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Forgiven to Forgive

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

Paul says not only “don’t be bitter,” but “be kind and forgiving to one another.” And we’re not going to do it just because we’ve decided to do it. We’re going to do it because we have realized that this is exactly what God has done to us. He has been kind to us when we have not deserved kindness. He has been forgiving of us when we did not deserve forgiveness.

And so you see, the Apostle Paul is saying “This is the key, friends.” It is only when you realize that you are the recipient of a kindness that you did not deserve, and a forgiveness that you did not earn, that you are then suddenly freed from the power of your bitterness. Only then do you realize that God has been better to you than you dared dream. In His love and kindness and goodness to you, He has set you free to be kind to those who haven’t earned it, and to forgive those who have deeply offended you.

How has God freed you to show this grace? By simply telling you to do it? No. By showing you His love and kindness and forgiveness first, and showing it to you in such a lavish way that it literally changes your life.

You know, Jesus tells a story of a woman just like that. In Luke chapter 7 we read the account of a woman with a terrible reputation in the community who shows up at the house where Jesus is staying one day, and she begins to anoint His feet. And the Pharisees that are there are indignant: “If this man were a prophet, He would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching Him” (Luke 7:39). And Jesus turns to them and tells them a story, and the application about the woman is this: “her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little” (Luke 7:47, NIV).

In other words, Jesus is attacking their attitude. They didn’t think they needed forgiveness, and consequently they didn’t love Him like they ought to. But this woman knew that she needed forgiveness, and she had received the gracious forgiveness of Jesus Christ, and she loved Him with all her heart. It had radically changed her life.

And you see, the point is simply this: that those who have been forgiven much are able to love and forgive much. Those who realize that they have been forgiven much by God in Christ are thus disposed to love much and are prepared to forgive. So the secret of not living this life of bitterness and instead living this life of kindness and forgiveness, is realizing the grace of God to us in Jesus Christ.

If you haven’t realized the greatness of this grace, I can tell you, my friends, you can’t do what the Apostle Paul is asking you to do. In that area of your deepest wounding in this life, there has to be more than some preacher standing up and telling you, “Stop being bitter. Start being kind and forgiving.” There’s got to be more. There’s got to be a prevailing, supernatural, overwhelming experience of the forgiveness and love of God in your life in Christ Jesus. But when that prevailing, powerful, supernatural, experience of the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the kindness of God in Christ comes, it sets us free to stop being turned in on ourselves and nursing our bitterness. It will empower us to deny ourselves and give ourselves away in love and forgiveness.

—J. Ligon Duncan