Have you ever seriously considered the command: "Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Col. 3:13)? I must confess forgiveness at times is not an easy thing for me. I can look like the servant in Matthew 18 who has been forgiven much therefore I can forgive a fellow servant. But at times in my heart I have locked my fellow servant in prison until I am paid back. I work on a penance system at times which has nothing to do with true forgiveness.
I recently studied through Philemon which was a serious heart check for me to see the character of Philemon. Philemon had been wronged by his servant Onesimus with a crime that was punishable by death at the time. Not only did he run out on Philemon but he may have also stolen some of Philemon's possessions. This was no light matter. Philemon was a member of the church of Colossae who loved his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. We read about his godly character all throughout the short book of Philemon. Paul says this to Philemon:
"I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you." (4-7)
Paul wasn't trying to butter up Philemon so that forgiving Onesimus would be easy rather Paul is comforted in sending Onesimus back to Philemon because of Philemon's godly character. Keep in mind Onesimus was probably standing right in front of Philemon has he read Paul's letter. Onesimus was back because he was a changed man. While Onesimus had run out on Philemon he had sought after Paul who was in prison. Surely this was the work of the Holy Spirit in this sinners life. We see grace at work while Onesimus was in sin. Through it all Paul ministered to Onesimus and ultimately Onesimus repented of his sin. Onesimus was a new man in Christ and now he was seeking forgiveness from Philemon who he had wronged. Philemon now had an opportunity to make his theology practical.
What about us? What if we were in the situation where a brother or sister in Christ has wronged us and come back seeking forgiveness? A lack of forgiveness hinders our fellowship with God and not only with God but also our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Relationships are hindered when we don't truly forgive. When I'm struggling I normally sit there and think about how foolish it is not to forgive people. As brothers and sisters in Christ we all live at the foot of the cross. Imagine for a moment you are sitting with a fellow brother or sister in Christ, who has wrong you, at the foot of the cross. They ask you to forgive them of their sin against you but you reject their forgiveness. There you are sitting with them at the foot of the cross unreconciled. Something doesn't seem right. Don't you think gazing upon your infinite debt that is nailed to the cross would break your hardened heart? This is what Paul is saying in Colossians 3 when he says, "Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive." Paul was confident Philemon would forgive Onesimus because he understood the saving grace of God. We all need to be reminded of the grace and forgiveness of God so that we in turn may forgive as we have been forgiven.
Grace upon grace,