Summary: Forgiveness is a Christian Ministry that God has given the injured and the one who caused its wholeness.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “the weak finds it difficult to forgive, because forgiveness is an attribute of the strong. But the strong that can and does forgive needs to know that their forgiveness comes from a place, a person, a strength, a power far stronger than them. Reinhold Niebuhr says, “that forgiveness is a form of love”, and that thought I believe intersects with the theology of Dr. King, who said, “He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power of love. Because forgiveness in its truest form is not just an action of a person, it’s the attitude that a person demonstrates as a result of the action.” Too often we see forgiveness only as a gift that we are giving to someone else, and it is truly that. But forgiveness is equally a gift to the offended, for the injured, the one crushed; the wronged gives themselves permission (from themselves and for themselves) to rise up, to move on, to begin anew, the wrong empowers themselves to a new destiny. Because in the ministry of forgiveness, we are setting the prisoner free (the convict free, the one who was and is guilty). But at the same time you are also unlocking the cage that may have you confined to live in the freedom of the fullness of life that you deserved. So forgiveness within itself is morally and personally economical. Its economical in that it saves the expense of anger, it saves the cost of hatred, and the waste of a spirit that is counter productive. It saves wasted energy that can be poured into something more positive and purposeful.
This morning our text comes from this one page letter written by the Apostle Paul to a dear and trusted friend whose names is Philemon. The letter to Philemon belongs to that period of time of Paul’s writing three other letters to churches as well. The letters to the church at Ephesus, Colossae, and Philippi were written and delivered at the same time. Paul has a great deal of time to write because he is in jail; he is under house arrest for over two years (we know that from the last two verses that closes the Book of Acts). It was during this period the congregants and leaders of the churches would come to see Paul and share with him what was happening in the local churches as well as to encourage him. The church at Philippi was giving Paul apparently mission offerings to sustain him in this season of his life. In his writing to that church at Philippi he commends them for their continued charity and support:
Philippians 4:15-17 Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
Paul saw their support of him as an odor (fragrance) of sacrifice that pleased God and blessed him. In the very first verse of the letter to his friend Philemon he states his present circumstance, Paul a prisoner of Jesus Christ, in verse 10 as he addresses his friend Philemon, he mentions his bonds (which really mean his hand cuffs or leg irons (his chains).
Philemon was obviously a Christian brother; he is apparently a convert of Paul. He heard the gospel through the ministry of Paul. He is such a Christian that the church meets in his house, in verse 2. He lives in Colossae, but there is no building to meet, so they assembled in his house. He is a man of wealth and means, he has servants, slaves who are owned and employed by him. And he has one whose names is Onesimus (v. 10) who has ran away and taken from Philemon what was not his but perhaps what was Philemon’s. Onesimus was not wrong for wanting his freedom, but wrong for how he chose to obtain it and what he did to do get it. The amazing thing to me is how Onesimus ends up with Paul; a person on the run does not make visits to where Paul is if they are in their right mind. A fugitive avoids situation such as Paul’s circumstance. But whatever the case, it’s amazing how God works to bring situations into the light that they need to be brought to. Onesimus ends up meeting or being with Paul and evidently confessed to Paul where he was from and what he was, and what he had done, and who he had done it to. And Paul probably says, you are not going to believe this, but Philemon is my convert in Christ and my friend. And we might need to at least make this effort to make this as right as we can under these circumstances. So Paul sits down and writes a letter to Philemon, asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus, set him free of his charge, and he expects Onesimus to go back to the place and the person that he has wronged. And Paul makes a case I believe of why Philemon ought to forgive.