“And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.” Philemon 1:6
As I sat this morning contemplating what to read in the Bible, I was led to Philemon. A small, seemingly insignificant chapter buried in the New Testament. It is a letter from Paul to his friend Philemon, a wealthy Christian friend. Some scholars believe that Philemon had sent a servant, Onesimus, to visit Paul in prison; others believe that Onesimus had run away and found himself in the same prison as Paul. Either way, he had become a believer in Christ and now wanted to return home. Paul beseeches Philemon to show kindness to Onesimus.
As I read through the words of Paul, it reminded me of some situations in my own life. I have had loved ones who have disappointed me with their actions. My first emotions are ones of anger and hurt. My humanity comes into play as I point out their obvious mistakes, showering them with verbal reminders of how much they hurt me. I list out their offenses, pointing out everything they have ever done wrong. I bring the past into the present with amazing clarity.
Yet instantly my words feel like gravel in my mouth. My own sins of omission and intentional behavior come swirling around me, reminding me of the times I have caused that same disappointment to those around me. What did I want from them? What did I need from them? What did I, in my heart of hearts, hope that they would do in the very moment I was walking back into their lives? The words of Christ when He tells Peter that he must forgive seventy times seven times fill every dark space in my mind. Has He not forgiven me each and every time I have disappointed Him? Has He not wiped the slate clean, letting me start fresh and new each morning? (Lamentations 3:23, Hebrews 8:12)
Paul tells Philemon to “help because you were willing, not because you were forced” (vs 14) Oh how those words struck a chord deep in my soul. How often have I been drug kicking and screaming into showing mercy to someone I profess to love? How often have I given kindness so that I can point to the kindness I gave as some sort of trophy for me to hold aloft? More than once the words have left my mouth but the actions have never been from the heart.
As I wrapped up my reading this morning, it occurred to me that forgiveness isn’t just about the words you say to the person who has offended you. It is a true and genuine feeling from your heart and soul that lets the person know that you have truly moved past the moment and wiped the slate clean. Just as Paul recognized that Onesimus was now a brother in Christ, I need to remember that each of us has a role in God’s ultimate plan. It is not up to me to decide what role people get to play. It is only up to me to love and support them, lifting them when they fall, forgiving them when they disappoint, and loving them in spite of what they do to hurt me.
Dearest Adonai, thank You for your words that lifted my heart this morning. I know that reading from Your Word each and every day will fill all the dark spaces that are in my heart and mind. Let me never let go of Your Light. Let me show Your Light to everyone I meet. Please remind me that if I need You to forgive my every discretion, I must do the same to those who hurt me. Every day is a new chance to worship You and share You with everyone I meet. Let my first act today be to forgive those whose hurt I have been holding on to. For until I do Your Will, I can’t move forward in Your Grace. In the Name of Your Perfect Son, Christ Jesus, Amen