Do you hold a grudge against someone that has let you down or offended you? Are you trying to live with the tension of a broken relationship caused by someone else’s betrayal?
How do we respond to people that have hurt us? How do we even develop the character (or desire!) to forgive them?
As you may know, I’ve been knee deep in the study of the book of Philemon through the upcoming release of my Bible Study, “An Invitation to Forgive: A Study of the Book of Philemon”*.
This simple-to-read, interactive Bible Study was written to address these questions and more. But first, what is it with this book called “Philemon”?
The Book of Philemon is a short epistle written by the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon. It is just one of many places that God’s word addresses the topic of forgiveness because it is such a need in so many of our lives. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had to forgive or be forgiven in relationships. At any rate, he wrote this letter to persuade Philemon to forgive his run-away slave, Onesimus. By running away, Onesimus broke the law and insulted Philemon, who (by all accounts) didn’t deserve to be betrayed.
We are never told, but all the studies I’ve read believe that Philemon did indeed forgive Onesimus, based not only on evidence that points to the fact that Onesimus later became a prominent priest, but also based on the description of Philemon’s character as stated in the epistle itself.
“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:2)
I believe Philemon had the character and heart to forgive. Why?
1) First of all, we see that Philemon has a love and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ – he has the indwelling Holy Spirit in him, and therefore he has the ability to forgive like Christ forgave us. It would have been understandable for Philemon not to forgive Onesimus. The law was on his side, but Philemon had a love for Christ, and as a Christian, he was prepared to forgive.
2) Second, Philemon displays a love toward all the saints. The Greek word used in this phrase is “agape” love. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testimament Words, “this is a love that is proven and shown through action and not just merely words.” As described, “it seeks the welfare of all, and…the opportunity to do good to all men.” As such, we see here that Philemon had an unselfish, action-oriented and deliberate love towards others.
3) Third, Philemon effectively lived out his faith – Note Paul’s words in the NIV: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”. Paul is saying, “Philemon, I want your faith to continue to be powerful”. How is this done? “Through the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in Christ Jesus”. The Greek word for “acknowledgment” here (or “understanding” in the NIV) is the word “epignosis” which expresses a thorough participation in the acquiring of knowledge on the part of the learner, a knowledge that’s laying claim to personal involvement.1
We as Christians know that we are equipped with every spiritual blessing which is in Christ (Eph. 1:3). We know that we are given the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, to say that we know spiritual blessing by reading God’s Word is not the same as knowing the joy of yielding to the Spirit enough to live it out. That would be like saying we know how to play tennis by watching someone play tennis or sitting in on an instructional video. Until we put the racket in our hands, we cannot fully know what it is like to play tennis.
Can you relate to the “acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus”? How do you think this can be applied to circumstances that call us to forgive others?