I’ve been thinking about the importance of forgiveness in our relationships, especially in marriage. So what do I mean by “forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit”? Surely forgiveness is not listed in Galatians 5:22-23, which says: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” But I think that true forgiveness is impossible without those virtues. It is impossible to truly forgive someone if you do not bear the fruit of the Spirit. How?
1. Love — Self-love builds walls and defense mechanisms around you when someone wrongs you. But love for others helps you sympathize with the one who offended you. Instead of making you bitter, it stirs compassion in you for the other person’s struggles with sin.
2. Joy — It is a joy when you receive the gift of forgiveness from God for the wrongs that you committed against Him. In turn, you ought to share this joy with others by giving the gift of forgiveness.
3. Peace — The peace that’s required is not an “inner peace” nor a “ceasefire,” wherein you keep silent about the offense while your relationship problems are still unresolved. What is needed is unity and understanding in the relationship resulting from loving confrontation. The goal of loving confrontation with the other person is not in winning a “who’s right, who’s wrong” argument, but in achieving reconciliation and deeper understanding.
4. Patience — It’s ok if you offer forgiveness and the other person does not admit he/she has done anything wrong, because it takes patience to wait for him/her to be ready, and to realize that you might need to deal with the same relational issue again and again.
5. Kindness — If someone owes you a lot of money and you tell that person that he/she no longer has to pay up, it is a great act of kindness. In the same way, forgiveness is a great act of kindness because the debt between you is cancelled.
6. Goodness — Jesus said there’s no one who’s good except God. When we do not forgive, it’s as if we set ourselves over the other person as his/her Judge and Punisher. In a way, unforgiveness is human’s way of taking God’s place. On the other hand, forgiveness is letting God’s goodness reach the other person.
7. Faithfulness — Forgiveness is an act of faith toward God, not toward the other person. Even when we face rejection, we can still have the heart to forgive without being affected by the other person’s reactions, all because we have faith in God and our identity and security are dependent on Him.
8. Gentleness & 9. Self-Control — It is so easy to be angry or to be fearful/defensive when you are offended. Being able to control your impulse to anger and to react gently is hard, and realizing your first response to an offense should not be directed toward the other person — but toward God as you give that offense to God and asking Him for wisdom to handle the situation — are prerequisites to helping you to ultimately offer forgiveness.
Truly Spirit-filled followers of Christ should exhibit the fruit of the Spirit and a habit of forgiveness. Do you show the fruit and evidence of the Spirit in your relationships?
Perhaps there are more important things to a new year resolution than achievements like weight loss or attaining financial success. Maybe having a goal to improve your relationships, and using that as an avenue to live the fruit the Spirit, would be a more worthwhile goal for 2011.
(Note: giving credit where credit is due, this post was inspired by Paul David Tripp’s book What Did You Expect?, chapter 6)