Envisioning a Community of Forgiveness

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

In our reflections before Holy Week (Part 1 and Part 2), we were considering the question: Why should you forgive someone who wronged you? We saw that we are to forgive as an expression of kindness and compassion because God has forgiven us in Christ. Before we leave the topic of forgiveness, there is something else in Ephesians 4:32 that deserves our attention.

This verse reads, "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." To be sure, this verse speaks to each of us individually, calling us to kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. Yet, we must remember that this verse, like the rest of Ephesians, is not addressed to a single individual, but rather to a community, to the members of the body of Christ, to brothers and sisters in the family of God. You can see this corporate context in the phrases "to one another" and "each other." Ephesians 4:32 envisions, not just a bunch of separate Christians who forgive, but also a community of forgiveness.

Wherever the people of God gather as the church, that fellowship should be characterized by forgiveness. This doesn't mean minimizing sin. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Forgiveness is needed only when a wrong has been done. So, a community of forgiveness isn't the same as a "make nice" fellowship that overlooks wrongdoing so as to "live and let live." Rather, in a forgiving community, sin is taken seriously as a precursor to true forgiveness and reconciliation.

Yet, a forgiving community doesn't focus on sin as an opportunity to judge, to condemn, or to ostracize those who have done wrong. A forgiving community doesn't reward the proud who see themselves as less in need of forgiveness than others. Instead, a forgiving community is one in which all members are aware of their failures, in which all realize that they are lost apart from God's grace, and in which all who have been forgiven by God extend that forgiveness to others who have wronged them.

Throughout my five decades as a Christian, I have seen churches exemplify this kind of forgiving community. I have also seen churches demonstrate anything but forgiveness. Our track record as the body of Christ is mixed, to be sure. But, no matter how well or poorly we are doing at the moment, Ephesians 4:32 holds up to us a vision of a forgiving community, where people fail as people always do, and where failure is not dismissed, but where failure is always a prelude to forgiveness.

As we seek to live out the biblical vision of a forgiving community, you and I have the opportunity to shape, not only our churches, but also our other communities. In our marriages and families, in our neighborhoods and friendships, in our workplaces and cities, we can choose to forgive as God has forgiven us in Christ, thus creating in miniature what God intends for all of his people.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever been part of a forgiving community? When? What did you experience? How might you help the communities of which you are a member become more forgiving? What could you do in your family, workplace, classroom, football team, and church so as to live out the vision of Ephesians 4:32?

PRAYER: Gracious God, today I pray for the communities of which I am a member. I pray for my marriage, my family, my colleagues at work, my church, my city, my ministry partnerships, my friendships, that we might become communities of forgiveness, based upon and modeled after your forgiveness in Christ. Help me, Lord, to be one who contributes to and helps to shape the forgiving quality of these communities. May our life together as your people, a life characterized by forgiveness, be a demonstration to the world of the gospel. Amen.


Simplicity at Work

In our complicated, 21st century, high-tech, high-speed world, people have begun to crave a simpler approach to life and work. In the series Simplicity at Work, The High Calling explores simplicity in the places we work and the ways we work; and, perhaps more subtly, we want to explore simplicity at work in us through a variety of stories that reveal ways people find freedom and success when they simplify. Join us for Bible reflections, featured articles, and discussion. Invite your colleagues to do the same.

Image above courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in The H. E. Butt Family Foundation.