“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,
compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,
bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,
forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Two things stood out to me as I read through these verses.
The first is that sin is not specified in the offense. It is simply noted as “a complaint.” I’ve heard it argued that forgiveness doesn’t really apply when a sin hasn’t been committed, but this implies a broader understanding of the concept. And perhaps helps us to free ourselves from the trap of frustration, hurt, and offense that can come from seemingly lesser circumstances where something was misunderstood or overlooked, causing a break in the relationship on one or both sides.
The other detail impressed on me is that forgiveness is not indicated for a certain side. Both are called to forgive. The one who has been hurt, frustrated, or offended is to forgive the offender in his or her heart. And the one who was the offender – intentionally or not – is called to respond with forgiveness toward the other for bitterness that may have begun to stir or harshness that may have been present. This particularly applies if what occurred was more an oversight or misunderstanding, or a result of two very different personalities and perceptions, and no actual “wrong” was committed.
Because getting caught up on what actually happened will cause defenses to rise. The one hurt will seek to convey how they were effected and why it was wrong. The other will try to explain themselves and might resent the idea of needing forgiveness, because they didn’t do anything wrong.
And if forgiveness and understanding are not in focus, this goes round and round until the relationship is utterly broken or someone concedes.
That misses the whole point.
We must remember the most important part of all of this: relationship.
Relationship trumps being “right.”
And so forgiveness is to prevail on both sides.
Along with the other characteristics we are to display, which seem to be what makes forgiveness possible in the first place: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience. “And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Colossians 3:14-15).
Let us forgive. Listening with compassion and humility if there are complaints against us. Being honest with ourselves if there is a hurt that needs to be voiced, and clearing the air to not let any bitterness take root in our heart. May relationship prevail here, among the people of God, who are one body.
(One clarification: In some circumstances a boundary must be established,
for safety or health or other necessary reasons, which does not allow for continued relationship.
Those circumstances aren’t the focus here.
Forgiveness, in that case, is still needed to set yourself free from the inner effects of what someone has done to you,
but it doesn’t require you to open yourself up to continued damage or danger.)