Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A matter of obedience

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Philemon 1-25

TO CHEW ON: "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say." Philemon 21

The little Bible book of Philemon is a letter from Paul to fellow Christian Philemon. In it he appeals to Philemon to be reconciled to his runaway slave Onesimus. It seems that the runaway found his way to Paul, accepted the gospel and is now a helper to Paul while he is in prison.

An introductory note in my Bible explains, "Paul's primary goal was to see Philemon freely embrace the fugitive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. The apostle made clear his desire for Onesimus to stay with him, but insisted on reconciliation first (vs. 13-14)." - Introduction to Philemon, New Spirit Filled Life Bible, p. 1724.

Paul's tone is respectful. He is careful to defer to Philemon's own will before taking Onesimus into his own service more permanently: "But without your consent I wanted to do nothing..." vs. 14. He even offers to pay — a blank cheque — whatever outstanding debts Onesimus owes to Philemon: "But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account" vs. 17.

So, coming to the end of the chapter the word "obedience" jumps out at us. Who or what is he telling Philemon to obey? He, Paul, has made no commands in the letter. But by slipping in that word, he is reminding Philemon that there is also an imperative involved here. I would suggest it is the command to forgive.

Jesus was always clear about how important forgiveness was:

"And when you stand praying you hold anything against anyone forgive him so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins" Mark 11:25.

"If he sins against you seven times in a day and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him" Luke 17:4.

In other writings Paul teaches forgiveness too — see Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13.

Paul's suggestion that forgiveness is a matter of obedience applies to us too. Many aspects of relationships involve choices we are free to make. But whether or not we choose to forgive those who have wronged us falls in a different department — that of obedience or disobedience.

PRAYER: Dear God, please help me to develop an attitude of ready and unconditional forgiveness. Amen.

MORE: Wisdom about forgiveness

I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive.  Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two, and burned up, so that it never can be shown against one.  ~Henry Ward Beecher
"To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.  ~Lewis B. Smedes, "Forgiveness - The Power to Change the Past," Christianity Today, 7 January 1983
"Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future."  ~Paul Boese
"It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend."  ~William Blake, Jerusalem
"He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass."  ~George Herbert
"Forgiving is love's toughest work, and love's biggest risk.  If you twist it into something it was never meant to be, it can make you a doormat or an insufferable manipulator.  Forgiving seems almost unnatural.  Our sense of fairness tells us people should pay for the wrong they do.  But forgiving is love's power to break nature's rule."  ~Lewis B. Smedes

More forgiveness quotes found in The Quote Garden (where I picked these).

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

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