Is Forgiveness a “Have To” or a “Get To”?

The book of Philemon is very short — only one chapter. But it is also deep. And it is especially deep on the topic of motivating people to do the godly thing, and to do it for the godly reason.

Paul is appealing to Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. Onesimus had run away and according to Roman law, Philemon would have had the right to severely punish Onesimus for this.

As you read the following set of verses, take note of how Paul frames his appeal. Could he have demanded that Philemon do what he was telling him to do? Could he have pulled the authority card out, and told Philemon, “Hey, I’m an apostle. Don’t forget it. Forgive Onesimus. Don’t even think about doing anything different. I’m ordering you to do this.”

Yes, he could have. But he doesn’t do it that way.

Instead, he makes a request, and he does so in the hope that Philemon will be internally motivated by the love that’s in his heart — love for Jesus, and love for Paul, and even love for Onesimus — to extend forgiveness.

Why would he do that?

Because Philemon would recall that he had first of all been forgiven and loved. By Jesus. He would remember that without Jesus, he himself would still be a slave to sin, death and the devil. Gratitude would fill his heart and inform his actions.

Especially, in this case, gratitude would inform his actions in regard to Onesimus. Framed this way, forgiveness would not be a “have to.” It would be a “get to.”

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains” (Philemon 8-10, NIV).

Lord help me to love and forgive others as you have first loved and forgiven me. Not because I have to, but because my heart is so filled with gratitude that I get to.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 29, is Lamentations 2:7 – 3:39, Philemon 1-25 and Psalm 119:121-128.

Header image based on "Motivation in Somerset" by Sam Saunders, CC By-SA 2.0

Lead with Thanksgiving and Faith

When you’re dealing with the people in your life, do you lead with gratitude? Do you begin with faith?

The people in the church at Corinth had huge issues. And we’ll be delving in detail into those issues over the next few weeks. But Paul, the apostle, does not come out of the gate with frustration, anger, directives and discipline.

Given the volume and the size of the spiritual struggles that this congregation faced, I don’t think anyone would have faulted Paul had he led out with a bit of negativity. But he doesn’t. And by taking a positive, encouraging, grateful and faith-filled approach, Paul teaches us a ton about how to deal with difficult relationships.

Be grateful for all people, no matter how much they might test you at times. And when you find it really, really tough to put your faith in a person, or extend respect to them, then turn to God, pray for that person, and put your faith in God.

The reasons for this are obvious, aren’t they? People are sinful, weak and untrustworthy. God, on the other hand, is pure, strong and completely trustworthy at all times.

Even more, by dealing with the Corinthians like this, Paul is truly a reflection of the love of Christ — God’s mercy and grace. He shows us how Jesus deals with us.

Because all of us are “difficult people” at times, aren’t we? All of us require a little extra grace on some days.

That’s just what Paul extends to the Corinthians. And that’s just what Jesus still extends to us every day! Grace, after all, is what truly changes hearts and lives.

So, in our relationships with one another, how about we make this commitment? We will lead with thanksgiving and faith!

“I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:4-9, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, August 4, is 1 Chronicles 16:37 – 18:17, 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 and Proverbs 19:3-12.

Lord, thank you for all the spiritual blessings you have given me, starting with your mercy, grace and forgiveness. Thank you for the people you have placed in my life too. Help me to be grace-filled and faith-filled as I relate to the people around me.

Header image based on "Gratitude changes the way we look at the world" by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

Stages in the Journey

As we come out of our spiritual “Egypt” and go on our way to the “Promised Land,” we all go through stages in our journey of faith.

When we start out, everything in Christianity is new and different. We leave behind the familiar territory of our slavery to sin.

And there are times, like there were for the Israelites, when that old way of life seems to call out to us with an irresistible siren’s call. Much as we know this new life is right, we still sometimes miss aspects of our old life of slavery.

But as we go deeper into the new territory, we learn more things about God. We come to know, as the Israelites did, just how patient, gracious and giving our God is. We begin to grasp his laws and commands. We see that each day he will give us our daily bread. And sometimes he will grant his blessings in wondrous ways, far beyond our comprehension.

And as for us? We remain sinful, even as we are drawn each day by the Spirit to live more fully in our new identity as children of God. There will be stages of pride and rebellion, of reversal in our faith, then repentance. There will be battles. And there will be wanderings.

But always, always, wherever we wander, whatever battle we are currently fighting, there is our faithful and forgiving God. And there is his word, pointing us back to him.

One of the reasons I love writing this blog is that it gives me the opportunity to record the stages in my own journey.

How about you? Do you take time to reflect and meditate on the stages in your journey of faith in Jesus? Do you take time to step back, and get up on the “balcony” of your life?

Doing so will give you time for repentance, for gratitude, for joy and for enjoying God’s faithful love.

“Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites when they came out of Egypt by divisions under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. At the Lord’s command Moses recorded the stages in their journey. This is their journey by stages…” (Numbers 33:1-2, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, April 2, is Numbers 33:1 – 34:29, Luke 9:10-27 and Proverbs 8:22-31.

Header image based on "hiking the Grand Canyon" by Rick McCharles, CC By 2.0