If then you have a new life with Christ, give your attention to the things of heaven, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Keep your mind on the higher things, not on the things of earth. 3 For your life on earth is done, and you have a secret life with Christ in God. 4 At the coming of Christ who is our life, you will be seen with him in glory. 5 Then put to death your bodies which are of the earth; wrong use of the flesh, unclean things, passion, evil desires and envy, which is the worship of strange gods; 6 Because of which the wrath of God comes on those who go against his orders; 7 Among whom you were living in the past, when you did such things. 8 But now it is right for you to put away all these things; wrath, passion, bad feeling, curses, unclean talk; 9 Do not make false statements to one another; because you have put away the old man with all his doings, 10 And have put on the new man, which has become new in knowledge after the image of his maker; 11 Where there is no Greek or Jew, no one with circumcision or without circumcision, no division between nations, no servant or free man: but Christ is all and in all. Col 3:1-11 (BBE)
What does this passage have to do with forgiveness?
If I am giving my attention to the things of heaven, and seeking higher things, then will I need to hold an unforgiving spirit? Or will my attention be focused on loving the person and praying for their salvation, showing Jesus to them by my actions?
If I put to death evil desires, will I want to get even with the person who wronged me?
If I put away bad feelings and unclean talk, will I need to gossip about the person who hurt me?
If I choose not to make false statements, will I stop embellishing the wrong done to me? Will I accept my part in the issue that needs to be dealt with? Will I be honest with myself and with God?
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. Col 3:12-15 (ESV)
Here’s a very clear passage about the behavior God expects of Bible believers. Forgiveness is mandated:
…as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
No wiggle room there. I must forgive. But the ability to forgive comes from the rest of the text. I must first put on compassion, kindness, meekness, humility and patience. I must choose the path of Christ, and that doesn’t happen until I’m saved and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in my life. When I choose the path of Christ instead of the path of a “carnal Christian”, I put on the attributes that Christ showed. Once I do that, I understand that forgiveness flows from God, through Christ and to me – and then must flow from me to you!
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Eph 4:30-32 (ESV)
What does this passage tell us about the Holy Spirit? We can grieve him – by being bitter, angry, malicious, slanderous, and contentious.
Besides grieving the Holy Spirit, what affect does your bitterness have on your family and personal relationships? Can you remember a time when bitterness caused a family, friendship, or church split? Do you think that, as an example, the election process would be changed if people chose to “put away” bitterness and focus instead on finding solutions to problems? How about that nasty boss at work – if you chose to “put away” the bitterness, would your work situation improve? And my friend – the one who chooses to “punish” me by not speaking when she’s angry – would the situation improve more if I told everyone how terribly she acted, or if I “put away” that bitterness and chose to pray for her instead?
Those kinds of changes don’t happen without God’s help. If you want to make a positive change and start to “put away” your bitterness, ask God to help you. Find an accountability partner – a Bible believer who you trust to keep your confidences, and who will check on your progress and agree to pray for you. Seek pastoral counsel. Resolve to make changes – one step at a time.
One of the ways I’m trying to “put away” my bitterness is simple prayer. When I think of “her”, or “what he did wrong”, I choose to stop and simply say “Lord, I pray for ______”. I don’t make the prayer elaborate. I don’t even say why I’m praying – because if I do, I am tempted to re-re-re-rehash the hurt I feel. I simply choose to make sure that I turn my feelings of anger and bitterness over to God in prayer – by asking Him to bless the person who I am feeling bitter toward! It has revolutionized my life. I still suffer from anger issues, of course, but those few words remind me that I am to turn over all my cares to God. Because I choose not to elaborate in my prayer, my focus is on the person and not the wrong. It instantly calms me, and I show God (and myself) that I am working to obey His word.