Pay It Forward (Philemon 8-21)

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You know, one person’s redemption can become another’s challenge. No sin is unredeemable; no sin trumps God’s lavish grace (Romans 5:20). All sin can be repented of, and all sin will be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:9).

Incredibly good news. But our good news can become another’s challenge!

Years ago in our church, we had a courageous person share about how they had committed adultery and one day God brought them to their knees in repentance so that they confessed their sin and received forgiveness from God.

But this confession of sin, this reaching out for God’s redeeming grace became a challenge for their spouse who now faced a new challenge – the problem of forgiving. 

One person’s redemption can become another’s challenge!

I was in court once supporting a minor who had been sexually abused. The man who had perpetrated the abuse was there near to me. Looking smug, his lawyer was there too… I’m glad I didn’t own a gun that day because I wanted to dish out some instant justice as the sense of righteous indignation pulsed through me.

And then it struck me!

I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider; ‘What if this man calls out to God and asks God to forgive him of all his sin? What then? What will be required of me and of those I was supporting? Would Jesus forgive Him if he repented? And how would we have to change our feelings towards him if he approached us having repented?”

I knew the answers to my questions.  

I knew if he repented and called on God for forgiveness, God would forgive him, and in that instant, he would become my brother in Christ. What he had done would not be changed in the slightest, and yet the way I related to him would be challenged in a whole new way…

And this is something like what Philemon faced with Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon challenging him to re-think, to forgive & to reconcile with Onesimus.  

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 15-17)

Paul wanted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave or an employee or as the scum of the earth but to receive him back as a brother in Christ (vs16), loved and honoured because Onesimus had accepted Jesus as his LORD & Saviour (vs17). 

Onesimus had stolen from Philemon (vs18), so Philemon’s sense of having been wronged was understandable and yet the now the strong exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to him was – forgive & reconcile(vs15-18)!

Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is unfair; it isn’t a response to deserved behaviour but undeserved behaviour. Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is only necessary when there has been hurt, pain or a wrong committed. Forgiveness is not earned; it’s given.

What a challenge! So how can we grow in forgiveness?

Remind yourself of what you’ve been forgiven:

Unless we see the extent of the grace and mercy of God that has extended to us, we will be unable to extend grace and mercy to others in forgiveness.

Sitting in that court, looking at that man, I realised that without minimising his sin at all, my sin was just as bad as his, different but just as bad. 

Like him, I was rotten to the core, and yet God had saved me! Not because of anything I had done or managed to not do, but purely because of His infinite grace and mercy. I sat there realising that God had justified me – the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). God did not justify me because I deserved it but purely because of His goodness and grace.  I was no different from that man; I needed grace as much as he did.

And that realisation is the foundation on which forgiveness is built. We are to forgive others’ just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32). 

Paul wanted Philemon to recognise God’s gracious work of redemption in Philemon’s life SO THAT he would see that extending grace and forgiveness to Onesimus was what God required from him now.

Paul writes to him; 

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 18-19)

Philemon is reminded that he owes God (and Paul) everything. So before he demands pay-back or withholds forgiveness from Onesimus, Philemon should pause and consider how God has treated him.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus connects our being forgiven by God with our forgiving of others! And in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus similarly taught through a story of how serious unforgiveness on our part is when we have been forgiven by God! I believe Philemon knew the weight with which Paul was writing when He urged Philemon to forgive and to be reconciled to Onesimus.

Brothers and sisters, when we see the grace of God extended to us, it fills our ‘grace/mercy tank’ enabling us to then pay it forward and share the grace of God we have received with others, SO THAT we can be restored in our relationships with one another.

Application:

  • Who’s your Onesimus?
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to freshly reveal to you the depth and depravity of your own sin which God has forgiven you for.
  • Now, prayerfully move towards forgiving your Onesimus as God in Christ forgave you.

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