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March 31, 2015, 2:00 PM

A Year of Sharing God's Love – Practicing Forgiveness

Forgiveness is the true test of your love.

It's easy to love a puppy or a kitty. It's easy to love a cute little baby. It's easy to feel strong emotions of romantic love toward someone who loves you back.

But real love isn't always easy. It requires forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an option. Forgiveness is the critical and essential quality of real love. So here are four observations about forgiveness:

1. Forgiveness defines love.

In our society and in the English language, “love” is a loosely defined word that can mean many things. We love sports. We love or don't love our jobs. We love warm, sunshiny weather. Personally, I love ice cream.

In our family we joke about loving things so much that we want to marry it. My wife, Linda, was talking with our four year old granddaughter, Alyx, recently.

“Alyx,” she said, “Do you love ice cream?”

“Yes, I do, Grandma.”

“Do you want to marry it?”
Alyx looked puzzled, and said, “Grandma, you can't marry ice cream!”

She is right, of course. “Love” has a bewildering number of meanings in our language. But the quality that allows us to have productive and mutually supportive human relationships, that is the love we are talking about, the one that is most important. And that love requires forgiveness.

2. Forgiveness is the practical application of love.

That is because we humans are flawed. None of us is perfect. If we never did anything wrong we wouldn't need to be forgiven. But all of us have made mistakes, forgotten a promise, misunderstood a feeling, disappointed someone we love, and yes, sometimes deliberately deceived someone or misled someone for our own advantage.

If that is true of you and me, it is also true of everyone else. I mean it's true of our children, our parents, our spouses, our neighbors, our friends, our fellow-Christians, to name the ones we are inclined to love.

But love that is real has to have a way to keep the love alive in spite of our human imperfections. That's why forgiveness is essential. Love that demands perfection and comes with qualified conditions is not love, it's manipulation. “I will love you IF......” is not love. And neither is “I forgive you BUT.....” That's just another formula for manipulation.

3. Forgiveness is the real power of love, the key to its endurance.

Love is hard enough when the person we love is “lovable”. But the challenge of love is to love even the “unlovable”. Now this isn't a concept I came up with myself. In fact, it's hard enough for me to practice forgiveness to those who clearly love me. Why would I ever want to love someone who DIDN'T love me back? Maybe that's not a good idea. Maybe that would leave us unnecessarily vulnerable.

I know you are way ahead of me here. We know we are supposed to love even our enemies, not because we are naturally inclined to do so, but because of what Jesus teaches:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

– Matthew 5:43-48 (NIV)

Is Jesus right? I believe he is, because only real love, forgiveness, makes any and all human relationships work. Without forgiveness marriages wouldn't work. Without forgiveness, people would be fighting against each other, seeking revenge, “returning evil for evil” until the last person standing. And that extends beyond family and friends, to encompass all of humanity. The greatest power on earth is not hatred, fear, violence or anger. It is forgiveness, the real power of love. It is the divine quality embedded in our humanity that sustains our race and gives us hope.

4. Forgiveness is the test of love, it's character.

Loving even our enemy turns out to be a good idea. It is not unrealistic. It doesn't make us gullible, nor does it mean we should continually put ourselves in harms way. No, it really is a positive goal that strenghthens us rather than weakens us. It isn't easy to love everyone. But it is possible. It is the character of God. It was practiced by Jesus. (Remember his words about his executioners? “Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing.”) And others have provided us with good examples. It is how Mother Teresa was able to care for the outcasts and the dying on the streets of Calcutta for decades. If you stop to think about it, perhaps you personally know someone who exemplies this quality. And it can be you and me. But not alone. It takes faith. The faith to pray with Jesus: “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” Amen.

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