In 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, Paul encourages the church to live harmoniously together in Christian community. One aspect of doing this is to be willing to forgive one another. Forgiveness is an important part of life together as believers, as it says in Colossians 3:13. One important reason we forgive others is because we have been forgiven so much by God (Matthew 18:21-35; The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant).
In western society today, forgiveness is often seen as weakness, as letting an undeserving person win. People’s emotions seek revenge, show resentment and bitterness towards the one who offended them. But forgiveness is a deliberate act of our will. It’s not given to a person who deserves it. It’s a deliberate act of love, mercy and grace. Forgiveness is the decision to no longer hold something against the person despite what they did to you. Our Christian character and Christ likeness grows, through showing forgiveness.
When we forgive, we choose to drop the matter. We choose not to bring it up again or dwell over it in our minds (Hebrews 8:12 & 10:17). It’s the decision to drop the offense we feel, to let it go, to release the person from their guilt. We do not use the matter against the person, tell others about it, put that person down, or big-note ourselves. To dwell on a matter that you have forgiven is to break your promise to forgive. But this is not always an easy thing to do. Often deep forgiveness is a process.
But forgiving a person does not mean accepting the person in their sin. If we did that we would be condoning the sin ourselves. We must point out their sin, help them to understand it as sin, from God’s Word and to turn away from that sin. Forgiveness is a wonderful way God uses to teach all of us valuable life lessons.
Our forgiving a person’s sin does not mean they should escape the consequences of their actions. If the offense is criminal, there are consequences for this. Our forgiving a person does not mean justice can be avoided. God does not forgive us by forgetting justice. If a person steals from us, we can choose to forgive that debt, if we believe that will be helpful to them. If they stole from another person, then that is not our decision to make.
Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).