Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

The Heart Of Forgiveness

  Philemon 1-7

            1 This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, 2 and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your house. 3 May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

            4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. 6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

 *** 

           On October 2, 2006, Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, dismissed all but ten young girls, and proceeded to enact a tragedy that touched the heart of our nation. When the tragedy was over, five of those young Amish school girls were dead, five were injured, and Roberts had taken his own life.

            Immediately after the awful events of that day, the Amish community rallied together. They tore down the schoolhouse where the unspeakable had taken place, and built a new one.

            They comforted the families of those grieving unexplainable losses.

            And…they reached out and extended forgiveness to the widow of Charles Roberts, the shooter.

             Six months after this tragic event, U.S. News and World Report returned to the scene of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, to find out how the Amish were coping, reporting their findings in the article entitled, “Moving On.”

            The reporters discovered that the tragedy brought the Amish and non-Amish neighbors in a deeper sense of community togetherness. They stood together, comforting and supporting one another. The reporters learned that it was forgiveness that had helped the Amish get through the dark days they had faced.

            Donald Kraybill is an expert on the Amish tradition. He teaches at Elizabethtown College, near Nickel Mines. In an interview, he explained how forgiveness, in the biblical sense, is love letting go when wrong has been suffered. “To a person, the Amish would argue that forgiveness is the central teaching of Jesus. They will take you to the Lord’s prayer—if you don’t forgive, you won’t be forgiven.”

            When asked if all Amish forgive, Reverend Kristine Hileman, a Presbyterian minister serving in the area, said, “The Amish are like anyone else—some take the forgiveness of Christ and pass it on to others and some don’t … [but in the days after this tragedy] they set an example that caused me—a Presbyterian minister—to examine my own life and ask, ‘Who haven’t I forgiven?'”

             The Amish are right…it is at the heart of Christianity to forgive.

            Some of the final words that Jesus spoke as He was being crucified were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

             It is God’s nature to forgive. In Isaiah 43:25 God says, “I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins.”

             And in the New Testament we are taught in Ephesians 4:32 to, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

            But forgiveness is not easy is it?

            By its very nature to forgive someone, means that they have done something to you that has wronged you, or caused you hurt.

             C.S. Lewis once said “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea, until he has something to forgive.”

            Today we encounter in the brief letter to Philemon, the heart of a forgiver.

            Philemon, the central character in this letter from the Apostle Paul, has been wronged. Onesimus has taken something of value that belonged to him and has run off.

            Paul has stepped in and asked Philemon to welcome back Onesimus; to forgive him for the wrong he had done to him, and to restore him to his relationship with Philemon. In fact, Paul asked him not only to restore their broken relationship, but to make it better than it was before!

             In this passage today, we will learn what it takes to forgive like that.

  The Heart Of Forgiveness is found in:

1) Faith in the Lord Jesus (Philemon 5a)

4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus…

            Paul commends Philemon for his “faith in the Lord Jesus.”

            The heart of forgiveness begins with faith in Jesus Christ.

            Jesus is the connection we have to the source of forgiveness.

            Our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord puts us into a life transforming connection with God’s forgiveness. The life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is God’s plan to bring us forgiveness in our lives, and reconciliation with God.

            As we are connected to God through faith in Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of God flows into our lives, and becomes the source for the forgiveness we need to extend to other people.

            Forgiveness at any time is not going to be easy; but without Jesus Christ in our lives, it is going to be nearly impossible.

 The Heart Of Forgiveness is found in:

2) Love for all of God’s people (Philemon 5b)

4 I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, 5 because I keep hearing about…your love for all of God’s people.

            Secondly, Paul commends Philemon for his “love for all of God’s people.”

            It takes a heart of love to forgive someone who has hurt and wronged you.

            Paul tells Philemon that he thanks God when he prays for him because he has “love for all of God’s people.”

            It is hard to have love for all of God’s people.

            There are some folks who are hard to love. There are some people who get on your last nerve. When you are around them you think, “I’m having a hard enough time trying to like you, let alone love you.”

            Philemon has love that extends to other people—to “all of God’s people,” Paul says.

            If you don’t love someone, you will have a very hard time forgiving them.

            It is hard to have hate for someone, and forgiveness toward them, in your heart at the same time, isn’t it?

            This love that Paul refers to is the love of God that we experience through faith in Jesus Christ.

            Sometime when I am meeting with people who are getting married I will read to them 1 Corinthians, chapter 13.

            It goes like this:

4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

            I tell the prospective bride and groom, “This is the standard of love that you are expected to live up to.”

            It is not easy is it?

            Then I usually tell them, “On my best day, I am more like to be just the opposite of this… rarely patient or kind…more likely to be demanding and irritable…”

            The only way that I can ever come close to living this out in my life is to remain connected to the source of this love…Jesus Christ.

            It is only as we stay connected to God through faith in Jesus Christ, that we have access to the love we need in order to forgive others when they wrong us and cause us hurt.

 The Heart Of Forgiveness is found in:

3) Willingness to put faith and love into action (Philemon 6)

6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.

            Paul tells Philemon that he is praying for him to “put into action” with generosity, all that he has experienced through his faith and love.

            Philemon needs to generously put into practice his faith in Jesus Christ and his love for all of God’s people by forgiving Onesimus and welcoming him back.

            It is easy to talk about forgiveness on Sunday morning, sitting in a church service. But it is much more difficult to put it into practice on Monday morning in your home, your job, your school, or your neighborhood.

            When we recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship one of the things we say is:

I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

            But I wonder if we practice “the forgiveness of sins?”

            It is one thing to believe in forgiveness; it is another thing to practice forgiveness!

 The Heart Of Forgiveness is found in:

4) Kindness that refreshes the hearts of others (Philemon 7)

7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.

            The heart of forgiveness is to be able to treat with kindness someone who has treated you with unkindness.

            The heart of forgiveness is to be able to refresh the heart of someone who has caused your heart to be broken.

            Year ago, Mahatma Gandhi said:

            “What is true of individuals is true of nations. One cannot forgive too much. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

            Don’t you think he was right?

            It seems like only the weak forgive, but in reality, it takes great strength to forgive.

            That strength is available to us through the faith and love we experience in Jesus Christ.

            Someone said to John Wesley once, “I never forgive.” Wesley replied, “Then, sir, I hope that you never sin.”

            I could ask you, “Do you have someone in your life that you need to forgive?” but I already know the answer to that. The answer is “yes.”

            Everyone has someone in their life they need to forgive.

            So the real question is, “Are you willing to put into action your faith in Jesus Christ, and extend forgiveness to them?”

            “Are you willing to set them free from the debt they rightly owe to you, so that you can be set free too?”

            Faith in Jesus Christ is the first step toward having a heart of forgiveness. Trusting Jesus as Savior and Lord connects us to God’s grace that forgives our sins, and enables us to have forgiveness toward others.

            Faith in Jesus Christ also empowers us to have love for other people—even people who cause us hurt and betrayal.

            Forgiveness does not come natural to human nature, but through the life transforming grace of God at work in us through Jesus Christ, forgiveness comes to us super-naturally.

            Now our role in forgiveness is to take the same grace that God gives us—that forgives us of our sins–and put it into action, by refreshing the heart of those who have caused our heart pain.

            Through Jesus Christ at work in you, you are forgiven, and you can forgive.

            Will you?

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One Response to “The Heart Of Forgiveness”

  1. I like this very much. Forgiveness is for the strong and as christians we derive the strength from the knowlege that Jesus Christ died for our sins. We are forgiven and we should thus forgive others.


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