What is the type of person who can forgive? Can anyone forgive? These are profound questions because the immediate answer tends to lean towards “anyone can forgive”. I want to spend a few days looking at the New Testament Book called Philemon. The basic message of this book is “forgiveness”. But first let me start with:
Phil 2:12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.
You’ll see here that there is the Lord’s part and your part. These verses are not addressing the way of salvation but the progress in salvation. The greatest obstacle in our spiritual maturing is our bent towards sin. Sin, which is stubborn rejection of conforming to God’s will for our lives hinders the desire and passion for holiness and blamelessness. Is it possible for you to make spiritual strides when sins like … anger, hatred, jealousy, disappointment, resentment, depression, covetousness, theft and un-forgiveness dominate your heart? Surely working out your salvation depends upon your spiritual condition! And even when you are growing and developing spiritually, the way of forgiving is hard and mostly we resist forgiving. So again … what would you say would be the type of person who is able to forgive? And … what is involved when it comes to forgiveness?
As Paul starts this letter, notice that he does not refer to himself as an apostle. Rather he labels himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Phm 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus
It is important to get this. He is going to deal with the issue of forgiveness and starts off saying he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ! He was in prison, not because of any crime … he was incarcerated because of serving the Lord Jesus. So although he is imprisoned, he rather sees himself as a prisoner of Jesus. The Roman Emperor, Caesar, might reign over the then known world, but King Jesus is far greater because he is the King of Creation. The point Paul is making is that before he belongs to a country or an empire … he belongs to Jesus. This is true of every Christian. You belong to Jesus … so … what kind of person can forgive?
Firstly, who was Philemon? He was a man, a Christian man who was highly valued and appreciated by Paul! He was
Phm 1:1 our dear friend and fellow worker
These two phrases explain the type of person Philemon was as a Christian worker. We also see something of his family and home.
Phm 1:2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home.
One gets the impression that Philemon was a man of means. A church gathered in his home … so the house must have been sizable. He was also a family man … with Apphia, his wife … she was a believer … ‘our sister’ and his son Archippus … also a believer … ‘our fellow soldier’ … he was a servant to the gospel! It would be wonderful if every family who says they are Christian, are Christian! Just think how glorious it is when the spouse and children serve Jesus together with you! It must be said that this home was an attractive place … God was there and God’s people were welcome there! That should be the goal of every Christian every family? Such a home becomes a base and a launching pad for gospel ministry. It speaks of total intentional Christianity!
Secondly, notice Philemon’s spiritual credentials. When you consider Philemon as a dear friend, a fellow worker, with a believing wife and son who serves Jesus, a home dedicated to serve Jesus in and with grace and peace enjoyed from the Godhead … Philemon was a forgiven man. He experienced that God delighted to pardon him. God freely forgave him. And it’s right here that God wants to use Paul to bring Philemon to the point where he willingly and eagerly forgives his run-away slave, Onesimus.
In the day and age in which we live, many think that to forgive someone is a sign of being a weakling. They think that making someone suffer under the yoke of un-forgiveness is a sign of strength and power. So it is vital and very important to understand that when a believer forgives someone, be it a believer or a nonbeliever, he or she is not a weakling. In fact they are demonstrating that because God has forgiven them and continues to forgive them … they have the spiritual power to forgive! Forgiving closely resembles God because God loves to forgive! Naturally, Paul’s aim is to get Philemon to forgive Onesimus his runaway slave! And Paul is so confident that Philemon, being a man of great spiritual caliber and stature would forgive!
Now we are going to take a few days to get through the message of Philemon, but let’s apply what we have read so far to ourselves. Remember those verses we wish were not in the Bible?
Mt 6:14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
This is powerful, provocative and penetrating! You forgive people who sin against you and God will forgive you when you sin against Him … and the opposite is true as well. You don’t forgive people when they sin against you and God will not forgive you when you sin against Him! We are starting to understand what type of person can forgive! A saved, maturing and forgiving person can forgive!
Dear God, please forgive me for being such a hypocrite. I want Your forgiveness when sin against You, yet I am reluctant and unwillingly to forgive people when they sin against me. Graciously give me a forgiving spirit. Amen.