This is the audio recording of the first reading of week seven of Start, entitled The Possibility of Forgiveness.
“Forgiving is the only way to be fair to yourself. Would it be fair to you that the person who hurt you once goes on hurting you the rest of your life? When you refuse to forgive, you are giving the person who walloped you once the privilege of hurting you all over again in your memory.”
In Mark’s gospel, we find a story of four men and their paralytic friend. After hearing about a teacher and miracle worker named Jesus of Nazareth, the men take their friend to see Him. When they arrive, they find that the room where Jesus is standing is overflowing with people. There is no way in.
Not to be denied, the four men hatch a plan to dig a hole in the roof and lower their friend through it. And they do precisely that. It’s easy to romanticize this story when we read it, but it surely must have been a chaotic scene. But these men persevere and get their friend in front of Jesus.
What happens next is astonishing. The paralytic is lying on a mat, obviously unable to move. It would have been clear to anyone watching that the man was seeking physical help. And yet Jesus’ first words speak to something entirely different: “Son, your sins are forgiven.” (Mark 2:5). Jesus would go on to heal the man’s paralysis, but He starts with forgiveness. The man presented with a physical problem, but Jesus knew His deepest need was forgiveness.
The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. Before Jesus steps onto the scene, we read that his cousin, John the Baptist, was “baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4). When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He taught they to ask “forgive us our debts.” (Matthew 6:12). At the end of His life when Jesus was celebrating the Passover with His disciples He passed around the cup of redemption and declared “for this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
At the core of our faith lies the possibility of forgiveness. The Apostles’ Creed declares, “We believe in the forgiveness of sins.” We can be forgiven because of what Jesus has done on the cross.
A life of apprenticeship to Jesus includes both receiving and granting forgiveness. Forgiving one another is a core practice of a Christ-centered community. In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32, emphasis added) Paul uses similar language in Colossians 3.
At Bridgeway, we want our missional communities to be communities of forgiveness. We know that in living life together we are bound to step on one another’s toes and hurt one another’s feelings (even if we do not intend to). It is frightening how easily these types of offenses can lead to fractured relationships. If we are going to build deep relationships, we must learn to give and receive forgiveness.
We also know that we need something beyond our strength if we are going to practice that kind of forgiveness. To forgive others, we must deeply understand God’s grace toward us. To forgive is, in a sense, to extend grace. God’s grace is His unmerited favor toward us, and when we receive this grace, it transforms our hearts so that we can extend it to others.
Entire books have been written about God’s grace, but for our purposes, we want to take a closer look at three elements of grace and how they can inspire our practice of forgiveness.
Grace is generous. God is not stingy with His grace. John 1:16 tells us, “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” In other words, God has grace to spare. He does not withhold it from us but freely and joyfully gives. Ephesians 2 speaks of “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (Ephesians 2:7). It’s easy to be stingy with our grace. Even subconsciously, we can neglect to show others we welcome and accept them. It’s also easy to hold on to past wounds or even speak or act in a way that shows a lack of forgiveness. When we remember God’s generous grace toward us, it can inspire generous grace toward others.
Grace is free. Grace, by definition, is unearned. If we earn it, it ceases to be grace. Romans 5 refers to grace as “the free gift.” Ephesians 2 tells us, “By grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis added) Grace is given to us apart from our worthiness to receive it. In other words, when God gives us grace, he gives us what we don’t deserve. It isn’t easy to give grace to another when it seems they don’t deserve it. By reflecting on the grace we’ve received, our hearts can be changed so that we can do just that.
Grace is transformational. We’ve alluded to this above, but it’s worth its own paragraph. An authentic experience of grace changes and strengthens our hearts. Hebrews 13:9 says, “It is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace.” In reflecting on his transformation, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain.” When we practice forgiveness, we can be conduits of that life-changing grace to others.
Our status as recipients of God’s generous, free, and transformational grace opens the possibility of forgiveness. Yes, it’s possible to forgive without God’s power, but His power at work in us increases our capacity to give and receive forgiveness over the long haul. When a community deeply understands they have been forgiven, they will be equipped to give and receive forgiveness from one another.
- Take a quiet minute or two to think about God’s forgiveness of you. What does it mean to you? Is there anything in you that doubts it or resists receiving it?
- Why, in your own words, is receiving forgiveness vital if we are going to give it out?
- Why is forgiveness necessary for the flourishing of a missional community?