Philemon: Forgiveness in broken relationships

This is my best friend Taylor.IMG_2325

We met at the start of college competing together on the forensics team (speech and debate—not cutting up dead people). Because we were both Christians, we immediately connected, and every person on the team noticed. No one had ever seen two people connect more quickly than Taylor and I. Seriously it was kind of weird how fast she became my closest friend.

Taylor and I shared everything: clothes, seats on the speech van, and of course, thoughts about our prospective crushes. I knew her better than I knew some of my longest friends, and I am confident she knew me in the same way.

IMG_1469Being eighteen year old girls and such, drama was sure to occur. And it did. At the start of our first fight, both of us said and did things that hurt the other. To make it worse, everyone on our team knew about it, and almost none of those people knew Christ. Now we had a decision to make. Where do we go from here? Do we choose to live in our anger? Do we even worry about representing Jesus?

These are questions so many of us face daily when it comes to broken relationships.

To better understand what forgiveness looks like within Christian relationships, we are going to take a look at Philemon over the next few weeks. It’s just one chapter, so we are gonna take it slowly, verse by verse!

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Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

Philemon 1-7

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Here we are again. The beginning of one of Paul’s letters. It starts out with who it’s to then talks about how thankful he is for them. Almost like he is buttering them up for something. No big deal, right?

Wrong.

Yes, Pauline letters do begin similarly, but they reveal the truths of what is about to come in the rest of the letter. It’s like giving us a taste of what we are about to read.

For example, check this description of Philemon out…

phonto-4

This is an expert from the ESV Global Study Bible (everybody should get an ESV Study Bible. They’re awesome). If you continue reading, it goes on to explain that Paul is writing to his close friend Philemon and his house church. In the letter, Paul reveals Philemon once had a run away slave, Onesimus. Before he left though, he probably stole a pretty good sum of Philemon’s belongings.

Okay here is the issue. In this time, slavery was much different than what we are familiar with today. Typically, slaves were debtors to their owners and working to pay something off. But when one runs away, the slave owner was justified in punishment.

Philemon has a little bit of a predicament on his hands. He is facing two options:

  1. He could harshly punish Onesimus and set an example for the rest of his slaves

  2. He could forgive Onesimus, accepting him as his brother in Christ, and risk being robbed by his other slaves.

Under the law, he would be completely justified in throwing Philemon in prison for the rest of his life or even putting him to death. Paul, however, is asking him to do something totally different. Forgive in the name of Christ just as He has done for us.

This is where the beginning of Paul’s letter becomes important.

Paul is buttering Philemon up. Yep. Take for example these words.

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I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

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Paul reminds Philemon of his obligation to show love and faith to every other follower of Christ. John 13:35 saysLove

Paul goes on to say,

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And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

__________________________________________________________________________

What an example to set before other followers of Christ? To forgive someone who has committed great wrongs. Paul demonstrates how important this sentiment will be to Philemon’s witness and even goes so far as to say that Philemon has already demonstrated the exact faith Paul is asking him to exercise.

So what does this mean for me?

While we will almost certainly never experience any situation like this, people wrong people daily.

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Christ forgives us for wronging Him every day. By forgiving those who have wronged us, we reflect Him.

Taylor and I wronged one another, and everyone around us knew it. Much like Philemon, we had a decision to make. Would we do what we were being told to do from the world and do away with our friendship? Or would we represent Christ—something the world would look down upon—and forgive one another? I knew the right answer, but I absolutely did not want to follow through in it. Looking back, here are the truths I wish I had faced.

  1. I am commanded to pray for my brothers and sisters no matter how they have wronged me. (verse 4)

Ephesians 6:18 says, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” We are commanded to pray for other Christians. When we do this, we can better see people who have hurt us as His children. If I had prayed for Taylor, I would have been quick to recognize that we are both human beings living in sin. Neither of us deserve forgiveness, but we were given it by Christ.

  1. When I forgive, I am only doing it by the power of Christ. And how dare I not take advantage of that power He has extended. (verse 5)

Matthew 6:14-15 says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you.” We cannot forgive ourselves. Only he has true forgiving power, and if He can forgive us we can and should forgive his Children. Jesus forgives me daily! I wrong Him more often than I eat! I have absolutely no power to forgive someone in and of myself because I am a prideful, sinful human being. But because of His forgiveness, I can forgive others. How cool is that?! My humanness is tramped by His holiness. 

  1. By forgiving a sister in Christ, Jesus could use me to display his love. (verse 7)

2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” In everything, we represent Him! Other people are watching us to see how we conduct ourselves. If Taylor and I had immediately recognized the love Jesus had for us, we would have been able to be a witness for our friends who do not know Jesus. He uses us to show Himself to others. Why are we so reluctant to let Him?

Our witness matters! The way we treat our brothers and sisters in Christ matters. If Christ forgives us freely, why can’t we forgive small offenses brought against us? Especially if it means representing Jesus well before others, why is forgiveness so hard? Why can’t we overcome our pride? Paul is preparing Philemon to think about how he will represent Jesus when it comes to forgiving Onesimus by demonstrating how he has already represented Christ well. So today, think about this:

How can I better represent my Savior within my broken relationships?

I will continue the Taylor story in the posts to come 🙂

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