Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 85: Forgiveness & Restoration
August 12, 2012
SCRIPTURE READING: Philemon 1-7 (Michel)
Q Who are you ESTRANGED from right now?
I know that is a DANGEROUS question to ask. There are some profoundly painful experiences represented in this church. Some of you have broken relationships with PARENTS, CHILDREN, ex-SPOUSES, friends, BUSINESS partners, and more.
Q If you COULD, would you RESTORE that relationship?
That is a difficult question to answer. The person probably isn’t WILLING, or isn’t SAFE, or maybe they are DEAD. But setting all that aside, are you WILLING?
* FORGIVENESS is one thing, RESTORATION another. Forgiveness is always POSSIBLE, RECONCILIATION is not.
In the book of PHILEMON, we get to watch this question unfold, with very HIGH STAKES – literally someone’s life is on the line.
Philemon is the SHORTEST letter of Paul’s and the third shortest book of the Bible; we are not studying chapters 8-19, there is no chapter, just verses.
* Philemon lived in COLOSSAE, which is in modern Turkey and this letter was sent at the same time as the book of COLOSSIANS.
Reading between the lines, we gather that Philemon was a WEALTHY man who had become a Christian from Paul’s ministry. He is GOOD man, well-RESPECTED, and well-LIKED.
Philemon 1:4-5 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.
Q Can you imagine a wealthy person in America today not having ELECTRICITY or a CAR?
It is possible, but would be very unusual. In the same way, anyone in that day with even moderate means would have owned SLAVES. And Philemon owned slaves. In particular, one slave names ONESIMUS who had RUN AWAY.
* Philemon was a letter written by Paul to Philemon to INTERCEDE for Onesimus.
TH BIBLE & SLAVERY
Right way, this is UPSETTING. And many ATHEIST us this to book and others to show how the Bible supported slavery. What are we to make of that?
First, you need to understand the CONTEXT. Slavery then was a very different thing than the slavery in American history.
Q How many of you remember what INDENTURED servants were?
Because the conditions were so bad in Europe, a family would negotiate for their teenagers to go America, in exchange for 3-7 years of labor.
* About 2/3 of the Europeans who came to America in the 17th century came as indentured servants.
The indentured servant would be fed a CLOTHED and frequently TRAINED in a trade. At the end of their time they would be free to go, typically with a parting gift of a suit of clothes.
* On the other hand, they could be TREATED POORLY by their masters, sometimes being BEATEN or CHEATED.
Likewise, ROMAN SLAVERY was TEMPORARY. A slave could work a side job and earn money to by his freedom, and most did within 5-7 years. And Roman law required them to be freed by age 30.
* Slavery could be a way out of POVERTY and also a way to learn a new trade; many were HIGHLY EDUCATED.
* Slavery was not based on ETHNICITY.
I am not saying this slavery was all fine. There were certainly CRUEL MASTERS who beat their slaves, but it was nothing like American slavery.
SOME MORE CONTEXT
The Roman world DEPENDED on SLAVERY, in fact roughly 85-90 percent of the Rome’s population was or had been slaved (“freeman” is a reference to a former slave). It was very much the “ELECTRICITY” of the ancient world.
I want you to at least UNDERSTAND the CONTEXT before you condemn them. It may be that 1,000 years from now, they will look at our dependence upon FOSSIL FUELS with the same distaste.
Not surprisingly, ROMAN LAW also worked to maintain this STATUS QUO, which is why Paul did not directly attack slavery, though his distaste for it is evident.
BACK TO THE STORY
Back to PHILEMON and ONESIMUS. His name means “USEFUL,” but apparently he was anything but.
Q Have you ever had to work with a SLACKER?
We all have. Some of us have been the slacker. But it is so FRUSTRATING having to pick up their slack. Onesimus was that guy. Paul says, “he used to be useless to you.”
* Slaves in that part of the world already had a REPUTATION of being LAZY, and even still he stood out.
One day, Onesimus decided to TAKE off, but first he helped himself to PHILEMON’S money, and take off to the best place to HIDE: Rome, the largest city in the world (about 1 million).
He had to hide because Roman LAW ALLOWED masters to EXECUTE runaway slaves and the CULTURE ENCOURAGED it.
* Little did he know, ROME was where God would CAPTURE HIM.
In this city of about 1 million people (about twice the size of Seattle), Onesimus just happens to run into the one person who KNOWS his MASTER. Not just knows, but is CLOSE FRIENDS with. And that was without the help of Facebook.
* Yet they develop a FRIENDSHIP and he becomes a CHRISTIAN.
I wonder how long Onesimus’ legal predicament was the ELEPHANT in the ROOM. He effectively has a DEATH SENTENCE on him, and it ENDANGERED Paul’s MINISTRY.
* The RIGHT THING for Onesimus to do is to go back to Philemon and FACE his CRIMES, but in doing so, he risks his life.
So Paul writes a letter to Philemon to intercede for Onesimus:
Philemon 1:8-19 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul – an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus – 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him - who is my very heart – back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self.
* And this is where the STORY ENDS; it is a snapshot just before the action occurs.
HOW will Philemon RESPOND? Will he FORGIVE Philemon and be the LAUGHINGSTOCK of this neighbors, or will he enforce the punishment?
We DON’T KNOW, it isn’t recorded. But there is one interesting hint: About 40-50 years later, an early church father, Ignatius, praises a BISHOP by the name of Onesimus.
* I am confident that Philemon forgave Onesimus.
FORGIVENESS VS. RECONCILIATION
But Paul wanted even MORE than FORGIVENESS, he wanted Onesimus to be RESTORED, to be brought even closer than before his crime, “a BROTHER in the Lord,” “WELCOME him as you would welcome me.”
* Forgiveness is ALWAYS POSSIBLE, but RECONCILIATION is not.
God EXPECTS us to forgive: Jesus’ parable of the UNFORGIVING SERVANT tells of a man forgiven a gazillion dollars (literal translation), but then beats up a guy who owed him $12,000. No small about of money, until compared to what was forgiven him.
Matthew 18:32-35 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
* It may not be easy, and they may “DESERVE” our unfOrgiveness, but then again WE DESERVE God’s unforgiveness.
WHO’S YOUR ONESIMUS?
Let’s make this PRACTICAL. “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a LOVELY IDEA, until he has something to forgive.” C. S. Lewis
EXAMINE yourself: Is there UNFORGIVENESS lurking in your heart?
Q Here’s the TEST: Do you feel a TWINGE of ANGER and BITTERNESS when you think of anyone?
I know that many of us are held CAPTIVE to bitterness, and I want us to find FREEDOM: Bitterness does more damage to us than the other person.
WHAT IS FORGIVENESS?
We need to REVIEW what FORGIVENESS IS and ISN’T, since there is so much misunderstanding. First of all, it isn’t:
The MEMORIES don’t go AWAY and don’t STOP HURTING. We don’t PRETEND them away or act as if nothing happened.
* Separate from (though connected to) forgiveness is receiving HEALING, with God’s HELP, and perhaps PROFESSIONAL COUNSELING.
2. Minimizing or Condoning
Forgiveness doesn’t mean an offense was INSIGNIFICANT. What the brothers had done was very wrong. Forgiveness does not EXCUSING, JUSTIFYING, or RATIONALIZING the offence.
Jesus makes the second man owe $12,000. Paul does not minimize or belittle the cost of Onesimus’ crimes:
Philemon 1:18-19 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back – not to mention that you owe me your very self.
Forgiveness does not mean TRUSTING a person again. They may simply not be trust-worthy. “FOOL me ONCE...”
Finally, forgiveness doesn’t RELEASE an offender from the LEGAL or MORAL CONSEQUENCES of their actions. You may need to FORGIVE even as you PRESS CHARGES.
* In fact, if OTHERS are likely to be HARMED, you are morally OBLIGATED to press charges.
* But instead, forgiveness is:
1. Relinquishing your right for revenge
Forgiveness is SURRENDERING the right to get EVEN or the DESIRE to see them SUFFER. It is no longer nursing a grudge. It is literally CANCELING the DEBT that they owe us.
* It’s like a BANK forgiving a MORTGAGE.
This doesn’t just FREE THEM – it FREES YOU.
2. Desiring God’s best for them
Perhaps the HIGHEST TEST of forgiveness is when we can not only give up our right for revenge but also DESIRE, and even PRAY for God’s BEST for them.
HOW TO FORGIVE
This stuff is POSSIBLE, it can be done. I don’t mean you can do in your own STRENGTH. That is LIKELY IMPOSSIBLE.
* Forgiveness may first be an act of SURRENDER, of saying to God, “I CAN’T FORGIVE, HELP ME forgive.”
Make no mistake, it is a process: Deep hurts take TIME to RELEASE. Just as you REHEARSE a GRUDGE over and over, you have to RELEASE it OVER and OVER as well.
RECONCILIATION IS NOT
Forgiveness is always possible, but RECONCILIATION, restoration is NOT. Why? Because it depends on the OTHER PERSON. You have no control on them and what they do:
* They may not be SAFE for you to be in contact with.
* You may not be able to CONTACT them (they may be dead).
* They may not BE REPENTANT or WILLING to reconcile.
* They may NOT have CHANGED.
You can reasonably know if the person is SAFE or REACHABLE, but the other two are harder. The reason Paul could push for Philemon to be reconciled was that ONESIMUS had done HIS part:
1. Onesimus was repentant and willing.
By coming back to Colossae and RISKING his NECK (literally), he demonstrated that he REALLY, really wanted to be RESTORED to Philemon. There was no posturing or pretending here.
* By coming home, Onesimus was doing putting himself at PHILEMON’S MERCY.
When we are bitter and unforgiving, this exactly what we want, for the WRONG REASONS: We want to be able to HOLD it over them.
Q Have you ever REFUSED to FORGIVE and make up, trying to HOLD the person a SLAVE to your bitterness?
We all have. We can play this IDIOTIC GAME of “how long can I keep this grudge, even after they have apologized, before I am the one who needs to apologize.”
* When the other person is REPENTANT, at a MINIMUM, we must FORGIVE as God forgave us.
2. Onesimus had changed.
Onesimus was not the man he was. He went from USELESS to USEFUL, he was no longer the slacker:
Philemon 1:11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
Without CHANGE, I don’t think RECONCILIATION is EVER POSSIBLE. It wise to require a DEMONSTRATION (not just words).
* Please text “Sunday School Teacher” ; service is almost over
AN APPEAL TO RECONCILE
IF the answer to all of these is “YES,” then perhaps you should be open to GOD to helping us RESTORE a broken relationship.
Philemon 1:8-9 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.
But at the same time, Paul APPEALS to him, but does NOT order – I don’t think it is anyone’s place to ORDER RECONCILIATION. I don’t know the BAGGAGE, the BACKGROUND. I don’t think I can ever tell you MUST RECONCILE.
* FORGIVE, YES; reconcile no.
RECONCILED TO GOD AND MAN
But understand this: What happens BETWEEN US and our OFFENDER is meant to MIRROR what happened between GOD and US (his offender).
The Bible is all about us our SIN SEPARATING us from God and others. Through our rebellion, our selfishness, our pride, we DESTROY the RELATIONSHIPS God intend.
But the other half of the story is God FORGIVING sin and attempting to RECONCILE with us. It is not enough to him to simply forgive.
Q Can you imagine God saying, “I forgive you, but now I NEVER want to SEE you again”?
God’s highest desire is not to simply FORGIVE us, but RESTORE relationship. But he can’t always have that because he WON’T MAKE us:
2 Corinthians 5:20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
In the same spirit, I APPEAL to YOU: Examine to see if you can RECONCILE to that person. That is the complete picture of how God works; it is the IMAGE of what HEAVEN will be.
Q & A