Back in May I did a sermon on Colossians 3:12-17 and the call to Christians to forgive one another. If I’m honest, it was one of the more difficult sermons I’ve ever done. The first half was easy; the message of Colossians is pretty clear – but it is not a simple one to live out and my struggle is that too often sermons on forgiveness come across as too simplistic. God told us to do it, so just do it. And for many of the offenses in life, that is simple enough. But what about the deeper wounds? The scars that are still painful years or decades later? So I spoke about the physical and emotional abuse I experienced as a student at a boarding school for missionary kids in the early nineties. The years long process of navigating forgiveness and healing that I pursued in my early twenties.
You can listen to the sermon here; we had some technical issues so there is no video from that week. It’s the May 7th, 2017, sermon entitled “Out with the Old, In with the New, Part 2.” You can also find it on iTunes.
My notes are below; they are shortened versions of what I actually said, and in places probably only make sense to me:
Unshakeable | Out with the Old, In with the New (part two) Col. 3:12-17 | May 7, 2017
We are working are way through Colossians, the letter written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome. Epaphras founded church in Colosse, when a dangerous heresy erupted in the church, he made the journey to Rome to get Paul’s help and advice.
- COLOSSIAN HERESY:
- God/spiritual is good, matter is evil. This translated to either sin or extremely legalistic lifestyles trying to control the flesh.
Colossians 3:12-17 (NIV) (read the passage)
Do you see the end goal in this section of the letter? Unity. Paul is challenging them to recognize that in Christ, a body of believers should demonstrate a divinely powered unity to each other and the world around them. But how does he get there?
Paul has been beating the drum of spiritual maturity, of unity, of being a new creation in Christ throughout Colossians.
Chapter 2 – zeros in on legalism, the demands of following all sorts of rules.
22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Chapter 3 continues this thought …
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
Last week Nate focused on 3:8-11; where Paul tells the Colossian Christians to stop interacting with each other in the ways of the world; anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, to stop lying to one another – if we have put on this new self, this new life, if we are becoming like Christs, then that should not mark how we treat anyone, let alone members of the body of Christ.
The fundamental attitude is bearing with each other and forgiving one another. For Paul, this is the natural outgrowth of the previous five virtues.
The ‘bearing with each other’ is funny; normally it has a negative connotation, but the Greek here indicates a positive meaning. He’s acknowledging that the body of believers in Colossians are a wildly different group. We saw that in verse 11 last week:
11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
He’s saying, you are an incredibly diverse group … but Christ in us erases that. As Christ changes our hearts to be like His, these differences disappear; we bear with each other in a joyful way. WE are a diverse group! We have different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different politics, different views on so many things – and yet, because of Christ we find ourselves here, worshipping together in spite of our differences!
Natural result of all these virtues, in spite of us being imperfect, sinful people – is that we will forgive each other and pursue unity.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
Forgive = charizomai (Greek); means forgiving others as an act of grace, freely offered, often not ‘deserved.’
This is a reoccurring theme throughout the New Testament. This idea that because we have been forgiven by God, our natural response should be to forgive others.
Matthew 18:21-35 The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant
Peter asks how many times should we forgive, 7 times?
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.
10,000 bags of gold; 100 silver coins
- 33: “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”
British lottery winner. The reality of what he had won had not sunk in yet.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
We are to forgive as God forgave us.
- Paul is essentially saying that it is utterly inappropriate for one who knows the joy and release of being forgiven to refuse to share that blessing with another.
- Perhaps more significantly, it is incredibly presumptuous to refuse to forgive someone who Christ Himself has already forgiven.
What is it to forgive? To stop feeling anger, to stop blaming, to stop wanting revenge/payback, to release them of whatever it is you may feel they owe you – however small or big. It’s not pretending it never happened, it’s letting it go, releasing its hold on you. It is an act of grace, given regardless of whether or not they deserve it.
In some cases, forgiveness is an easy grace to extend;
- To those who apologize
- The offense was minor, a simple misunderstanding
- When we are self aware enough to recognize we are overreacting
Sometimes forgiveness is far more difficult;
- 27 years ago moved to Tambo
- Graduated 24 years ago, spent next several years filled with rage at even the thought of what went on there.
- Reached out for help in my early twenties, about two decades ago.
- I chose to forgive. Does not mean I condone what they did, does not mean I will pretend it didn’t happen, does not mean that they are pardoned from real world consequences to their actions, it does not mean that I have to allow them to hurt me again – but I released its hold on me.
- Did not happen overnight. I had to choose to forgive over and over, until gradually, it became more natural.
- This past Christmas, two and a half decades after the fact, after a five/six year investigation, the mission finally acknowledged and gave a hollow apology to me. The decision to forgive happens over and over.
Why share that? Because I don’t want to oversimplify what I’m preaching. We live in a world full of sin and failure. Large percentages of our country have been wronged, abused, assaulted in horrible ways – yes, much of the conflict that happens in a church body can be forgiven through simple steps, but there are other times where it is critical to bring in stronger help, to process and walk through the pain that was inflicted.
Sometimes we can forgive simply through prayer and going to the person.
Sometimes to forgive, we need to enlist the help of others, and recognize that it will be a daily process of committing to that decision.