Summary: I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven.
Have you ever played King of the Hill? That’s the game where you try stay on top of a hill while everyone else attempts to push you off. It’s not a game to play in your Sunday clothes. Nor is it a game for the faint of heart. It’s a game that usually ends in tears and fractured friendships. That’s probably why kids don’t play this game very often. It’s too hurtful.
Although we may not be in the habit of climbing every dirt pile we come upon and shouting: “I’m the king of the hill!” daring passers-by to challenge that claim, our life is a continuous game of emotional King of the Hill. Whenever someone slights us, whenever others make fun of us or fail to thank us, we feel as if we’ve been pushed off our perch and we don’t like it. We’ll either whip around and give a good shove back with a cutting remark of our own, or seem to bear the slight while we roll down the hill we’ve been shoved off of, picking up speed as we replay the hurtful words and actions in our mind until we fall to pieces when we smash against the rock of resentment. (adapted from Jonathan Werre)
There is another option: forgiveness. As we continue to work at guarding the good deposit of Christian teaching outlined in the Apostles’ Creed, we’ll learn that in the Third Article we confess: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” With those words we’re not just saying, “I believe that I am forgiven.” We’re courageously confessing for all to hear: “I choose to forgive as I have been forgiven.” The Apostle Paul teaches the importance of such an attitude when he wrote the following to the Corinthian Christians: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. 9 The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:6-11).
Do you remember what we learned about the congregation in Corinth last week? We learned that they were a divided group. They professed their preference for one pastor over another and had forgotten that as members of the Holy Christian Church, the Communion of Saints they were one people, connected by one bond, headed towards one goal. But that wasn’t their only struggle. This congregation had also failed to practice church discipline. When one of its members started to live with someone who was not his wife, the congregation turned a blind eye. Paul made clear that the way to show real love to that individual was to call him to repentance, and if he refused, to remove him from church membership. The congregation listened and excommunicated the individual when he ignored their calls to leave his sinful lifestyle.
The good news was that this loving action worked! The individual repented of his sin. However, the congregation was now slow to forgive and receive the individual back. That’s why Paul wrote: “The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. 7 Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8).
With these words Paul explains that forgiving is more than saying politely, “Don’t worry about it,” while we continue to stew over the sin so that it smolders in our heart threatening to ignite spiteful thoughts whenever we see the individual who hurt us. Instead, Paul explains, those who forgive are also to “comfort” and thereby “reaffirm” love (2 Corinthians 2:7, 8). The word “reaffirm” is a legal term. It’s what you do when you finalize a contract. In other words the congregation was to make it very obvious that they had forgiven the individual by the way they treated him with kindness and genuine love. They weren’t just to shake his hand when he came in for worship and then leave him standing by himself in the corner as if he was a sweaty t-shirt no one wanted to get near. When the congregation planned a get-together they were to be sure to include their once wayward brother. In this way they would follow the example of God. He didn’t forgive sins by saying, “Don’t worry about it.” God forgave our sins in a dramatic demonstration of love when he sent his Son to pay for them with his death on the cross. And think of how that same Jesus never shied away from showing love to sinners like dishonest tax collectors. He ate with them and even called one to be a trusted disciple. Just as God demonstrates forgiving love in obvious ways he calls on us to do the same.