And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgives you. Ephesians 4:32.
Jacquie sat on one side of the room, the board members on the other. The chasm between them seemed almost impossible to span.
Jacquie had grown up in her hometown church, but the ties were severed when she left her first husband and married another man. Now, 20 years later, she desired rebaptism. She sobbed out her repentance and asked for forgiveness.
Silence followed. The board knew her situation well, the pain it had brought the congregation. Could they bridge the chasm?
I knew I had to speak. I spoke kindly but directly. "She has suffered enough. Let’s not give her any more pain. Paul’s counsel is for us to be kind to one another, 'tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you’ (Ephesians 4:32, KJV). If God, in all of His perfection, accepts and forgives us, we can forgive Jacquie.”
With quivering lips, her voice cracking, she responded. "I know I have done wrong,” she said. “For years I have felt guilty. At times the guilt has almost driven me crazy. Please accept me.”
I noticed a tear in the first elder’s eye. Then I realized that most of the church board were crying. Soon a chorus of voices responded in unison, "Of course—of course we will accept you.” Warmth, love, and acceptance filled the room. Board members reassured Jacquie of their love. Some hugged her. Others squeezed her hand in the warmth of Christian fellowship.
I stood back, recognizing again that our church was never more the church than at that moment. Here was the love of God in action. Here was Calvary demonstrated in the family of God.
As He hung dying on the cross Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness is an attitude of mercy toward those who have wronged us. It releases others from our condemnation because Christ has released us from His condemnation. It treats others as they do not deserve, because Christ treats us as we do not deserve. The essence of Christianity is forgiving like Christ forgives, accepting like Christ accepted, and loving like Christ loved.