Forgive One Another (Ephesians 4:31-5:2)
Topic: Ephesians Passage: Ephesians 4:31–5:2
Forgive One Another
(One Body: Love One Another)
August 24th, 2014
I. Filing a Grievance
In any community, even a master-planned community, there are always, always grievances. There are and will be grievances that arise when one person injures another, whether physically, or verbally and emotionally.
For example, 85-year-old Paul Smith of Naples, Florida, a Pearl Harbor survivor, was recently the subject of a grievance filed by his neighbors who said he was using the saw in his woodshop at 3am to make dominos that he sells from his house, therefore violating community rules about operating a business in your home.
If we stay in Florida, we’d also find Sarasota attorney Bill Yanchek who owns five houses in a master-planned community called the Landings. The problem is that when Mr. Yanchek buys these homes, he comes in rips up all the landscaping, turns off the sprinklers, and leaves the yards barren. Of course for his neighbors, who keep their yards lush and well manicured, Mr. Yanchek’s behavior is completely unacceptable.
And so like Mr. Smith’s neighbors, these residents have done what their community rules dictate: they have filed grievances, numerous grievances; they have submitted complaints to their homeowner’s association in order to deal with their neighbor’s behavior.
Well, over the past three weeks we’ve been talking about the Master-Planned Community that the Scriptures call the “church”.
The church, that counter-cultural community of followers of Jesus Christ, that collection of men and women, boys and girls, who have been called out of darkness and death by the grace of God, in order to walk in the light and life of Christ; the church is ultimately the only true Master-planned community because her designer is the Master of all things, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
But like any community, the church is not immune to, it is not free from grievances. But what should be different is how we handle such grievances. What do our community rules say about dealing with such injuries?
Well, turn with me to Ephesians 4:31. Once again, we are looking to the Apostle Paul to help us understand how we should live in this Master-planned (with a capital “m”) community called the church.
II. Forgiving a Grievance
Listen to what Paul tells us here about handling our grievances in the body of Christ:
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. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Talk about a radical difference! Instead of filing a grievance, Paul is talking here about forgiving a grievance. When injuries in the world so often lead to people sue one another or ignore one another or bad-mouth one another, in the church, we are called to forgive one another.
And we shouldn't imagine that all of these grievances are earth-shattering controversies or monumental injustices. Sometimes there are major falling outs between Christians. Sometimes there are very devastating injuries that go deep. But sometimes these grievances are less memorable. Sometimes it is just the tone in someone’s voice. Sometimes it is a small slight against us or someone else, something we tuck quietly away in our hearts; something we begin to use to define such a person.
I’ve been involved in handling injuries in the church that had to be addressed by an entire elder board, and I’ve counseled others who were dealing with grievances that most people wouldn't even label grievances, or grievances requiring forgiveness.
But no matter the size of the injury, anything that a brother or sister does that causes us to harden our heart toward them, to whatever degree...we need to forgive one another.
Now I think a lot of people would agree that forgiveness is the ideal response. But I also think a lot of people would agree that forgiveness is easier prescribed than practiced. Because that’s true, because genuine forgiveness is not easy, we often find ourselves accepting a false or counterfeit forgiveness.
So what do we learn from our passage here about the marks of genuine forgiveness?
Well first, genuine forgiveness is preceded by a heart change. Notice what Paul tells them in verse 31. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
The heart that is prepared to forgive is a heart that is not infected by things like bitterness or wrath or anger. The mouth that is prepared to say “I forgive you” is not a mouth filled with such things as clamor [i.e. shouting at others] about one’s hurt or slander against the one who caused the pain.
In general, as Paul tacks on at the end of this verse, there should be no malice, no wickedness in your heart toward your brother or sister.
I think Paul is making this clear because if he just said, “forgive one another”, some of his hearers might be willing to say “I forgive you”, or imply forgiveness, but still carry that secret bitterness in their heart. Some might say “I forgive you” with one breath, but turn around and slander their brother or sister to someone else with the next breath.
But this is not genuine forgiveness. This is dutiful forgiveness. Or, this is forgiveness inspired by what’s expedient, by a dislike for the awkwardness of being in community with someone who’s hurt you. “Okay, I forgive you. That’s fine. Let’s just move on.”
No, genuine forgiveness comes from what Paul labels in verse 32, a “tender heart”, one that produces kindness, not continuing conflict.
Isn’t this the kind of forgiveness that you would want to receive if you wronged another? Is this, then, the kind of forgiveness that you have granted to those brothers or sisters who have hurt you in some way?
But there’s another characteristic of genuine forgiveness that Paul has described here. Look again at verse 32: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. As Paul indicates in this verse, genuine forgiveness follows the pattern of what God did through Jesus.
So the genuineness of our forgiveness is most clearly seen by how it compares to the forgiveness of God. Have we forgiven others in the same way that God has forgiven us? Well that begs the question: “How has God forgiven us?”
Well, in the first half of this letter, Paul had reminded the disciples in Ephesus about this very thing. He has just given them an incredible perspective on God’s mercy and now, according to 4:1, he is calling them to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
Turn back to 1:7, 8. Here he reminds them, in the opening lines of this letter, that…
7 In him [in Jesus Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us… (1:7, 8)
As Paul tells us here, this complete redemption (literally, this paying of a ransom for us), this forgiveness is an expression of God’s grace. How is grace involved? Listen as Paul goes on in chapter 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (2:1-7)
Do you see what this is telling us about God’s forgiveness? When God forgives He, in love, gives what is most needed to those who least deserve it. That is grace. And genuine forgiveness always flows from grace.
You see, when we forgive someone, we do not demand that they get what they deserve for what they have done. And genuine grace-inspired forgiveness goes beyond mere pardon. That is where much of the church’s teaching on forgiveness breaks down today. What is usually emphasized in articles or messages on forgiveness are the benefits for you. “Stop holding on to bitterness. When you forgive, you will be happier and healthier. So let it go.”
Now those things may be right, but that’s not what God’s word emphasizes about forgiveness. As we see in 4:32, genuine forgiveness is focused on the good of the offender, not our own good.
When God forgives us, he does not forgive and then keep us at arm’s length. When God forgives us, He does not forgive so He can nail us the next time. When God forgives us, He is not saying what we did was OK.
When God forgives He, in love, gives what is most needed to those who least deserve it.
If you have trusted that Jesus is your only hope and confessed that He is Lord, then even though you were once under God’s judgment, even though you were once dead, spiritually dead because of your sin, because of your rebellion against God, you have not only been forgiven of your wrongs. You have been forgiven of your wrongs in order to be made right with God; in order that you might enjoy the fullness of His life.
God did not forgive us so that He could feel better, but so that we could be made…alive together with Christ…So that we could be…raised us up with him and seated…with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus
Recognize that word “kindness”? It’s the same word that we find in 4:32. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
So not only does genuine forgiveness begin with a heart change, but it ends when that heart pours out the grace it has received by forgiving another person for their good. As the word implies, forgiveness is “for giving”, not “for getting”.
As brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we have been forgiven by God in order that we might be turned back to God. And so, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to forgive one another in order to point each other to God; to reveal God and His mercy to one another.
You see, God’s forgiveness is not limited by how much we’ve sinned, or the ways that we’ve disobeyed, because He has our greatest good in mind. Therefore we cannot withhold forgiveness from a brother or sister because we’ve judged their actions unforgivable.
So maybe you feel like you’ve had a heart change about someone who has wronged you. How can you know? Well, the result of that kind of change is that a tender heart bleeds God’s kindness. It is a heart concerned about the spiritual well-being of the other. That’s where genuine forgiveness comes from.
If we cannot forgive one another as God has forgiven us, then we call into question how well we really know God’s forgiveness.
When Jesus told the parable in Matthew 18 about the unforgiving servant who was first forgiven an incalculable debt, He was talking to those who could not see the connection between how God forgives and how we forgive.
When you are hurt by someone else, think about the pain Jesus suffered because of you. When you are angry about what someone said to you or about you, think about how God’s anger once rested on you. When you are tempted to condemn a brother or sister who has injured you, think about the eternal condemnation from which you have been rescued through faith in Jesus Christ.
To genuinely forgive one another, we must first know the forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…
III. Walking in Love (5:1, 2)
Did you notice that once again, we have been brought back to the example of Jesus; or to be more precise in this passage, to the example of what God did in Jesus. Here is the “just as” we first saw when we began our study in John 13:34, 35 where we talked about loving one another, loving fellow followers of Jesus, just as Christ has loved us.
So is our passage this morning, this call to forgive one another, is this connected to Jesus’ call to “love one another”? Absolutely! Just look back at where Paul goes next in verses, 5:1, 2: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Did you see the transition from chapter 4? In verse 1 Paul is reinforcing what he’s just said about following God’s example of forgiveness. “Therefore” we need to be imitators of God as…as what (?)…as his “servants”…as his “followers”…no, Paul says, “as beloved children”. There it is. “Children of wrath” (2:3) who have become “beloved children” because of God’s grace-inspired forgiveness.
But notice that we have come back to the subject of love. And in verse 2 what do we find? We find Paul’s restatement of the new commandment. “Walk in love, as [just as] Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…”
You see, by summarizing what he’s just said in this way he is confirming the very thing we’ve been exploring over the last four weeks. Though there are many expressions of it, there is, in fact, just one rule in this “Master-Planned” community, just one rule that regulates our relationships with one another: it is the new commandment that Jesus gave us: “love one another”.
And over the last three weeks, what we’ve been looking at is simply Paul’s application of this commandment to a variety of circumstances that churches will encounter.
When the disciples in Rome were erecting walls between each other because of diet and ethnic descent, Paul told them that loving one another means accepting or welcoming one another. When followers of Christ in Philippi were struggling with competing agendas, Paul told them that loving one another means considering one another as more important than oneself. When believers in Ephesus were injured, were wronged by a brother or sister, Paul tells them here that loving one another means forgiving one another.
And in all of these circumstances, in each of Paul’s responses, he always pointed them back to their Lord. He always pointed them to the Master that they were claiming to follow. “Walk in love, [just] as Christ love us and gave himself up for us…”
You see, Christlike, sacrificial, self-emptying, other-focused love must be the lifeblood of our church family. This love must be the foundation for our life together. It should inform every circumstance, every opportunity, every challenge we might face in our relationships with one another.
As we talk about forgiveness this morning, let me encourage you with something. Grievance-free churches are usually churches where people are just playing church; where people just come and go and do their duty; where indifference, not love, is the defining characteristic.
What I'm saying is that there can be something very healthy about the presence of grievances in the church. Just like any relationship, the more time you spend with someone, the more you let your guard down, the more you take things for granted, the more you discover about the other, the more you expect from the other, the greater the likelihood that there will be some hurt experienced, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
So let’s not be surprised when issues arise. But let us respond to those issues by asking, “How can I, in this situation, love my brother or sister with the love of Christ?”
Do you believe this kind of love is possible? It is! It As we see in 5:2 Jesus died in order to provide a perfect sacrifice, in order that we might be reconnected to God, in order that we might be remade by the Spirit of God; in order that we might reflect God AND GOD'S LOVE to this world through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Imagine….imagine a community of people that are radically focused on the good of the other. Imagine a community of men and women, boys and girls, of different ages, from different places and backgrounds, but united by a passionate concern to see God’s best accomplished in the other’s life AND in their world.
Isn’t that the kind of community you want? We shouldn’t have to imagine this. This should be, in greater degrees each day, this should be what defines our life as God’s people at Way of Grace Church. Is that your prayer? Is that your commitment?
It all begins when we look to Jesus Christ in faith. We welcome one another after first being welcomed by Christ. We esteem one another after first being esteemed by Christ. We forgive one another after first being forgiven because of Christ. If you haven't already, come to Him today. Respond to His love with trust. And when you do, you will find yourself part of a people striving to love one another in response to the very love that brings them together.