Decades ago I had an employer, a professing Christian, active in ministry. He was a charismatic man with big dreams, and his employees were devoted to him. But his dreams were bigger than the reality in which we all lived, and the business foundered. Paychecks became sporadic, but his bright optimism, our belief in his vision, and our loyalty kept us around. Eventually, however, it got to the point that he neglected to pay us for weeks on end. This went on for two or three months before I finally quit, but there were others of us who stayed far longer waiting for that oft-promised ship, carrying its thousands of dollars of back-pay, to come in. One of the last straws came for me when I learned that all the while we were not getting paid, our boss was renting a luxury home in Dana Point. I was indignant.
I, too, was a professing Christian then. I knew that the Scriptures teach a man not to withhold wages from his workers. When I finally quit I took my case to the Labor Board to try to force payment. But before I got very far in the process my conscience began to trouble me:
When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints?...To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" 1 Cor. 6:1,6-7And there was also this:
"and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Mt. 6:12So I abandoned my claim and wrote my former boss a letter forgiving him the debt he owed me.
When I look back in my memory at that time of my life, what I remember is the joy of being able to look that man in the eye again and smile, and to see him smile in return. I have never regretted that decision, or any decision to forgive after that. The freedom to love is more precious than anything it might cost. And it does cost. In order to forgive I had to determine to absorb the loss and the offense that had come with it.
These many years later I have come to understand more fully the gospel I never really grasped all those years ago. Back then I followed, when I followed, as one following a rule book. But even then I experienced the sweet reward of warm affection that forgiveness brings.
"And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him..." Colossians 1:21-22This is what God did for us in Christ. He absorbed our sin against Him at the cost of His precious and sinless life. He did this while we were still his enemies, and this is what he calls us to do for each other.
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." Col. 3:12-14This harmony is worth everything it cost Christ and everything it costs us.