God’s Word for You
Colossians 3:13b-14 As the Lord forgave
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, July 20, 2019
13 As the Lord forgave you, you should do the same. 14 Above all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. And be thankful.
As further examples of putting our faith into action, Paul adds these three: Forgive, love, and be thankful. His example of forgiveness is perfect and touches every heart, since every human being has been forgiven by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes there is a question as to whether we can truly forgive one another. Do we have that authority? Yes, we do. Jesus gave that authority to his church. He opened the door to this forgiveness deliberately, showing us that it belongs to the whole church, not just certain members of the church. First, after peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Lord said, “I will give you [Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). A week later, after the Transfiguration, he expanded this to the whole church: “If [an unrepentant sinner] refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector. I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:17-18). And again, just before the ascension, Jesus “breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven” (John 20:22). If Jesus had given to the whole church first and then narrowed it down to one apostle such as Peter, we would accept this. But he gave it to the one (to Peter), then to more (the apostles), and then to the whole church, expanding the office, not narrowing it.
This is still misunderstood, however. Some think that only a pastor has the authority to forgive. When C.F.W. Walther (the founder of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) returned to Germany for a visit in the 1850s, he found that many Lutherans had fallen in their ignorance of the Scriptures to a sad state of belief. “I heard, to my regret, from a highly esteemed, believing minister the statement that a layman may proclaim truths of great comfort to others, but that he cannot administer absolution, that being a privilege that God has reserved for ministers, ordained and installed by the Church. The conception which this clergyman had of absolution was none other than that of the papists. I fought the view which he had expressed strenuously, but without success. The statement, repeated after the Pope, that sins are forgiven when a minister makes a statement to that effect, but not when a layman does so, is simply awful” (The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel, p. 187).
When we forgive, it is because Christ has forgiven us. We do not need to probe more deeply for secret sins, because we do not have any command to investigate secret sins, but only to forgive sins that are confessed. The pastor does this regularly as a part of his office, but we do it for one another out of love for Christ.
Love, Paul says, is the virtue that binds all other virtues together. That is to say, it is the string or chain which ties up all the other virtues into a package or a bundle. Love, we could say, is both ends of the string. It is the beginning of the bundle and the end of it. Love (the love from God) begins all our virtues, and love (our love responding to God’s love) is the other end of all our virtues. We love because Christ loved us (1 John 4:19). For this we should always be thankful, and we should always be showing our thankfulness in the way we treat one another.
Forgive, love, and show your thankfulness. These are reasonable, doable, and measurable responses to the love of God. His invitation is only for us to do what he has already done. How shall I show my thanks? By loving. How shall I show my love? By forgiving. How shall I show my forgiveness? Let me start with thanking God for the life and companionship of the one I have forgiven.
Pastor Timothy Smith