Have you read the book of Philemon? It’s a half page towards the back of the Bible. And while it’s a story of forgiveness – it doesn’t even mention the word. Check it out. You may have to look it up in the index to find it. That’s ok… it’s worth it.
Here’s some background on the book. This guy named Onesimus worked for this guy named Philemon. Onesimus up and left one day, without telling Philemon. Apparently this was bad as Onesimus also owed Philemon a debt. Onesimus came upon the Apostle Paul in a jail and they chatted it up for a while – and Paul led Onesimus to Christ and talked to Onesimus about the importance of reconciliation. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon explaining what had transformed in Onesimus’ life and asking Philemon to transfer the debit to Paul and accept Onesimus back into his life. Paul then asked Onesimus to hand-deliver the letter to Philemon. Can you imagine the reconciliation that took place that day?!
I have a personal story to share in line with this… when my parents’ pastor was made aware of my Campouts, Quicksand and Cesspools project he inquired if I would be willing to share a personal story ahead of his sermon this weekend. It’s the weekend before Easter, and we are all being called to reconciliation with Christ … as I prayed over the following story I prayed that God’s people would truly take to heart the impact of reconciliation.
Can you envision what our churches would look like if we forgave each other of both minor and MAJOR offenses? Can you imagine how much of an impact our testimonies could have on the rest of the world if we truly grasped this in EVERY area of our lives?
I was raised in church and inwardly reconciled to God at a very young age. However, my life chapter of outward reconciliation (meaning – truly extending forgiveness to others) picks up on about, oh…. page 542. I sat in church on a Sunday morning and heard, for what felt like the very first time, the story of God’s mercy. I was 39 years old at that point. (What can I say? I’m a late bloomer.)
In those moments I truly recognized the depth and vastness of God’s unconditional love for me IN SPITE of my imperfections. As this soaked in it occurred to me that He asks us to love each other in the same way… that’s right, in spite of each other’s imperfections.
As Mark Batterson says, “Grace is the catalyst that turns guilt into gratitude.” Over the next couple of weeks I processed this new revelation. With this heart-knowledge I knew it was time to extend forgiveness to some people who had deeply hurt me. Those red-hot coals of bitterness had been smoldering long enough … it was time to turn over the soil and extinguish them once and for all.
I’m a list person. So what did I do? I made a list of people I knew I needed to forgive. Simply writing some of their names was difficult. But I committed the people on that list to God. I prayerfully sought God’s will and timing and trusted that He would orchestrate these conversations. I even asked for Him to reveal to me anyone I left off the list.
Recognizing that some people might not react well to hearing someone say “I forgive you, friend.” I trusted that God was working on their heart at the same time.
I knew that good things were getting ready to happen!
And, just like God likes to do, He brought one of those people into my path within a very short period of time. (Of course He did! There are no coincidences in life, right?!) One day I was out shopping and saw one of the people on my list across the store – and my instinct was to hide or put down my things and leave. But instead I said a quick prayer, and approached the person with a gentle spirit. I smiled. They smiled. We hugged. And God did a wonderful thing in the aisle of the store that day. There were tears, and hugs and a reconciliation that I never could have imagined possible. It was certainly not something I could have done without God’s grace in my life.
And I shift back to the story in the book of Philemon. Onesimus, once reconciled to God, was returning to Philemon with Paul’s letter in hand. You see, Paul knew God was going to do a good work in the relationship between these two men. Imagine the look on Philemon’s face as Onesimus approached him, letter in hand. Trust me friends – no matter how deep the hurt and resentment, no matter how long the rift in the relationship… God can take those red-hot coals of bitterness and turn them into something better.