“I appeal to you, Philemon, to show kindness to my child,
Onesimus…He is no longer your slave, he is your brother.”
Thoughts… Missionary Stan Mooneyham tells of walking along a trail in East Africa when he became aware of a delightful odor that filled the air. He looked up in the trees and around at the bushes trying to find what it was. His African friends told him to look down at the small blue flower growing along the path. Each time they crushed the tiny blossoms under their feet, its sweet perfume was released into the air.
They said, “We call it the forgiveness flower.”
The forgiveness flower doesn’t wait until we ask forgiveness for crushing it. It doesn’t wait for an apology or restitution; it merely lives up to its name and forgives—freely, fully, richly.
That’s what Paul was asking Philemon to do: To freely forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and to fully welcome him back into his household not as a slave, but as a brother.
Through Philemon, what Paul is saying to you and me is that if we want to be truly authentic in our faith, if we want to truly be like Jesus, then we must readily extend forgiveness to those who have offended us. Forgiveness is the first step on the pathway to Christ-likeness.
Moreover, forgiveness is an authentication of our Christ-likeness as well. The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wrote, “We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.”
If you are serious about becoming more like Christ, Ephesians 4:32 says you must, “forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” That means you treat the person who has hurt you just like you hope God will treat you: Quickly, freely, completely forgiven.
Forgiveness is an act of sheer obedience. Notice what Paul says at the end of his appeal in verse 21, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.”
Forgiveness is arguably the most difficult of all Christian virtues. It means letting go of what is rightfully yours—justice! When you forgive, in reality, it’s you—the one who is owed, who pays the price of forgiveness in full.
But isn’t that what God did for us? In Christ, the debt was paid for us. This is what theologians call the doctrine of imputation… “to put it on someone else’s account.” When Jesus died on the cross, my sins were put on his account. He was treated the way I should have been treated. But even more, not only was he my substitute, his guiltlessness became mine. He took my guilt and exchanged it for his righteousness. He said to the Judge, “He no longer owes the debt—I paid it in full. Receive him as you would receive me. He’s family now!”
That’s what we’re reminded of in this little letter of Philemon, that Christ-likeness requires no less of us than what Jesus has done for us!
Forgiveness is the fragrance of the flower that’s left on the heel of the shoe that crushed it.
I hope you give off that fragrance today!
Prayer… Dear Father, you have freely, unconditionally and completely forgiven me. Now give me the grace to forgive, just as in Christ, you have forgiven me.
One More Thing… “He who cannot forgive others destroys the bridge over which he himself must pass.” —George Herbert