“He that cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.” Those words of 17th-century British historian Edward Herbert underscore one reason why we need to be forgiving toward others: Sooner or later, we may need to ask others to forgive us. (Matthew 7:12) There is, however, a far more important reason for us to be forgiving. Notice the apostle Paul’s words found at Colossians 3:13.
Because we are all imperfect, we may at times irritate or offend others, and they may do the same to us. (Romans 3:23) How can we maintain peace with our imperfect fellow humans? Inspired by God, Paul advises us to be tolerant and forgiving. That counsel is as relevant today as it was when it was written almost two thousand years ago. Let us take a closer look at Paul’s words.
“Continue putting up with one another.” The words “continue putting up with” render a Greek word that suggests being tolerant or forbearing. One reference work says that Christians display this quality by “a willingness to bear with those whose faults or unpleasant traits are an irritant to them.” The words “with one another” tell us that such tolerance is to be mutual. That is, when we remember that we have traits that may irritate others, we will not allow the things we may dislike in others to disturb the peace between us and them. But what if others sin against us?
“Continue . . . forgiving one another freely.” According to one scholar, the Greek word rendered “freely forgive” “is not the common word for remission or forgiveness . . . but one of richer content emphasizing the gracious nature of the pardon.” Another source says that this word can mean “to render something gratifying, a favor, a benefit.” We show ourselves gracious by willingly forgiving even when we have “a cause for complaint against another.” Why, though, should we be willing to grant such a favor? For one thing, because before long we may need the offender to return the favor by forgiving us.
“Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also.” This is the foremost reason why we should freely forgive others: Jehovah God freely forgives us. (Micah 7:18) Think for a moment about the great favor that Jehovah bestows upon repentant sinners. Unlike us, Jehovah does not sin. Yet, he willingly and completely forgives repentant sinners even though he knows that he will never need those sinners to return the favor by forgiving him. Truly, Jehovah is the foremost one who freely forgives repentant sinners!
Jehovah is the foremost one who freely forgives repentant sinners!
Jehovah’s mercy draws us to him and moves us to want to imitate him. (Ephesians 4:32–5:1) We do well to ask ourselves, ‘Since Jehovah so graciously forgives me, how could I withhold forgiveness from a fellow imperfect human who is genuinely repentant for having sinned against me?’