“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:30–32

Perhaps you are accustomed to saying, “Pardon me!” when you are asking someone to extend grace to you for a mistake, or not hearing someone’s words, or even following up a sneeze. It is usually a term employed when someone else has a grievance against us. Genuine pardon and forgiveness is a rich gift because our personal debt is the basis of the need.

Another quote is worth note: “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive!” When we are called upon to extend forgiveness, the tables are turned. The expense is all ours to release the debt that someone else owes us.

Pardon is a term derived from Latin (a combination of per—through, quite—and donare—to give). It means to release from punishment, to cancel, not exact a penalty, to forgive or excuse. The word forgive, meanwhile, is a middle English word meaning to pardon as well as giving up resentment and any desire to punish, to stop being angry against, to give up all claim to punish or exact a penalty, to cancel or remit a debt! Both words are a tall order in a thin-skinned world tending toward grievance rooted in selfishness and greed.

In order to gain an accurate grasp of the true nature of forgiveness you need to make God your exemplar of authentic forgiveness. If you learn the art of “measured” forgiveness from mere men you will never grasp the full richness of extending forgiveness. Some people extend forgiveness because they are powerless to do otherwise, or they are manipulated to do so by some outside force, or there may be no other choice because they sense that nurturing a seething grudge takes its personal toll. Some men forgive just because they are “nice,” or have been taught that is what education, gentlemanliness, or civility does. Even some forgive because they see it as a Christian sacrifice, noble, and a good work and they expect God to note and keep in His book of records.

All of these may be true and even some of these behaviors fit the parameters of the “Golden Rule” (Matthew 7:12). But there is a higher standard, a higher sensitivity, and a higher calling. You are to forgive according to the method, motive, and measure of God’s forgiveness found in our text.

The context of our verse informs us that forgiveness is never a solitary grace. Forgiveness extended to others must always be married to the forgiveness which God extends, and is always paired with other Christian graces. Isn’t that the underlying meaning in our Lord’s prayer instruction found in Matthew 6:12, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”?

God’s forgiveness is always full, perfect, and complete. It is based on His extension of His love to thoroughly undeserving people (Romans 5:8, 3:25f). Colossians 1:14 reads, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” The sister verse in Ephesians 1:7 reads, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” The lesson to every born-again believer is the same as our Lord describes in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, [wherefore] she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven the same loves little.” In other words, the full outpouring of your love toward others comes from a full sense of the outpouring of God’s love to you by forgiving you!

The abundance of God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner is one of the greatest illustrations of Paul’s meaning in Ephesians 3:17ff: “[that you] may be able to comprehend…what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge….” Some of my favorite verses in the Bible describe the wealth you and I have in God’s forgiveness through the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “It just keeps getting gooder and gooder,” as a pastor of mine used to say. “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered” (Psalm 32:1). “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). “…For You have cast all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38:17). “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). “I, even I, am He who blots out your transgressions for My Own sake” (Isaiah43:25). “…For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “‘In those days and in that time,’ says the LORD, ‘the iniquity of Israel shall be sought, but there shall be none, and the sins of Judah, but they shall not be found; for I will pardon those whom I preserve’” (Jeremiah 50: 20). Truly, such love is too wondrous for mere passing thought, it is worthy of a lifetime, no, an eternity of worship, adoration, and thanksgiving!

Ephesians 4:32 teaches the method of forgiveness, “be kind to one another.” It teaches the motive of forgiveness, “tenderhearted, forgiving one another.” It teaches the measure of forgiveness, “even as God in Christ has forgiven you!” Trust and obey.