Forgiveness. What a mighty big word. But what is even larger than the implications that word carries is the responsibility it carries for us as Christians. Last week we talked briefly about anger and the gasoline that it can be. While we touched on forgiveness, we focused more on the actual act of getting angry. As we settle in and set our sights on forgiveness and what that means, I want to look at a definition.
a small piece of burning or glowing coal or wood in a dying fire.
Now I want you to close your eyes, and use your imagination on this one. Imagine, you started a fire in your fire pit in the backyard and you’ve long since quit feeding it kindling in hopes that it will go out soon. The smoke and bright orange flames are long gone, but what’s left it a handful of ash with a small glowing ember in the bottom of the pit.
But is this fire a dying fire, or one just starting?
You could walk away from that ember now and if you’re lucky, it will go out and all is well. Or you could stroke it a bit by slowly breathing oxygen on the ember, or maybe feeding it a small log. It could slowly grow back into a raging fire if you want it to. But what if you walk inside the house, grab a bottle of lighter fluid and flood the ember with accelerant? That ember will quickly become a full fledged bonfire, lighting up the night. If not taken care of it could quickly escalate out of control.
Bu what if you put it out?
What if you grabbed the water hose and dumped a bucket of water on that ember? You would likely see a ton of smoke and the absence of its glow when the smoke cleared.
Now imagine that ember represents a grudge you’re holding onto against someone.
Maybe you’ve quit feeding that fire a long time ago, you don’t let things that person does or says affect you in any way. Maybe they have apologized and you all seem to be on sure footing again with your relationship. But deep within you, you know that there is still that ember burning ever so slightly. What you choose to do next, could change the course of your existence. Forgiveness is a powerful thing when we let it be.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13
It’s so easy to hang onto anger, to let it linger in our lives until we convince ourselves that the person we are angry with owes us. It is easy to store the hurt from a wrong that has been done to you in your heart and pull it out as a trump card when the situation is right. But as Colossians shows us, God calls us to forgive. No where in the Bible does it speak of holding grudges, getting revenge or collecting on debts from those who have done you harm. In fact, in this very verse, we are called to forgive as God forgave us. Wow. What if we looked at our current resentment that we have against our brother or sister in comparison to the ultimate price that Jesus paid for us on the cross? How does whatever that person did to you compare to what Jesus endured while he was painstakingly beaten, shamed, tortured and slain for our sins. For the sins of us, people who didn’t even exist yet. How do the two compare?
You may think it seems silly to compare these two things but what we can pull from this verse is that no matter what we do in our lives, no matter how many times we pull away from God, screw up, or disappoint him, he will never not forgive us. No where in the Bible does it say that if you sin 10 times you will be forgiven, but if you sin 11 he is done with us. The God we serve is a loving, and forgiving God who takes us back with loving arms every single time we do wrong. So who are we to hold a grudge against someone who is merely human?
It is easy to tell ourselves that this is comparing apples to oranges, but the truth is that God has never called us to do something that he himself, or his Son has not already endured. Just as the verse tells us, God is asking us to be merciful with our fellow man and to forgive them each time they wrong us just as he forgave us and continues to every day.
In Luke 17, God even takes it a step further telling us there should be no end to our mercy for others.
“Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” Luke 17:4
We must forgive our brothers and sisters each time they fail us. Every time they come seeking our forgiveness, we must give it them.
So what happens if we don’t forgive one another?
Let’s revisit our scene from earlier. Obviously pouring water on that ember is the equivalent of forgiveness. We completely smother any grudge or resentment we have for the one we are angry with and extinguish that bitterness. But what happens if we don’t put it out, but just walk away from it? This is basically letting it go, right? Wrong. Sure, that ember could extinguish itself with time. But what if it doesn’t? What if a whisper of air comes flowing by and breathes a little bit of life back into the ember? What is a snide comment, or reminder of their wrongdoing cross our path? That ember will get a little bit brighter and a little bit bigger, slowly growing until it’s once again a raging flame. We often hear people distinguish between forgive and forget. I truly believe that to forgive someone, we must forget what they have done to us. We must move past whatever is grounding us to our anger and seek the Lord’s guidance to forget and forgive.
What about the lighter fluid?
Have you ever been so fed up with someone and their ways that you explode with anger? That you give up on them, express your feelings of anger in an uncontrollable way and then let that anger consume you for the rest of the day, putting you in a terrible mood to the point you are snapping at those who weren’t even involved? That our lighter fluid. Allowing ourselves to give into anger, to give into holding that grudge and harboring bitterness. When we do that, we are letting it control us and drive our actions until we don’t even recognize the person staring back at us in the mirror. If you let it, anger and bitterness can wreck your world, just as quickly as a campfire can turn into a forest fire. One that is unstoppable and headed straight for everything you have ever known and loved.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32
Your Heavenly Father is calling you to let go of any resentment and anger you hold in your heart. He is standing right next to you holding a bucket full of water saying, “Put it out, child.” Will you listen? I encourage you to pray this prayer if you are seeking freedom from the bitterness you carry with you.
God, I come to you now as a sinner. As your child who has let you down so many times and accepted your forgiveness 100 times over. I come to you asking for your help and your strength to let go of the bitterness in my heart. Help me to move past the anger I have stored up, and step out of the past into a future that is rid of the darkness that comes from letting anger rule my life. Forgive me for being so slow to forgive my brothers and sisters as you have called me to. And God, help me to see those that I am angry with as flawed children of God just as I, myself am. And God, help me to pray for those I have turmoil with, help me to pray for their weaknesses and their missteps and help me not only forgive, but to forget, right here, right now. I lay my bitterness down at your feet God, take it and make me whole again.