I was watching the other day the Leaders conference from HTB at Royal Albert Hall with Nicky Gumbel. Among other guests at this conference, there was Rick and Kay Warren. At one point Kay said “As Christians we do not have the luxury of remaining bitter and unforgiving”. And I was thinking “how true is this statement”. There have been times in my life that I’ve been so angry and I didn’t want to forgive. I knew this was not okay and I took it so seriously because I know what the Bible says. As Christians one thing that is non-negotiable for us is forgiveness. Many times people have trouble forgiving because they believe that it’s tied to emotions and they think they have to stop feeling in order to forgive.
I was reading this morning about a personage in the Bible, his name is Onesimus. Paul writes a letter to Philemon, a guy who was converted under Paul’s teaching during his third missionary journey.
In this short personal letter, the Apostle Paul asks his friend Philemon to extend forgiveness to a runaway slave named Onesimus. One of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, had apparently stolen from him and then run away, and under Roman law Philemon could execute his slave to death. Onesimus had run away and traveled to Rome where he met Paul. While there, Onesimus surrendered his life to Christ. Through Paul’s witnessing to him, Onesimus had become a Christian and Paul attempted to unite both Philemon and Onesimus with Christian love.
Onesimus would carry this letter back and give it to Philemon. Paul asks Philemon not only to accept his slave, but also to accept him as a brother in Christ. Paul’s message to Philemon was a simple one: based on the work of love and forgiveness that had been shaped in Philemon’s heart by God, show the same love to the now-believing slave Onesimus. Paul did not minimize Onesimus’s sin. This was not some kind of cheap grace that Paul asked Philemon to give. But in his letter to Philemon presents the beautiful transition from slavery to kinship that comes as a result of Christian love and forgiveness.
“Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty,” Paul writes, “yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love.” (vs. 8-9)
FORGIVENESS is a relational thing – it’s never just about us. Our forgiveness to others doesn’t mean anything if they don’t experience our grace. Grace is a gift from God, and out of gratitude, we can show grace to others. Paul requested that same kind of love and grace from Philemon, which runs contrary to our human instinct.
I think we don’t really understand what it means to forgive someone. The Church has suffered, because pastors have not taught the great importance of forgiving and the consequences if we don’t.
Many people say that we need to forgive in order to be forgiven. It may be true. But I find this statement kind of selfish desire. I believe that we need to look from a different perspective. We need to forgive because we are forgiven. Just as God forgives us, he expects us to forgive others. You can find forgiveness at the cross no matter what you’ve done. And that is why we need to forgive just as we have been forgiven.
This short book “Philemon” from New Testament has tremendous value for us today because, in a certain sense, it is the story of our lives as well. At one time a runaway thieving slave, Onesimus, but now an accepted beloved brother, restored to his master. It is a fantastic reminder of the wonderful grace that has been shown to each of us who have placed their faith in the Lord Jesus. We are no longer slaves but sons.
When we forgive, we decide to release the person from his or her guilt. Refusing to forgive another doesn’t make right the wrong. It only hurts the one who refuses to forgive. Unforgiveness is like taking poison in hopes that the other guy will die. It will make you sick and destroy you, your life and your relationships.
Allow Paul’s letter to Philemon to encourage forgiveness in your own life, and trust God to cultivate renewed life in your heart and your relationships.
Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you”.
If God did not withhold his forgiveness from me, why should I withhold my forgiveness from another?
My question to you is: Can you afford that?