I discovered something incredible about forgiveness today. I woke up thinking about a particular troubling relationship, and I asked the Lord to help me see it the way He does. On the toes of my prayer He answered me immediately with one word: Forgiveness. I’ve heard it, read it, meditated on it, and tried my best to employ forgiveness in a number of circumstances. This time, however, the Holy Spirit unpacked so much more to me than I had ever understood about this vital Christian matter.
I turned to a familiar Bible passage on the subject of forgiveness — Ephesians chapter four.
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” ~Ephesians 4:31-32
In all my years reading these verses, I had never studied them with such illumination as today. When I looked at the meaning of these key words in the original Greek language I was awakened to the weight of God’s exhortation. First, the word for bitterness means something that stings like poison. At the heart it is, “a bitter root that produces a bitter fruit”. For anyone who has ever harbored ill-feelings for someone in the heart, you can identify with the poisonous stream that seems to constantly flow from those feelings. Unfortunately, bitterness only begets the worst in us.
As noted in verse 31, wrath is added to the mix. The description of wrath is staggering when you look closely: It means a fierce passion or anger, also described as an “inflaming wine, which either drives the drinker mad or kills him with its strength.” Anger is a violent passion that carries the implication of punishment. In other words, at its core, anger intends to harm. Clamour is an interesting characteristic to be wary of. It means an outcry of tumult or grief — a woeful crying. This can be seen as manipulative tears. A dumping of our own pain onto the offender to try to make them feel it and hurt like we do. At the height of our embittered heart, we can easily engage in evil speaking. Evil speaking in Scripture is the Greek word “blasphemia”. It’s simple to see what is bred from this word. It means to blaspheme and villify. To slander someone’s name with injurious speech. In its cold essence, it is to maul someone’s character with our words. Finally, the Lord warns us as believers against malice, which is “badness” or depravity; having an ill-will and a desire to cause injury. By definition, it is “wickedness that is not ashamed to break laws.” At its core, malice is fueled by the intent to inflict harm with no care for any Godly or worldly prohibitions against it.
So, what does all that have to do with forgiveness? Take a moment (as I did this morning) to think about what your offender has done to you. What do you think of them because of it? What you’ll find is that many, many times the offense was extreme. It was something that cut you to your soul’s cavern. And because of that, when you consider what you think of them because of their wrongdoing, your thoughts and behaviors probably resemble some of the traits I discussed above.
Knowing the gravity of living with a troubled heart, the Holy Spirit commands us to do something radical in the wake of emotional or bodily injury: Forgive. And here’s what the word means: “To grant pardon as a favor”. It is to graciously give for free what another person is not morally entitled to. Forgiveness is a supernatural, spiritual bestowal of restoration. It is benevolence to the soul — a preservation and rescuing of a person in peril. Doesn’t that sound familiar?
As redeemed followers of Christ, it only takes a second to remember what forgiveness feels like. What it looks like. When we were separated from Him because of our sinful hearts, He forgave us and rescued us from eternal separation from Him. Forgiveness — as shown selflessly through the loving sacrifice of Jesus — becomes all about the wrongdoer. When we recall how we depend on God to forget our offenses He’s covered with His blood and move us forward in grace, we take our first steps in granting that same forgiveness to the offending soul we are empowered to set free.
“And this is love, that we walk after His commandments. This is the commandment, that as ye have heard from the beginning, ye should walk in it.” ~II John 1:6