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Life After Forgiveness

Forgiveness is not a period; it is an ellipsis.

“But above all these things put on love” (Col. 3:14, NKJV). 

When someone has wronged us our focus of attention is the offense and the damage it has caused. In looking to forgive how do we dislodge the wedge that has become embedded in our relationship and threatens further separation? How can we disarm the explosive, forgiving the guilt of a sin so that it can be addressed without further damage? How can we separate someone’s transgression from them as the transgressor, removing it from them as far as the east is from the west? 

The Word of God gives us clear and extensive instruction in how to forgive, and why. We are to forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us. Paul unpacks some of the active elements involved: “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Col. 3:12–13). Solvents like mercy, kindness, and humility work by the grace of God to dislodge the grip and grime of sin.

But forgiveness is not a period; it is an ellipsis. A period brings an end to the matter. An ellipsis says there is more to come, more that needs to be done. Those three dots lead us to ask, “Now what?”. They indicate a step on a journey of peace, a mission of healing. Of first importance, we want to keep to the path, moving forward and not doubling back. Despite the gravitational pull the offense exerts upon our pride, we want to press on in prayer, “Lord, I do forgive. Help me in my unforgiveness.” 

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul mentions a man who had committed egregious sexual sin (1 Cor. 5:1). The greater problem was the church’s tolerance of that sin, as well as lack of care for the sinner and concern for the body. Paul urged them to address the issue and put the man outside the safety of the church (1 Cor. 5:2-5), as an exercise of church discipline. 

Evidently, the man responded to discipline and sought restoration with the church, even with his baggage, even with his sin and shame dogging him. We don’t know all the details but we do know that the appropriate response to his return was forgiveness. He who had been put outside the church was now to be embraced by it and tended to with the comfort of the gospel. 

How should they treat this man? Paul tells us. “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:6–8).

What does Paul highlight?

  • The word used for forgive is charizomai. It means to give grace, to extend to the man something he does not deserve and cannot earn, to bless instead of curse. While aphiemi acts to drop an offense so that it can no longer be held over the other or used as leverage against, charizomai looks to give grace, establishing a new trajectory to the relationship. To forgive is like a foot planted into the turf to change direction.
  • The man convicted of his sin needs the comfort of the gospel and merciful embrace of fellow sinners saved by grace. The word for comfort could also be expressed as encouragement, so that he will not be crushed by the weight of grief for his wrong. We get a feel later in 2 Corinthians for the profound conviction of godly sorrow and the deep need for the Balm of Gilead to administer to it (see 2 Cor. 7:6-13).
  • The idea is not to enable sin or excuse it or condone it, but rather to extend the love of Christ in the gospel, a love each of us has intimate knowledge of and if we rightly consider it, appreciation for. Paul speaks of confirming their love, which carries the sense of reaffirming it through not only word but also deed, which is how love is applied in conflict (1 Cor. 13:4-7). 

Paul makes it clear that he is on the same page as the Corinthian church in forgiving this sin (2 Cor. 2:10). He also brings to bear the present danger of not forgiving, of not loving, of denying the power of the gospel: “lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:11). Do you see what is going on? The church had handed the man over to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5) and they are not to give him back now that he has been rescued from his folly. They are to welcome him and minister to him with the consolation of Christ. 

Our tendency is to read Paul’s words urging love, comfort, and care, and say, “Yes, but….” Yet life after forgiveness attests to the promise and power of gospel forgiveness. God’s word to us is this: “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” (Eph. 4:30–32).

Love is the "what next" after granting forgiveness. “But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14). We are to put on love. It is love that brings healing, promotes wholeness, and demonstrates how God dealt with us (Rom. 5:8-9; 12:9-21).


For more on the principles and practice of forgiveness, see Finding Forgiveness: Discovering the Healing Power of the Gospel (Stanley D. Gale, Reformation Heritage Books, 120 pages). Click here for an article on Repentance and Forgiveness.

Stan Gale

Stanley D. Gale (MDiv Westminster, DMin Covenant) has pastored churches in Maryland and Pennsylvania for over 30 years. He is the author of several books, including A Vine-Ripened Life: Spiritual Fruitfulness through Abiding in Christ and The Christian’s Creed: Embracing the Apostolic Faith. He has been married to his wife, Linda, since 1975. They have four children and ten grandchildren. He lives in West Chester, Pa.
Books by Stan Gale

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