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.
The presence of the word ‘must’ here is a necessity of translation. It fills in what is missing in the Greek. But using such words to fill in what is left understood by the speaker and hearer is tricky business. The author isn’t using the usual word for forgiveness. He is talking more about a general stance of graciousness towards one another because of God’s graciousness to us.
This doesn’t mean that forgiveness isn’t a command; it is indeed our obligation. Jesus gives us the new commandment to love one another and said we must forgive not seven but seventy-seven times. The parable of the unforgiving servant is quite clear that mercy is not optional. But this is not given to us as if forgiveness were a rule; it is – to use a modern notion – a lifestyle. It is a way of inhabiting the world. It is a way of seeing all others through Christ. It is a way of understanding the nature of God and the shape of our true humanity. We were created to show grace to one another. That graciousness got damaged in us. That’s hard to admit, but not hard to see in the world around us. Now Christ has come to restore the reign of grace in us. Compassion, generosity, kindness – these are the work of the Spirit. These are our true humanity. To be in Christ is to live them.