Offer Them Christ
The Weblog Of J.F. Howard

“I Want To Forgive…But I Need Help!”

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!

  20 Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.

  21 I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more! 22 One more thing—please prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. 24 So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. 25 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. {Philemon 17-25}

            The letter of Philemon is about forgiveness.

            The central teaching of Christianity is that we are forgiven through Jesus Christ; and through Jesus Christ, we can forgive others.

            But forgiveness is not easy.

            I’ve entitled this teaching: “I want to forgive…but I need help.”

            You may be sitting there today thinking, “I want to forgive, but you don’t know how badly I’ve been hurt.”

            I can accept that.

            “I want to forgive, but you don’t know how deeply I’ve been humiliated.”

            I can accept that too.

            “I want to forgive, but you have no way of knowing how I have been betrayed and had my heart broken.”

            I can understand you saying that.

            In fact, unforgiveness is understandable.

            We can all understand how difficult it is to even entertain the prospect of forgiving someone who has betrayed our trust, or broken our heart, let alone to actually forgive them!

            But we call understand as well, the destructive power of unforgiveness upon our lives, our relationships, our health, and our outlook.

            The only thing that can make the pain of a broken heart worse, is the bitterness of unforgiveness.

            That is a debilitating combination.

            We want to forgive…but we need help.

            Jim Whittaker was the first American to climb Mount Everest. Someone asked him in an interview once what had given him the most fulfillment as a mountain climber. His answer was surprising.

            He said:

            “I have helped more people get to the top of Mount Everest than any other person,” he replied. “Taking people to the top who could never get there without my assistance is my greatest accomplishment.”

            I once read these words:

            “The purpose of leadership is to take others to the top. And when you take others who might not make it otherwise to the top, there’s no other feeling like it in the world. To those who have never had the experience, you can’t explain it. To those who have, you don’t need to.”


            When I read these words I thought of how difficult it is to forgive.

            Someone once said, “We are never more like God than when we forgive.”

            To me, forgiveness is the top of the mountain of human existence. To forgive, and to be forgiven, is the highest level of humanity that we can climb to.

            Maybe we are not intended to try to forgive others alone.

            We want to forgive…but we need help.

            That’s what the story of Philemon is all about.

            In this teaching I want you to see the message of forgiveness—what we are saying when we say, “I forgive.”

The message of forgiveness:

1) “Welcome back” (Philemon 17).

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.

            The heart of forgiveness is in this statement: “Welcome back.”

            It means that we acknowledge the distance in our relationship and we are opening the door to allow the person back into our lives.

            Can you picture Philemon opening the door and there he sees Onesimus standing there? It is the same Onesimus that has betrayed him, stolen from him, and left him.

            How will Philemon respond?

            Paul says, “Welcome him in the same way that you would welcome me. Treat him in the same way that you would treat me if I were standing at your door. You love me, so love him. You care for me. Care for him. You would be glad to see me. Be glad to see him. Do for him what you would do for me.”


            All of the Christian faith is about treating others in the way they do not deserve. We call that grace.

            Jesus did for us what we did not deserve, and now He expects us to treat others in the way they do not deserve.

            In fact, Jesus said the way we treat others is the way we treat Him.

            Jesus said:

            40 “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)

            In Romans the Apostle Paul echoes these words of Jesus:             7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

            And my favorite text on this subject is from a story Jesus told where He said:

            35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
            37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
            40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
(Matthew 25:37-40)

            Paul tells Philemon and us, “Forgiveness is hard. I’ll help. Welcome him the way you would welcome me.”

            “Treat him not as he deserves to be treated, but as he really need to be treated.”

            Our lives would be so different if we treated other people the way we would treat Jesus.

The message of forgiveness:

2) “The debt is covered” (Philemon 18-19).

18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it. And I won’t mention that you owe me your very soul!

            The message of Philemon is that we are all in debt!

            Do you know what I mean?   

            How many of you know the Lord’s Prayer by memory?

            You can find it recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 6.

            How many of you learned the Lord’s Prayer the “old school way?”   How many of you learned it from the King James Version?

            Let’s see.

            I’ll start a line and you finish it (King James Version style):

Give us this day…our daily bread.

Forgive us our…debts. That’s the way we learned it in the King James Version…not trespasses.

How about this phrase, “As we forgive our…debtors.”

            Most of the time I think we would be better off to learn those verses in their clearest meaning, “Forgive us our sins just as we have forgiven those who sin against us,” but today we need to hear it in the words of the “old school”—“forgive us our debts.”

            Do you understand that we are all in debt? For some of you that’s not even news, is it? You are sitting there thinking, “Debt? You got that right! Mortgage debt, home equity line debt, credit card debt, automobile debt, college loan debt; I didn’t need to come to church to know I’m in debt.”

            It will make you feel better to think about Josh Muszynski.

            Did you hear what happened to Josh Muszynski?

            A few days ago this New Hampshire man went into a convenience store to buy a pack of cigarettes. When he swiped his debit card at the store to pay for the cigarettes he was charged over 23 quadrillion dollars.

            Josh Muszynski checked his account online a few hours later and saw the 17-digit number — a stunning $23,148,855,308,184,500 (twenty-three quadrillion, one hundred forty-eight trillion, eight hundred fifty-five billion, three hundred eight million, one hundred eighty-four thousand, five hundred dollars).

            Muszynski then spent the next two hours on the phone with Bank of America trying to sort out the string of numbers and the $15 overdraft fee that they tacked on for good measure!

            The bank corrected the error the next day.

            Don’t you know that was a long day for Muszynski?

            Can you imagine what it would be like to have that kind of a debt on your account? 23 quadrillion dollars?

            We are all in debt, but thankfully, we may not be debt 23 quadrillion dollars like Josh Muszynski, but we are in more debt than we think. Jesus says, “When you pray say God forgive me my debt as I forgive those who are in debt to me.”

            Every time we sin, we go in debt. Sometimes we sin against others and we are in debt to them; but always we sin against God, and are therefore in debt to God.

            Paul says to Philemon, “If Onesimus has wronged you in any way—and you know he has; and if he owes you anything—and you know he does; then Onesimus is in big trouble.”

            We all are in debt. That’s the bad news.

            Here’s the good news.

            Paul writes to Philemon, “Onesimus owes you…in a big way. He has wronged you…in a deep way. He has piled up one large debt. He probably can’t even repay it…so just charge it to me.”

            He says to Philemon, “Forgiveness is hard. You don’t have to do it alone. I’ll help you.”

            One of the core truths of Christianity is this… “You owe a debt you cannot pay; Jesus paid a debt He did not owe.”

            And the result? Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Restoration.

The message of forgiveness:

3) “You are forgiven for the Lord’s sake” (Philemon 20).

20 Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.

            Paul asks Philemon to do him this favor, and forgive Onesimus “for the Lord’s sake.”

            Christianity is about being empowered and enabled to do things we otherwise would not be able to do, because of Jesus Christ at work in us.

            We are forgiven, “for the Lord’s sake.”

            We can forgive others, “for the Lord’s sake.”

The message of forgiveness:

4) “There is even more” (Philemon 21).

21 I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more!

            Christian faith offers something very unique. Through faith in Jesus Christ we can receive forgiveness for the sins of our past, a new beginning for our present, and the hope of a better future in the days ahead.

            Paul wants Philemon not only to do all that he has asked him, but “even more.” He wants to see the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus not only restored and reconciled, but made new and even better than previously.

            Paul expects that Philemon will forgive Onesimus for the wrongs he has committed against him, and then set Onesimus free from bondage and receive him into his life as a brother in Jesus Christ.

            Forgiveness opens the door for Jesus Christ to come into our lives and not only redeem the brokenness of the past, but also to pave the way for a better future.

            Can you believe that if you extend forgiveness, that you might experience “even more” in your life and relationship than you ever dreamed?

            Ephesians 3:20 helps my faith here:

             20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

            The movie, In America, is the story of a young Irish family that illegally relocates to New York City from Canada. The movie focuses on the emotional, spiritual, and financial challenges Johnny and Sarah and their young daughters Christy and Ariel face as they begin a new life. The family settles in a rundown tenement apartment in a neighborhood known for its drug trafficking.

            The family befriends a reclusive old man in their building who is seriously ill. Mateo is mysterious. He is a gifted artist from a wealthy background but is nonetheless living in this rundown neighborhood. When Sarah discovers she is going to have another baby, Mateo predicts the child will enrich their impoverished lives. As the pregnancy develops, doctors find that the baby has significant problems, and may not survive. As hospital bills mount, Johnny promises payment, but he is unable to raise the thousands of dollars needed.

            After Sarah gives birth, the premature baby lies in an incubator struggling for life as the parents look on worriedly. Ironically, Mateo is in the same hospital nearing the end of his life. His face grimaces in pain as his head rears back and his eyes open. At that exact moment, the baby’s eyes open, he draws his little hand near his face emitting a hungry cry. Johnny and Sarah smile broadly. They each reach an index finger toward the baby through an opening in the Plexiglas.

            Mateo’s eyes grow big and then close for the last time. As the nurse holds his hand, it falls limp. Meanwhile, Johnny pulls his index finger from the baby’s clutching fist. A close up on the baby’s little hand shows fingers stretching fully alive.

            The scene shifts to the area of the hospital where bills are paid. The business manager’s voice is heard. “The hospital bill arrived. It came to $30,420.20.”

            Johnny’s voice can be heard. He is on the phone with an agent begging for a job to begin to pay down this enormous medical expense.

            “The bill’s been paid,” the business manager says in a matter of fact voice while scrolling down her computer screen.

            Johnny asks in disbelief, “What do you mean?”

            “A Mateo Kwame paid it,” she adds, hitting the enter button on her computer. “There’s no balance.”

            That’s God’s way with all of us.

            We all owe a great debt, much more than we could ever repay. But God says to us, “The bill has been paid by Jesus, My Son.”

            And the forgiveness he offers us, is available for us to offer others, even those who have wronged us, and who rightfully owe us.

            The same price that was paid to forgive us, has been paid so that we can forgive others.

            Forgiveness is not easy, but we don’t have to do it alone.

            Jesus is here to help us.

            His grace makes forgiveness possible, and necessary.

            Can you say to God today: “I want to forgive…but I need help. Will you help me?”


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