Summary: We are defined by the experiences we allow into our lives. When we have been forgiven we will have a forgiving character - Philemon has this character and we can learn from that.
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“Forgiveness Shapes our Character”.
There are times when powerful experiences shape who we become.
A few years ago I interviewed Ross Davie, he was a well known radio personality in the late 80’s and early 90’s in Brisbane. At that time he was really struggling with life and was an angry man. One afternoon during peak hour traffic he was stuck behind a bus. When he had a chance to go by he honked wildly at the driver, gave him a few rude gestures, and shouted a few choice swear words. A kilometre up the road his car broke down in the middle of one of the busiest intersections in Brisbane. A man came over to help him push the car – it was the bus driver. All the bus driver said was, “I think you are an angry man who needs to make peace with God”. That next Sunday Ross went to church as he sat down in the row he realized the person in front of him was the bus driver. That experience changed Ross’ life.
Powerful experiences shape who we become. Let me give you another example. This one is from the Scriptures.
Luke 17:1-10 (read)
Powerful experiences shape who we become.
The experience here is the forgiveness of Jesus.
Jesus is talking to His disciples.
They follow Him because they know He is the answer.
The serve Him because they are looking for purpose and meaning.
They trust Him because they have seen how He had set so many people free from the chains of sin.
They have first-hand experience of being in a relationship with Him. Because of that relationship they know … right to the very heart of their being they know … that they cannot remain unaffected.
This experience of being in relationship with Jesus is shaping them. In this case The forgiveness of Jesus is shaping them to have a character of forgiveness.
It isn’t a question of, “will I or won’t I be forgiving?” rather it is a question of “will I or won’t I have an obedient character?”
That is strong language.
But it is Biblical language.
It’s the language that Jesus uses here in Luke 17.
Jesus acknowledges that those who cause hurt need to take responsibility – and that their actions will have consequences. Woe to that person ... it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck. Jesus is not dismissing the hurt – or making it into something trivial.
But in that context Jesus also has a clear word for those who have been hurt. If they sin against you seven times a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, “I repent”, forgive them.
Forgiveness is a duty. Lack of forgiveness is an act of disobedience. That is the language which Jesus uses. That is because, when we are in a relationship with Jesus, it shapes our character. That is exactly the expectation Paul has when he writes to Philemon.
Philemon 4-7 (Read)
Our society is a society that encourages us to be unforgiving people. A few years ago a physician friend of mine was sued because a patient died under his care. The doctor was called in for an emergency to help this very difficult situation. The irony of it all was, that if he had just said no and stayed home instead – he would not have been sued. I know there are some exceptions - but what kind of world do we live in where those who are committed to saving lives, and helping people, and restoring dignity have to protect themselves against a society that increasingly doesn’t say thanks, but sues instead.
Well actually, the world has always been like this. Our world has often been a place where forgiveness is not easy to come by. The world of Philemon was like that.
Philemon is a wealthy man – the church in Colossae meets at his home. He is a man who has slaves. One of those slaves is Onesimus – Onesimus who has run away to Rome. Here Onesimus met Paul. Paul tells Onesimus about Jesus and Onesimus comes to faith. It is a great story of transformation.
But there is a practical problem. Ordinarily when a slave ran away, and then was found, the owner would have the letter “F” branded into the forehead of the slave. “F” which stands for fugitive. It’s a mark that lasts for life identifying you – not only as a slave – but a slave who is a failure.
That is what usually happens. But, because of the conversion of Onesimus, Philemon and Onesimus are now brothers in the Lord.
What are you going to do now Philemon?