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FIRST-PERSON: The power of forgiveness

EULESS, Texas (BP)–The Apostle Paul knew the power of forgiveness.

Paul encountered a man named Onesimus and led him to faith in Jesus; Onesimus, in turn, helped Paul in his efforts to share the Gospel. But for all of Onesimus’ great work, one issue still haunted Paul’s helper: Onesimus had a broken relationship.

Apparently, Onesimus was a runaway slave, and a Christian named Philemon was his master. This fact seems incongruent to us today, but that was the reality of their relationship.

They had a “falling out,” and when Onesimus converted to Christ, Paul sent him back to Philemon. In essence, Paul put both men in a position where they had to forgive one another.

Think about Onesimus’ position. Would you want to forgive? Think about Philemon’s position. Would he want to forgive? This would be a tense meeting to say the least.

But what were Paul’s instructions to Philemon? He said to him, “I am sending him [Onesimus] back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel” (Philemon 1:12-13, NKJV).

Paul continues: “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

“If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand” (Philemon 1:15-19a).

Paul went all out to get these two people to forgive one another. When we read that Paul sent Onesimus back, we realize that Paul was serious about mending this broken relationship, and Paul wanted Onesimus to forgive Philemon. And when we read that Paul encourages Philemon to “receive” Onesimus, he is telling Philemon to forgive him. He pulled out all of the stops.

Why did he do this?

Paul knew that there is no future without forgiveness. In Christ, forgiveness means that we treat others like “brothers” even though they have wronged us (v. 16). Forgiveness means that hatred, bitterness and anger are washed away in the blood of Christ.

Otherwise, the only reality for our future will be hatred, bitterness and anger that stands between us and the one who has wronged us (or the one whom we wronged)!

Regardless of the circumstances that we find ourselves in, think of the broken relationship of a slave (Onesimus) and his master (Philemon). In Christ, we can forgive one another and move to the future with Him — in our families, in our workplace, in our church, in our communities.

It’s never easy to ask for forgiveness and it’s never easy to forgive, but forgiveness paves the way for Christ to do incredible things in our lives.

“Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven'” (Matthew 18:21-22, NKJV).
For more resources from Claude Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church in Euless, Texas, visit www.LifePoints.org.

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  • Claude Thomas