I understand about living with good behavior and walking in the Spirit, but what about the times when things don’t go well? Here’s the truth from me to you; even if we understand ourselves as God’s children, even if we put on Godly qualities of living, bad things still will happen in this world. But the big question for us today is this: how will we respond when things don’t go as planned? How will we respond when someone you trusted betrays you? How will you feel when something terrible happens to people you love? What happens when we realize the world is not as we were taught in kindergarten; when life is not fair, when people are not kind, and when bad things happen to good people?
Forgiveness. What does forgiveness mean today? We are brought up in church to learn that God forgives us when we go astray, or sin. But what about the people who keep on sinning, or messing up in the world? Can we keep on murdering people, but because we say we’re a Christian, we’ll be okay and go to heaven? Is this what forgiveness is all about?
Or what about when someone really hurts us? Maybe they betray our trust, lie to us, or go behind our back? Sure, the Christian thing to do is to forgive, but this whole idea of ‘forgive and forget’ seems pretty tough!
Alright, so if forgiveness is not just this simple thing, then what is it all about? What is expected of us? And what does it mean to ‘bear with one another’?
Here we have our scripture again, and what I want us to focus on is what is found here in verse 13.
We read in the text about ‘bearing with one another’; well, what in the world does this mean?
We come to two words I’d like for us to look at today: forbearance and forgiveness
The letter tells us to bear with one another, but what does this mean? Well, if we want to get to the definition, it means to have patient self-control; restraint and tolerance. It’s really a pretty unpopular word. How many times do we hear someone talking about bearing with one another? How many times when you were in a fight with your parents or your friends, and you said, ‘you know what, maybe we can just join in some forbearance for a bit.’
NO! You don’t! And that’s okay! But forbearance is a Christian behavior that is quite helpful when we are trying to live in the Spirit.
Forbearance is putting one’s different opinions aside for the sake of community and unity. It means not compromising your values, but maybe compromising your preferences.
Simply put, forbearance, or bearing with one another, is being able to ‘agree to disagree.’
Now forgiveness, this is a big topic…a hard topic for many. I’ll admit, even as a pastor, forgiveness is a topic that I have a hard time wrapping my head and heart around sometimes.
I think one good place to start in finding out more about forgiveness is the Bible. Our letter here talks about forgiveness, but doesn’t really get into it too much, except that it’s related to walking in the Spirit. But if we go back to the stories of Jesus found in the Gospels, we actually have some really good examples.
One story in particular that I have an incredibly hard time is the story of the Prodigal Son. Have you heard of this before? I know for me, I often identify with the older brother as the independent, reliable one. In fact, I bet I would also have a hard time understanding how the father could forgive the younger son so easily. But Jesus reminds us just how God works…in truly grace-filled ways. The father not only forgives the son, but celebrates his return.
Jesus taught to ‘regain the brother’ in forgiveness, but what does this mean? Well, there are a couple of really interesting ideas I think we should think about today when thinking about forgiveness.
- Forgiveness is about apologizing. Yes, you may not feel like you were even in the wrong, but apologizing is an action that leads towards communication. Whether you are the person who is guilty, or someone else has wronged you, it is important to communicate with the other and demonstrate that you are willing to make things work.
- Forgiveness is about repentance. When we repent, we take an action to right a wrong. This is important, because it’s one thing to tell someone that you want to make things right again, and it’s a completely different thing to show them with actions.
- Forgiveness is about reconciliation. When we are verbally and physically taking actions to make right a wrong, we are seeking to what Jesus would describe as ‘gain the brother’. We are seeking to mend the relationship between the two people.
So what about when you are the person that is wronged? What about when people need your forgiveness? Well, they may take the actions to seek reconciliation, but it’s another thing to actually forgive someone. It can be tough! And what happens if the other person doesn’t even try to ask for forgiveness?
Here is an interesting fact about forgiveness: you don’t need the other person to participate in forgiveness. As we see in the story of the Prodigal son, the older brother never really forgave his younger brother, but the father did. Why? My thinking is that the father had forgiven his son way before he saw him again upon his return. And it was because of that forgiveness that the father was able to embrace his prodigal son in a way that allowed for the third step: reconciliation.
Then we can think about it this way. Here is one idea I want us to think about. There are basically three steps to think about when we are having a tough time.
When we are struggling in this world, we begin with forbearance. When bearing with one another doesn’t work, we seek forgiveness. And when we forgive one another, we witness to reconciliation in Christ.
In Christ, we are forgiven; our response is ‘gaining one another’ in reconciliation. This is the Good News today: in forbearance and forgiveness, we live into the Spirit as we are called to seek reconciliation with one another as we are reconciled with God.