“Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — John 7:38
Forgiveness ... More Than a Coverup, by Randy & Gini Kittle

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The love of Christ dwelling within us should compel us to cover the faults and failures of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to see them through the eyes of forbearance — believing the best, hoping the best, and desiring forgiveness and restoration when they have fallen or sinned against us. First Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “… covers all things.” The Greek word that is translated as “covers” in this verse is “stego,” which literally means “to cover like a roof.

Since Gini’s father was a roofer, this has special meaning to her. She remembers as a little girl when her dad would come home at night and smell of tar. Many times his shoes left awful tar marks on the kitchen floor that her mother had to remove with a special solvent. Yet, it was this same tar that would fix leaky roofs; sealing them and protecting homes from water damage. In like manner, when we pour our love upon others it flows into every crack and opening, shielding them from the storms of life. Love protects and covers as a roof covers and protects a home.

When we truly have the love of God for others, we will draw a veil over their failings. Love conceals everything that should be concealed, betrays no secret, and retains the trust that has been given. This is the nature of fervent, godly love.
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

More Than A Coverup
To cover the sins and faults of others means much more than simply to hold back from telling others. Not exposing those we care about to public inspection and ridicule is like merely putting a tarp over a leaky roof. It is only a temporary cover. Although this may be necessary to stop the damage, only the “tar” of forgiveness can truly seal the breach and cover it completely. Godly love seeks to forgive and restore wherever possible.

Plato compared the souls of foolish men to a leaky sieve that is not able to contain anything through unfaithfulness and forgetfulness. When a brother fails, what do we do? Do we lift him up or cast him aside? Do we cover their faults or whisper about them? Do we try to work directly with the one in trouble or engage in character assassination? It is easy to show love and forbearance toward someone who has stumbled when we are a disinterested third party … but what happens when we are the ones who have been hurt and offended? Do we respond with quiet annoyance, a violent burst of temper, a crying spell, a sudden withdrawal, a jealous act, or an unkind remark? None of these is the response of love that brings forgiveness.

Forgive, Then Forget
Colossians 3:13 shows us how the Lord expects us to respond to each other.
“Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” We are to forgive others as the Lord has forgiven us. This means more than merely forgiving others because God has forgiven us. We must forgive them as the Lord forgives, in a similar manner. Our response to an offense should reflect the forgiveness God has shown us. Like Him we need to forgive and forget.

However, it is important that we first forgive, and then forget — not just try and forget that we have been offended. One reason we may want to simply forget an offense is to avoid confrontation. We may feel that to confront or rebuke a friend is to bring a fresh offense, to heap hurt upon hurt. To lovingly rebuke a brother who has sinned against you is more than just a good concept for Christian relationships. It is the Lord's instruction.
“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3). Notice that if you are willing to bring the rebuke, you must also be willing to grant the forgiveness! The Scriptures also instruct us to bring the reproof and forgiveness in a spirit of gentleness. “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

Although bringing a rebuke may seem “harsh,” what you are really saying is “I care too much about our relationship to let it slip away because of this offense. I am willing to let you know I am hurt, and that I want to forgive you.” It should come as no surprise that these are the Lord's instructions, for this is His character.
“As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Too often people want to “just forget it,” and try to ignore some hurtful wound instead of forgiving it. But denial and delay won't make the sin or the wound go away. It must be dealt with. If when others wound us we deal with the situation by simply trying to forget it instead of lovingly forgiving, we are setting ourselves up for trouble. This is not covering like a roof; it is simply covering it up. If you paint over an old rusty mailbox without removing the rust, it may look better … but not for long. Soon, the underlying rust will begin to eat through the overlying cover. You see, unless you have truly forgiven someone for causing an offense, you will not be able to forget the offense. It may be hidden, but it is still lurking under the surface. This is much like pulling out a dandelion weed without getting all of its root. It may look like it’s been taken care of, but it will just keep coming back. It is the same with an offense, it will keep cropping up until forgiveness removes the entire bitter root of the hurt

The Bitter Root
One time while snow skiing in Colorado, we were going from one mountain peak to another. To cross over we had to ski a “catwalk” (appropriately called so because they are quite narrow). The difficulty with this particular trail was that it went slightly uphill, and so required a lot of work to get up the slope. Just as this trail became quite difficult, we noticed a new, nice-looking ski-run that seemed to gently course down the mountain in the direction we wanted to go. This new, easier way was named “Bitterroot.” It appeared to be an easy way out, the answer to our problem, but we decided to stop and check the trail map. Upon examining the map we discovered that Bitterroot, although an inviting ski-trail, would take us nowhere! It led to a secluded neighborhood on the side of the mountain. If we had foolishly taken it, we would have had no way to get back to the top of the mountain, or for that matter, no way to ski down to the bottom!

In the same way, when we become hurt and wounded, confrontation and forgiveness can seem to be a difficult path and we may begin to look for an easier way. The enemy will present bitterness as a wide and easy route to deal with offenses. Once we allow bitterness to take root within us, however, it leads us nowhere. Not only do bitter roots fail to take care of the hurts and wounds, they become more difficult to remove the longer we allow them to grow. When we are tempted to take the “easy route,” let us pause and check the “map of God’s Word”;
“Pursue peace with all people … lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:14-15).

As this verse says, bitterness has a defiling effect. Unless we remove bitterness, it will begin to flavor other areas of our lives, and other people's lives as well. Hurts, offenses, and disappointments can leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths that is hard to get rid of. When Randy was a boy, he used to make “dandelion trumpets” by picking the tallest dandelion he could find, breaking off the flower, and then blowing through them. They made an interesting trumpet-like sound. The only problem was if you accidently breathed in while the stem was still in your mouth. Then, the terrible bitter-tasting dandelion juice was drawn into your mouth, which was difficult to get rid of. Even if you immediately spit it out and rinsed your mouth with water, the bitter taste just seemed to linger. Finally, when you thought you'd rinsed your mouth enough to rid it of the taste, it was supper time. But the first sip of milk would let you know the lingering taste was still with you, showing how difficult it is to get that bitterness out of your mouth.

When we are hurt, love compels us to forgive. This not only releases the one we care about, it treats the wound we have received so it will heal and not become infected by bitterness. Even if we have taken the “easy way” of bitterness, forgiveness can remove every bitter root. If we will forgive those who have wounded us, the living water of God will wash away every trace of bitterness from our lives.

The Prison Of Unforgiveness
When we get hurt and fail to forgive, we not only become bitter, we tend to build walls of separation around our hearts so we won’t be wounded again. With each offense we put up a new wall of protection. These walls are designed to keep out those things that might bring about any further wounding. The problem with this is that walls of separation not only keep others out, they keep us isolated inside! Although we may feel comfortable at first, eventually we will realize that our “castle of protection” is nothing more than a “dungeon of imprisonment.” The end result is that we find ourselves penned in on all sides, unable to enjoy the freedom of the Lord. Christ died to set us free, but unforgiveness causes incarceration.

Proverbs 18:19 tells us that
“An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.” The walls of self-protection that end up surrounding our hearts are strong and difficult to remove — for we, by our own will, have chosen each stone and set them in place. The barred gates of our fortified hearts can only be opened by one key. Forgiveness is the only key that can open the gate and bring freedom. Love turns the key of forgiveness to set ourselves and others free from the prison of unforgiveness we have built.

As He Has Forgiven
A great aid in helping us accept the faults and failures of others and forgiving them is remembering how God has covered our sins — sins of long ago and sins of today; sins of omission and of commission; sins of the body, of the soul, and of the spirit. When we think of the extent of God’s forgiveness, we think of the words of the psalmist who said:
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). Thankfully David did not use the distance from north to south as his standard, for that is a finite, measurable distance. But the distance from east to west is infinite. No matter how far westward we might travel, we still have just as far to go as when we started. And this is how far our sins have been removed from us!

The prophet Micah declared,
“You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Yes, our sins have been locked in the trunk of the atonement and sunk to the bottom of the sea of forgiveness. Isaiah confirms God’s intent to remove from His sight every sin that separates us from Him, “You have cast all my sins behind Your back” (Isaiah 38:17). When we fail God, we long to have our sins wiped away … totally disintegrated. The Lord has promised us that He has “vaporized” our sins. “I’ve blotted out your sins; they are gone like morning mist at noon!” (Isaiah 44:22). The Bible exhausts the possibility of language in telling us how completely God forgives. God’s love covers us with forgiveness, sheltering us from the storm of His wrath against sin.

God not only forgives, He forgets:
“I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). How can this be? How can the God who knows all things not remember our sins? We can understand how He could forgive us for them, but how could our sins be so completely removed from us that He doesn't remember that we ever committed them … just as if we had never committed them. After all, we can still remember them, and Satan certainly remembers them. How can God, who cannot lie, declare that He will no longer remember our sins?

Let us share a story with you that can help us better understand God’s amazing forgiveness; a forgiveness that both forgives and forgets. We were leading a Bible study group and had invited everyone to submit questions for discussion. One of the members of the group asked a question about Jeremiah 31:34. They wanted to know how God could not remember Peter’s sin of lying and denying he knew Jesus when this story is written in the Bible? What an interesting question. God has declared that He will remember our sins no more, and yet there are sins of some of the saints written in His Word.

As Randy prayed about this puzzling question, the Lord gave Him an interesting vision. In this vision he saw a man who looked like we might imagine Peter looked reading a Bible. Randy could see the Bible was turned to the twenty-sixth chapter of the book of Matthew. As Peter sat there reading, he was weeping and the Lord was standing behind him with His hand upon Him. When the pages became visible you couldn't help but notice that large sections of the text were just missing. Where certain verses that speak about Peter’s sin should have been there was nothing there. It was blank. Suddenly a red light filled the room. The red light caused something to appear in the blank spaces on the page. But what the red glow revealed were not the words that declared the guilt of sins long past forgiven. No, the light revealed one word written in all the blanks … FULFILLED!

Jesus told us that He came not to abolish God's Word, but to fulfill it. Every sin that you have repented of and asked forgiveness for is under the atoning blood of Jesus. They are fulfilled — removed and forgotten by God. Our minds do not fully comprehend the awesome forgiving power of Jesus’ blood. The power of God to forgive us is because of the shed blood of Christ and the finished work of the Cross, and this power of God's forgiveness totally removes your sin from your heart and from God's!

Go And Forgive
Forgiveness is of the highest priority to the Lord. In fact, it has a higher priority in the kingdom of God than praying or giving your offering! In Mark 11:25 Jesus tells us,
“And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone , forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” Forgiveness is so important that God commands us to interrupt what we are doing to forgive! When there are those who have wounded you so deeply that unf orgiveness seems to have a grip on you, love calls out “Forgive … forget … let go!” It is only as you release others that you will truly find your release. Matthew Henry put it this way “Only he who relents toward his brother, shows that he repents toward his God.”

In our American culture, movies often play a big role in shaping how we think. In the 70's, one of these movies with a major impact on society was
Love Story. Even if you weren't around then, I’m sure at sometime or another you've heard the famous line from that movie, “Love means never having to say you're sorry!” Many Americans swallowed this philosophy hook, line, and sinker. Unfortunately, so did many in the Church. Yet, the Bible tells us in Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you , leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” In the kingdom of God, love means we have to be willing to say we’re sorry — and to do more than just say we are sorry, to repent and seek to be reconciled with others. We are even commanded to interrupt what we are doing to pursue the opportunity to ask forgiveness from one we have offended.

Love: The Prerequisite
Forgiveness is a requirement of love. But in saying this we should realize that love is a prerequisite for forgiveness. Without God's love we could never walk in forgiveness. We can love God because He first loved us; and we can forgive others because God first forgave us. Forgiveness can only flow from a heart that has experienced both the love and the forgiveness of God.

The forgiveness of God is like a deep well that never runs dry. Once, when D. L. Moody was visiting a small, rural town, an older gentleman asked him if he'd like a drink of water from the old well. It had been a summer of drought, and so Moody asked the gentleman if he was sure the well still had water. “The well was here before there was a town,” the man explained, “and while other newer wells have been emptied, this one never has been.” The man went on to describe how one time the town's people brought two fire trucks to the well and tried to pump it dry, but they couldn’t! They had only recently discovered the reason. When the well was dug, they had struck an underground river. And so it is with God's well of forgiveness. It can never run dry, for it draws from a never-ending source — the love of God!

God is filled with a passionate love and a merciful heart of forgiveness — a forgiveness that is beyond measure. The Scriptures have promised that
“we shall be like Him.” As God’s special people, we are continually being changed into the likeness of Christ, conformed into His loving, forgiving character. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:12-13).


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