Summary: Seventeen words of Ephesians 4:32 - Three imperatives that are the very keys to meaningful relationships with God and everyone else.
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.”
There is one fundamental issue that is at the very heart of human existence. It is so important that everyday, every moment is touched by it. If the issue is dealt with correctly temporal joy is a certainty, a joy that passes into eternity; if the issue is dealt with incorrectly, temporal misery is a certainty, a misery that could also pass into eternity. The issue is that of relationships. Everything about the human existence revolves around relationships – relationships with God, spouse, children, the church, bosses, the clerk at Penny’s, the US government, etc.
Even the world has recognized the importance of relationships to the human existence. Just walk into any bookstore (such as Boarders or Barnes and Noble) and you will find the shelves loaded with books dedicated to the task of establishing decent relationships. One goes so far as to describe humans as extra-planetary beings: Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars. On television there is a commercial for Eharmony.com that identifies 27 key points for a relationship. All one has to do is take its personality survey and success is guaranteed. The truth of the matter is, though, the road to relationship success does not require a multi-volume library, but just one volume called the Bible. In fact, it doesn’t even require memorizing the whole Bible, but rather the implementation of the 3 imperatives found in the 17 words of Ephesians 4:32.
I. So much of the New Testament is dedicated to inter-personal relationships, especially how to have godly relationships within a congregational setting. Within the seventeen words of this verse there are three principles offered as the path to meaningful human relationships. Let’s take them in reverse order as they occur in the passage.
“. . . forgiving one another as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.” The importance of this principle can be seen in the first recorded argument. When God confronted Adam and Eve with their sin, their response was to immediately start seeing the sin of others rather than acknowledging their own. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:12) Adam not only blamed Eve, but even God for creating woman in the first place (The woman YOU gave to be with me.) Eve, hearing her name mentioned replied, “The snake deceived me and I ate.” (Or more commonly, the devil made me do it!) The problem was that they had both sinned, and their refusal to accept their personal responsibility in the matter resulted in their hiding under a bush from God and the first recorded argument.
This “blameshifting” continues emphatically today. The key to relationships is not identifying the need of others for forgiveness, but your own. It is not being an expert in the sins of others, but rather an expert in your own so that you might forgive others as you have been forgiven by God. (Stop worrying about other people until you have worried about yourself.)
Once when Jesus was at a dinner party, a prostitute entered the room and began to wash his feet with her tears, anoint His feet with expensive fragrances, etc. After being criticized by His host, Jesus told a parable and then concluded by saying in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, that person shows little love.” Do you see the importance of forgiveness to relationships? It’s not just that this woman had great sins and required more forgiveness than the rest of the people in the room; it is that she knew she needed forgiveness and loved Jesus all the more for forgiving her. Did the host need less forgiveness? He too was totally dependent upon God’s forgiveness for salvation, but he was an expert in the prostitute’s sin rather than his own. He thought He needed little forgiveness and he loved little. Do you see why forgiveness is so important? The host could not rejoice over the woman’s repentance because he didn’t understand the depth of his own sinfulness! His relationship with the woman was ghastly.
“Forgiving one another as God in Christ Jesus has forgiven you.” I will need far more forgiveness from God than anyone, even everyone, on this planet will ever need from me. When I remember this I can be so much more patient, so much more forgiving toward others. As such, I will be so much more able to maintain a solid relationship with those around me.
Let’s apply this principle to other real life situations. Most children have the responsibility of emptying the cat litter box. Sometimes this responsibility gets ignored to the point the room starts smelling like road kill (or, as happened recently, my friend’s dog comes out of the laundry room with cat litter on her nose – if that litter box isn’t emptied quickly, the dog has a repulsive lunch.) Or how about church members bickering over the color of the new carpeting or changing the times of services? People can argue over these things, but to do so one would have to forget how much they have been forgiven by God.