Do the hard thing... forgive
What are you thankful for these days? There is so much to be thankful for if you think about it? In fact, take a minute right now and think of at least five things you are thankful for and thank God for it! That wasn’t too hard was it? It’s a good idea to do that little exercise every single day to keep you from getting bogged down in the day to day struggles of life. But even in those struggles, we can still find reason to give thanks. In fact, God expects us to…18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians.
One thing that we have to be thankful for is the fact that we have a God who has graciously and mercifully offered to forgive us of our many sins. The truth is that we have failed Him and others more times than we can count. Yet, through Jesus’ work on the Cross, our sin is wiped away completely!
This past Sunday, as we finished up our Steadfast series, we read the book of Philemon. It is a very short book about forgiveness and reconciliation written by the Apostle Paul to Philemon, who was likely hosting the Colossian church in his home. The purpose of the letter is essentially to ask Philemon to forgive a slave of his named Onesimus who had stolen from him and fled to Rome. While in Rome, Onesimus heard Paul share the gospel and surrendered his life to Christ as Savior and Lord. Onesimus, who Paul called a faithful and dear brother (Col. 4:9), had become a good friend and ministry partner to Paul. But now Paul was sending him home to Philemon, hoping and expecting that Philemon would see him not just as a slave, but now a brother in Christ. (Phil. 16)
Do you ever have trouble forgiving someone who has hurt you? Forgiveness is not easy; in fact, sometimes it is really hard, among the hardest things to do in life! But yet, Jesus taught that forgiving other people when they sin against us is essential. (Matt. 6:12; 14-15). In Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn some vital life lessons about forgiveness and reconciliation.
Lesson #1 - Do the hard thing… do your part to restore a broken relationship and trust the rest to God! It was risky for Onesimus to go back to Philemon because, by law, Philemon had a right to have Onesimus executed for what he had done. Yet he was willing to go back and face Philemon and trust the rest to God.
What about you? When you have sinned against someone, and God, would you be willing to do the hard thing? How do you go about that? It requires some vulnerability, honesty and humility. First admit to God that you have sinned. (1 John 1:9). Second, turn from that sin and submit to the Lord’s leadership going forward. Third, if you have hurt someone, commit to do your part to mend that broken relationship. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18. God doesn’t want us to live in relational chaos and turmoil. Will you do your part to pursue peace in your relationships?. Onesimus was willing to do the hard thing. Will you?
Lesson #2 - Forgiveness can’t be forced; it must be freely offered out of love.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. Philemon 8-9. So what does love have to do with it? Everything! Love inspires forgiveness; it is at the heart of forgiveness; in fact, God modeled this kind of love for us! (John 3:16-17).
Jesus taught an important lesson about forgiveness in The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. (Matthew 18:21-35). In this parable, the king mercifully canceled the huge debt of a man who then was unwilling to do the same for one who owed him far less. There were grave consequences for his unwillingness to forgive his debtor. Jesus went on to say, 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:35. Forgiveness is a matter of the heart and it is always born out of love!
Is there anyone in your life you have been unwilling to forgive, even if they haven’t asked for it? Would you do that now? If you are having trouble, consider how much God has forgiven you.
Lesson #3 - Christ has graciously paid our debt in full by His work on the Cross!
Paul made a really generous offer to Philemon on behalf of his friend. He literally put his money where his mouth was… 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. By offering to pay the debt of his friend, Paul essentially reminds Philemon, and us, of what Jesus did on the Cross for everyone who believes in Him. Jesus cancelled all our debt! (Col. 2:13-14). It’s hard to believe that Jesus did this for us, but He did; all we have to do is believe it and receive it! (Rom 10:9-10)
If you are looking for something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, consider God’s amazing grace and bountiful mercy! Would you be willing to offer that same forgiveness to people in your life who have hurt you? If you are a Believer, you will.
So what do you think happened when Onesimus and Philemon saw each other? The Apostle Paul had confidence that the meeting would go very well! In fact, he thought that Philemon would do far more than he even asked. I think so too; and I think you will do the same thing. For much more, click here to listen to Steadfast: Part 12 - Doing the hard thing… forgiveness.