Chris Ward, Campus Director for LHM Houston

So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:34-35 (NLT)

On Monday morning, October 2, 2006, a gunman entered a one-room Amish school in Pennsylvania. Thirty-two-year-old Charles Roberts ordered the boys and the teacher to exit, leaving ten frightened girls in the room. After tying their legs, he prepared to shoot them execution style with an automatic rifle and four-hundred rounds of ammunition.

The oldest hostage, a thirteen-year-old girl, begged the man to, “shoot me first and let the little ones go.” Refusing her offer, he opened fire on all of them, killing five and leaving the others critically wounded. He then shot himself as police stormed the building.

This story captured the attention of broadcast and print media in both the United States and around the world. The blood was barely dry on the schoolhouse floor when Amish parents brought words of forgiveness to the family of the gunman. The outside world couldn’t believe that such forgiveness could be offered so quickly for such a heinous crime.

In the media, the topic of forgiveness dominated discussions about the massacre. Forgiveness, in fact, was talked about more than the tragic event itself, with Amish forgiveness the central theme in more than 2,400 news stories around the world. Fresh from the burial of their own children, grieving Amish families accounted for half of the seventy-five people who attended the killer’s funeral. The widow of the killer was deeply moved by their presence as Amish families greeted her and her three children. The forgiveness went beyond talk and graveside presence; the Amish also supported a fund for the shooter’s family.

“[Forgiveness,] all the religions teach it,” said an observer, “but no one does it like the Amish.”

When Jesus delivers his teaching on love in John 13, he simultaneously offers an important lesson on forgiveness. He sets his own love as the example for us to follow, with him later stating, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13 NLT) Jesus lives out this sacrificial love through his crucifixion. When Jesus hung on that cross and died for you and me, he canceled our debt, provided a way to be forgiven, and offers us the power to do the same, to cancel the debt of those who have hurt us.

As a Follower of Christ, unforgiveness begins with a simple statement: I refuse to give to others what God has given to me. When we say this in our minds, we out rightly deny the teaching of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph. 4:32 NLT) While we must be sure to maintain healthy boundaries with those around us, harboring unforgiveness in our hearts will only lead to bitterness, which Luke links with being “captive to sin” in Acts 8:23. (NIV) We can begin to practice forgiveness in the following way:

  1. Identify the person who has hurt us.
  2. Determine what we expect of them to make things right.
  3. Understand that even if they never make things right, we must cancel their debt.

Who do you need to forgive? What hurts have you let fester in your heart and develop into bitterness? Are you willing to come to Jesus and give him all of the wounds that you have held onto? Jesus gives us a simple command with huge implications to change the world: “Love each other.” (Jn. 13:34 NLT)