"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Colossians 3:13,14. NIV.
Love is what bonds us together in the Church, not doctrine. When we exalt doctrine above love, we will use doctrine as an excuse to not love others who disagree with us. Love is bigger than our disagreements and therefore must be the center of our fellowship. Love is the one thing that binds us together in perfect unity.
Love and forgiveness go hand and hand. We cannot love someone and at the same time be unwilling to forgive them when they have wronged us. Forgiveness through Jesus is a way that God showed His love for us. For God so loved the world that He sent His son and now through faith in Jesus we are completely forgiven of all sin. At the same time, forgiving others is a way that we show our love for God. Forgiveness is a commandment of God and 1 John 5:3 tells us, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." Let me share three things I have learned as a pastor about love and forgiveness...
#1. If I love you, I will forgive you. I must remember that Jesus died for the people I dislike the most. As a pastor, people hurt me all the time with words and actions. Loving people means that I am willing to lay down my life for them. I have learned that while God works in my spirit, Satan works in my emotions. If I am to forgive others, then I must crucify my feelings and choose to forgive.
#2. If you love me, you will forgive me. Pastors mess up and at times mishandle sheep. I have made many mistakes as a pastor and have even unintentionally hurt people at times. I have learned that being humble and apologizing for my mistakes goes a long way with most people. If I know I have offended someone, then I want to do everything possible to help them forgive me.
#3. If I love you, I will forgive me. I have been called to love my neighbor as I love myself. Loving myself requires me to forgive myself when I have made a mistake. Shame should have no power over me because of my identity in Christ. Shame hinders me in my relationship with God and others. When I let shame rule over me, I usually become pitiful or am driven by performance - and both are ugly. If God forgives me, then who am I to not forgive myself?
Love and forgiveness are the most evangelistic tools that we have as Believers. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35. NIV.