them out for it. They were trying to get even by suing each other, they were taking each other to court to get what they wanted. This is how they chose to relate to each other. But Paul introduces this same idea that we have been talking about when he says to them in 1 Corinthians 6:7, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

That is a different way of living! This is not normal, but it is how we have been called to live differently. 

Who is wronging you right now? Who has treated you badly recently? How will you deal with them? Bearing with others will often require that we forgive them for wrongs against us. 

if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13b)

Jesus Himself taught the principle of non-stop, never ending forgiveness, unceasing forgiveness…

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

That is a lot of forgiveness! You could say that is a lot of “bearing with” others too. We could also say, “Really, that seems a bit over the top. Surely Christ is exaggerating here. If someone sins against me seventy-seven times, I don’t think they deserve my forgiveness. I mean at some point they really don’t deserve my forgiveness, right?”

Well, they don’t. But neither do we.

And even with this understanding that we are to forgive so often, always forgive, we need to also remember that to whatever degree we forgive those who have sinned against us, it will never even come close to how much we have been forgiven. No one will ever sin against you and no one will ever sin against me as much as we have sinned against our Lord. Our debt to Him was greater than anyone else’s debt owed us. And yet God stands ready to forgive. And as those who belong to Him we are to stand in that same way. Aren’t you glad that God forgives to the extent that He does?

You have heard it said that “words are cheap.” That is often a true statement. It simply means that words are easy to say and can easily flow from our mouths and off our tongues. But what matters is whether there is action behind our words.

When we read in the Bible that God forgives sinners, that means something. It means He really does forgive. God doesn’t proclaim that without something to back it up. He didn’t just one day decide that He will grant forgiveness to sinners, it wasn’t just a decree that went out, but there were things that had to happen to make it happen, to make it possible for Him to forgive sinners. It wasn’t just words.

What had to happen? Someone had to be punished, someone had to pay a real debt owed, our debt owed. Christ had to come and had to suffer and die to pay the penalty for our sins. He suffered and He died on the cross, an innocent man for the guilty, so that we could be forgiven.

Our greatest need is forgiveness of sin. And as Hebrews says, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin. God does not overlook our sin and simply say you are forgiven, He made provision for our forgiveness through the death of His only Son. That had to happen for us or we would have no hope of salvation nor of eternal life.

Because of the cost, forgiveness is a really big deal. It is not something to be taken lightly. 

I want to be sure that we understand the magnitude of our forgiveness. And Jesus wants us to understand it as well, and that is why He tells a parable in Matthew 18 about forgiveness. We talked a little about this parable last week regarding patience, but the main point of the parable is to teach us about forgiveness. I want us to look at it today. Let me read it, and then I will give you some points to think about.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

This parable was given by Jesus just after answering Peter’s question regarding how many times we are to forgive others. The issue is, how great a debt do we forgive others? Jesus answers with this parable. The parable is about God’s great forgiveness and our duty then to forgive others, others who have sinned against us.

The king in the parable represents God. The debt owed the king by the first servant was ten thousand talents. A talent was an amount roughly equal to twenty years’ wages for a common laborer. So if one talent is twenty years’ wages, and the slave owed ten thousand talents, that would be 200,000 years worth of wages. In today’s dollars that might equal about eight billion dollars. The servant had a debt of eight billion dollars.

The point is that the servant had a debt that he had no hope of repaying. But what did the king do? He forgave the debt. He could have jailed the servant and his family, he could have sold the servant’s family members, he could have beat him to death, tortured him. He had the power to severely punish him, but instead he chose to forgive the debt. 

This is us. Our sin is the debt. We have no ability, no means to pay for our sins to satisfy a perfectly holy God. We would have no hope of repayment. And God steps in, slays His Son – the price for our sins – gives us His righteousness, forgives our sins, forgives our debt. Without this we would all go to hell and suffer eternally. But He paid it, Christ paid it.

The second part of the story is not so uplifting. The forgiven servant, after he had been forgiven, had an opportunity to extend forgiveness to a fellow servant who owed him a small amount compared to what he had owed the king. He was owed one hundred denarii. This was about a hundred day’s wages, or in today’s dollars maybe $16,000. He had been forgiven, freely forgiven eight billion dollars, but now he refuses to forgive another $16,000. Jesus condemns this, saying…

‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:32b-35)

We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. In fact, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

This is serious, and I think what it means is that true believers will forgive. It is not optional, we must forgive. 

We have talked a lot about forgiveness, and I want to be sure we understand practically what forgiveness means. The Scripture says we are to forgive as our Lord forgives – “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” He models it for us, but what does it look like? How does He forgive us?

“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

What does forgiveness look like from God? These passages teach us that with God, forgiveness means He chooses to not remember our sins. God doesn’t forget things – He is God, He knows all things – but He does choose not to dwell on our sins, not to treat us as sinners by holding our sins over us.

If God were to dwell on our sins and treat us as sinners by holding them over us, all our sins, that would be crushing to us. How would we even possibly have a relationship with him? Forgiveness is a choice. If God chooses to relate to us this way, then that is how we are to relate to others regarding forgiveness.

When we forgive we are making a promise. We are saying, “I will not dwell on your sin, I will not gossip about your sin, I will not hold your sin over you in the way I treat you.” That is forgiveness. It is not a feeling, it is a choice. It does not mean sin is not a big deal; sin is a big deal, sin is a huge deal, so much so that Jesus was slain because of it. Sin is a big matter, but forgiveness is as well. And by God’s grace we can forgive, we will forgive. 

Sometimes, as you know, it seems nearly impossible to forgive others. Sin against us can be so evil and cruel that it is hard to imagine that we could ever forgive by not dwelling on that sin, by not treating the offender according to their sin and by not telling others about it in a vengeful way. Some sin hits us so emotionally that we may feel powerless to truly forgive and move on. At times we have possibly been hurt again and again, so how can we forgive in this way?

I am convinced that there is only one way. That way is to really meditate on, focus on the depth of God’s forgiveness of us. To remember how awful our sin is and how incredibly awesome God’s forgiveness is of those sins. To remember that our particular sin led Jesus to the cross and put Him there. To consider the cost, what He paid so that we can be forgiven. To remember first the debt that was paid for us. Then and only then, at times, are we able to truly forgive other people. By God’s grace this is possible, by His strength we can forgive.

As Paul said in Ephesians 4:32, we can “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Are there those whom you have not really forgiven? You may say, “Well, they haven’t asked me to forgive them, so how can I?” Well if they haven’t asked then you can’t say, “I forgive you,” but you can, I can, still live in a spirit of forgiveness. Jesus says that we are to even love our enemies and do good to them, right? This means not holding their sins over them. So even if someone has not asked, we can live in this way anyways, again by God’s grace and out of an overflowing love for Him!

These are things we are to put on, as Paul said in verse 12. These are things that are to be a part of our new life in Christ. Thinking and actions that are now to define us as Christians in this world.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:12-13)