Summary: What is forgiveness and what it is not?
FORGIVING OTHERS – COLOSSIANS 3.13
Read Colossians 3.13 – this is my text today.
In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, there is a lady called Miss Havisham. If you have read the book, or more likely seen it dramatised television, you will know that she spends her days in darkened rooms wearing a wedding dress that is old and faded. In the story we learn that many years before Miss Havisham was jilted by her fiancée on the morning of their wedding at exactly 8.40am. For Miss Havisham life stopped at that precise moment on that day. This is what she says about the deterioration of her wedding dress: “The mice gnawed at it, and sharper teeth than teeth of mice have gnawed at me.” Miss Havisham is a sad lady. She is also a bitter lady holding on to a past hurt refusing to forgive. In fact, the darkness and drabness of the house and of her clothes, reflects the state of her soul. She is imprisoned by her past. The clock stopped at 8.40am for Miss Havisham. Now let me ask you: “Has the clock stopped at a certain point in your life? Are there past hurts and offences that you are holding on to and refusing to forgive? Are you a prisoner like Miss Havisham? Living in dark and drab surroundings which reflect the bitterness of your soul?” This morning I want to look at Forgiving Others. Turn with me to Colossians chapter 3 and in particular verse 13. Paul had written this letter to the Colossians in around AD60. It would appear the purpose of the letter was to refute some false teaching within the church concerning ceremonialism, asceticism, angel worship, secret knowledge and a reliance on human wisdom and traditions over and against the gospel of God’s free grace. So that is the context in which this verse is written. If you look at verse 12 you will see that Paul first gives the believer a list of five virtues that they are to clothe themselves with before he instructs them about forgiving one another. These five virtues, not an exhaustive list, are to be seen in the lives of the Christian believers in Colossae. Without these virtues in their lives there have no means to follow the instruction of verse 13. Turn to verse 13 – read.
It appears a simple enough thing, almost an obvious thing, to tell the believers. Bear with one another, forgive one another and the reason you are to do this is because Christ has forgiven you. Simple, just follow the instructions. Yet the very fact that Paul had to write such a thing to the believers at Collossae means that it was not happening, or in evidence, amongst them. Paul is aware that some, maybe even the majority, of the believers were not bearing with one another and were not forgiving one another. Like Miss Havisham they were holding on to the pain of the past and it had become a bitter chain around their soul until even their very outward appearance was reflecting their inner disposition.
Bear with one another. There is a little saying, it goes like this: “Living with the saints above will be heavenly glory, living with the saints below, that is a different story.” How very true. A minister friend of mine, actually a bishop, once told me that in every congregation there are VDP’s – very draining (demanding) people. People who demand attention, and do all sorts of things to get that attention, and who drain the energy out of you when you spend any length of time with them. No doubt such people existed in Colossae, but you know I don’t think those are the people Paul has in mind when he says “bear with one another…” It is the everyday relationships within the congregation that he is speaking of. It is the making of allowances for people. It is following the example of Christ who humbly served others because it was His Father’s will and because it brought His Father glory. We hear a lot today about ‘my rights’ – I think what Paul was saying, following Christ, set aside your rights, your opinion of yourself and bear with one another. You know as adults we teach our children to share, that they cannot always have their own way and to take into consideration other children’s feelings. When did we grow out of those things? When did we stop seeking to always have our own way? When did we cease to share? When did we ignore the feelings of others when we made decisions or committed to an action? How hypocritical of us as adults to tell children to behave in a manner that often as adults we fail to do.