Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:32
Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian believers to forgive one another comes at the end of a long list of practices that would promote unity and brotherhood. Forgiveness encompasses a summary of other practices that all promote relational unity.
Most people are familiar with Yeshua’s charge to believers that forgiveness of oneself with God is dependent on our capacity to forgive others.
“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.Matthew 6:14-15
Essentially, Yeshua is saying, “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven.” Paul appears to be saying the opposite: “You have been forgiven, therefore you should forgive.” Both maxims are true. For us to experience forgiveness from God, we must exhibit it ourselves. And when we have received forgiveness from God, we should therefore continue to extend it to others. Forgiveness, then, is the basis of all inter-personal relationships in the sight of God.
What I find interesting is in the passage where we typically read the words of Yeshua as “Forgive, and you shall be forgiven,” (Luke 6:37), a different Greek word for “forgive” is used than in most other places the word appears in the New Testament writings. In fact, this is the only place this form of the word is used.
The typical word translated as “forgive” is based on the root aphiemi which conveys the idea of a sending away. However, the word in Luke 6:37 is based on the root apoluo which focuses more on the action of release than the sending away. Both share nuanced meanings of dismissal or departing or leaving. However, terms based on apoluo are usually used of divorce, dissolving the bonds of marriage, a setting free of both partners.
Taken all together, these shades of meaning all provide pictures of the effects and responsibilities of forgiveness: it is to dismiss an offense that someone may have caused against us, to set them free from any perceived obligation we may be selfishly placing on them. We should be sending away those offenses, just as we have had our offenses released and sent away by God.
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his loving kindness toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.Psalm 103:11-12
God’s interactions with ancient Israel reveal his heart for all believers even today. If we are to faithfully mimic our heavenly Father, then our forgiveness of others should be a release and dismissal that is equally as all-encompassing and final.
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