Ephesians 4:32 (Common English Bible)
32 Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” (Ephesians 4:32)
John Wesley understood the need for forgiveness from both a giving and receiving perspective. His personal need for God to forgive him was a theme in much of his preaching. He also understood that God gives us strength to forgive others. Considering how many churches he had been thrown out of in his ministry, including one that hung him in effigy(!), Wesley was no stranger to being hurt.
In 1752, Wesley wrote this in his journal:
“I cannot but stand amazed at the goodness of God. Others are most assaulted on the weak side of their soul; but with me it is quite otherwise; if I have any strength at all (and I have none but what I have received), it is in forgiving injuries; and on this very side am I assaulted more frequently than on any other. Yet leave me not here one hour to myself, or I shall betray myself and Thee!“
Wesley was right in saying that he better not be left alone when it came to offering forgiveness for an offense. He knew that in his own strength, he wouldn’t last an hour. Neither would we.
Let’s talk for a moment about the spiritual discipline of forgiveness. Forgiveness means to cease to feel resentment against an offender; to pardon. It might surprise you to think of forgiveness as a spiritual discipline since it doesn’t make the usual list. But giving and receiving forgiveness is very necessary for our spiritual growth, even if it is one of the hardest disciplines to practice.
In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against us.” God desires that we not only seek forgiveness for ourselves, but offer it to others with the strength that comes through the Holy Spirit.
When we receive God’s forgiveness, we are absolved of our sin and washed “whiter than snow.” When we offer forgiveness, we remove obstacles to relationships, adjust our course, rekindle our joy, and are released from the past. As with all spiritual disciplines, forgiveness is good for the soul.
So today I invite you to consider ways to practice forgiveness. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Send a text. Write an offense on a slip of paper and burn it, or leave it at the altar when you receive communion.
Do these things, and God will set you free.
John Wesley, The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M. (New York: Carlton and Phillips. 1855), page 543.