Sunday, April 1, 2012

Colossians 3:13b - Christian Forgiveness (or, True Christian Mercy part 4)

Sunday school notes from 4/1/12

The following are the rather raw and unpolished notes used for teaching in my sunday school class.  If anyone is called upon to teach from Colossians and would like to use these notes as a resource, I would be happy to email the Word docs to you.  Hopefully you have access to several good commentaries, which will fare you far better than anything you find here. 

Colossians 3:12-13
12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
IV.    Forgiving.  The last of the 4 words that Paul uses to describe the truly Merciful Christian is the word “forgiving.”  He says “and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 
There are primarily 2 words used in the NT for “forgive.” 

The first word, the one used nearly 150 times, has to do with what we might call the “legal” or maybe “official” act of forgiveness.  It has the idea of a debt being cancelled or covered.  Imagine I owned a pharmacy and you are very sick and out of work and you come to get your prescription filled.  It is a very expensive medicine, but I give it to you and tell you that I’ll send you a bill at the end of the month.  The end of the month comes and you are still out of work, you have barely enough money to feed your family, and you come into me with the bill and say “Jason, I’m sorry, I don’t have the money yet – but once I get well I will be able to repay it.”  And I take the bill from your hand and I tear it up.  I tell you that bill no longer exists.  It has been erased from the record books.  That is the first word “forgiveness.”  It describes you right now if you are a Christian.  God has torn up your debt.   

But the second word used for forgiveness is different.  There is certainly a measure of overlap in terms of their meaning.  But this second word, the word Paul uses here, has a unique flavor to it.  It is used only about 23 times in the Bible, and only about half of those times is it actually translated “forgive.”  The other times it is translated with words like “give” or “bestow.”  The word literally means to “bestow a favor unconditionally.” 

It is the Greek word “charizomai.” 
Maybe you recognize in that word a similar Greek word often used in the Bible:  “Charis”  Charis is “grace.”

Another similar word is the Greek word “Charisma” which means a “gift.” 

And our word here that Paul uses is “charizomai.”  It is a word therefore that is built upon grace and focused on giving. 
Turn with me to Luke 7:21.  Here the disciples of John are sent to Jesus.  Note he “gave” sight to the blind.  That is the word we have as “forgive.”  The emphasis is a gift given, a gracious gift given.  Side note:  What a wonderful example John is for us in sending his disciples to Christ. John was in prison.  His life was drawing to a close.  He was concerned for the future of his disciples and their faith.  That is ultimately all we need to do as Christians – send folks to Christ. 
And so this “forgiving” has an emphasis on the “GIVE.”  And it is with that emphasis that Paul is telling the Colossians that they need to forgive.    

And that is the word Paul is using here in Colossians 3:13.  The Merciful Christian looks to bestow favors and shower goodness on the very person whom they are finding hard to deal with. 

So absolutely vital is this spirit of forgiveness to the health of the church and to the God-pleasing character of the church, that Paul expands a little on this point for our benefit.  And so let us look together at the nature of this forgiveness more closely together.

A.        THE OCCASION of this forgiveness:  “if anyone has a complaint against another.”  The phrase could literally be translated “if anyone has a complaint against anyone.”

I’m reminded of that cartoon strip, Ziggy.  Anyone remember that?  There was one clip in which Ziggy was standing in front of the “Complaint Department.”  And he says “I wish I were taller.”

One might imagine a visitor coming to church for the first time.  They look around inside.  They say “well, I see your bathroom is there, and your study is there, and the classrooms are there…but where is the complaint department?”  The Christian answer to that question is this:  The church’s complaint department is in a closet marked 313 – that is, Colossians 3:13.  “If anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Paul says that the occasion of this forgiveness is any complaint by anyone against anyone.  Paul uses broad language here. 

            1.         The word “complaint” is a broad and general word.  It means any quarrel with or fault found in someone else.  It is not a word limited to peccadillos.  It is not a word limited just the smallest inconveniences imposed on us by others. 

            2.         And the word “anyone” is broad.  It is not limited to those who are new Christians, or just those who are older Christians.  It is not limited to men or to women.  It is not restricted to church leaders.  We have had some men nominated for the office of deacon.  But this is not simply something restricted to deacons or elders or pastors or Sunday school teachers. 

Why do you suppose Paul is so deliberately broad in this statement about being a forgiving Christian?  “If anyone has a complaint against anyone.” 


1.         Paul knows something about sinful human nature.  Our tendency is to think that this rule applies to every situation…except my own. 

2          Paul knows the insanity of sin.  We tend to reason that the best way to fix a situation in which someone is continuing to offend me is by my coldness or disfavor directed toward them.  I mean, if I don’t act that way, how will they ever learn to change?  Really, I’m helping them by withholding the full measure of this forgiving spirit that Paul is commending here. 

3.         Because Paul knows that it is here that the Lord will exercise our graces almost more than any other area of our lives.  It is the problem that virtually every marriage runs into at some point.  “This person is not giving me what I want; therefore I am not going to give them what they want.”  And it happens in churches. 

4.         Another reason for this broad language is that Paul knows that this type of forgiveness is the surest way to know that we have been forgiven by God.  Thomas Watson the puritan pastor puts it this way:  We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven: let us look into our hearts, and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt but God as forgiven us.”

Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones, the London preacher, said something similar:  Whenever I see myself before God and realize something of what my blessed Lord has done for me at Calvary, I am ready to forgive anybody anything. I cannot withhold it. I do not even want to withhold it.

5.         Because Paul wants to keep driving us as Christians to Jesus Christ.  The only way to live out this principle of a forgiving spirit is to constantly be applying to Jesus Christ. 

That is the reason for the universal language here employed.  In John Davenant’s commentary on this phrase he puts it this way:  “If any man, that is, whoever in truth he may be, whether superior or inferior :  shall have a quarrel, that is, any cause of complaint whatever, on account of any wrong done either in word or deed : against any, viz. whether friend or foe; let him know that the duty of forbearance and forgiving is necessarily imposed on him.” 

B.        THE EXAMPLE of this forgiveness:           “even as Christ forgave you”

Notice where Paul points us for an example:  Jesus Christ.  If we were to use some adjectives or adverbs to describe the forgiveness of Christ, what words come to mind?

            1.         Costly – Colossians 1:14 “in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.                Spurgeon remarked once “I thought I could have leaped from earth to heaven at one spring when I first saw my sins drowned in the Redeemer's blood”

            2.         Joyful – Joy producing– The Psalmist says “blessed [happy] is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin”

            3.         Complete – “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin.”  The Puritan John Adams put it this way:  Sins are so remitted, as if they had never been committed.”

            4.         Perpetual – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

            5.         Free – “Justified freely by His grace”

            6.         Intentional & Personal – “He loved me and gave Himself for me”

            7.         Guaranteed – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

            8.         Life changing – “you were dead because of sin, but alive because of righteousness”

            9.         Heaven gaining – “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age.”

            10.       Eager – The Lord “delights in mercy.”

All these descriptions, and many more, help to give us a picture of the nature of Christ’s forgiveness of us.  And then Paul says “even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

C.        THE COMMAND of this forgiveness:  “so you must also do.” 

 Paul here lays it before the Colossians and before every Christian as an imperative.  Failure to forgive in this way, is to deny our own place and position as children of God. 

This is what the Merciful Christian looks like.  This is what God is calling us to “put on” and become.  These are the chief ingredients of the merciful spirit:





This Merciful Spirit is the opposite of the Angry Spirit which Paul had described earlier.  He is saying here:  “Listen – those things that formerly provoked you to ANGER you must now respond to with MERCY.” 

And this Merciful Spirit carries with it the greatest reward:  “Blessed are the Merciful,” Jesus said, “for they shall receive mercy.” 

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