God’s intention is for the body of Christ to live in unity, which hinges on our willingness to forgive each other the way Christ has forgiven us.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the LORD forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
The reality is, living in community gets messy. There is bound to be a perfect storm of circumstances, attitudes and behaviors that cause offense in a friendship at some point in time. We are human, it happens. When we experience pain, our fight or flight instincts kick in and we either lash back or run away breaking the relationship. Either response is in direct opposition to the call for unity that God has given the body of Christ.
The root of community is unity. Paul writes in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Yet there is such a tendency to harbor offense with one another. As believers, we have the divine nature of Jesus. We are empowered by his Spirit to forgive offense quickly and fully on every occasion. This may not be easy from a natural or emotional standpoint, but it is our new nature and aligns with our true identity in Christ.
Personally, I have come to understand that offense is often - not always, but often - an indicator of insecurity and unresolved pain in my own heart. I am most vulnerable in the sensitive spots, the places of my heart that Jesus still wants to heal and restore. When I’m not invited to the party, I replay the old lies: “You are undesirable. People just tolerate you, they don’t really like you or want to be around you.” When I’m hurt by cutting words, untrue accusations, or criticism for imperfection in some form or fashion I am tempted to believe: “You’ve failed. You aren’t enough. You should be better.” Offense takes root in my heart when I am feeling insecure, agreeing with Satan’s lies more than God’s words. It is all too easy to hold these hurts close and hold them against others.
The scriptures tell us in Colossians to forgive as we have been forgiven by the Lord. Offense cannot share the throne with love. It is the all-consuming love of God that has forgiven our sins, and so it is His love that compels us to forgive others. We cannot lead a life of peace and love when we are carrying unforgiveness in our hearts. It is a burden we were not meant to bear. I am not saying there is not wisdom in boundaries, and occasions where endings are necessary in certain relationships, but I am reiterating what the Word says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).
Peace and unity are only possible where there is a willingness to forgive quickly and fully.
I have two sons and when they get frustrated with one another, more often than not, it is my middle child who is the first to forgive. Before I can get an apology out of the oldest, his little brother is voicing forgiveness and moving on. I love that about my tender-hearted middle child, he teaches me something about the will of God. I believe God delights when his children are quick to forgive, even before an apology is voiced. The Bible says God is by nature slow to anger. In Luke 17, Jesus talks about forgiving your brother who sins against you, even repeatedly in the same day! We maintain the unity in community when we are quick to forgive. Quick to assume the best, not the worst, in our brothers. Quick to extend grace and patience with the people we have committed to loving in our community.
Forgiving one another the way God forgave us means that we don’t keep track of all the ways a friend has hurt us. The way of this world is to keep a log of all the offenses and at a certain point severe relationships. But we are not of this world. We operate with Christ’s divine nature. God is “not counting [our] trespasses against [us] … but he has removed our trespasses “as far as the east is from the west” (2 Corinthians 5:19, Psalm 103:12). The way of the Father is to forgive fully, keeping no record of wrong. Forgiving those we live in community with means that when we forgive them we wipe their slate clean.
We are people with hormones, tempers, and issues. There is potential for unity or division in every relationship within your community. Where offense can so quickly and effectively divide us, let’s respond in love, grace, and forgiveness. This week, look for those moments where offense begins to stir in your heart and respond with immediate, full forgiveness. Assume the best about the other person. Remind yourself of your divine nature. Cross lines of division and be the peacemaker. Fight for unity. Live free.
Lord, thank you for forgiving me of my countless sins. In your great love you sent your Son to satisfy the penalty my sins deserved. Fill me afresh with the grace to love and forgive others the way you so quickly and completely forgave me. I want to partner with your passion for unity and peace among your children. Would you help me learn to let go of offenses quickly and live free from the burden of unforgiveness?