Thursday, November 15, 2012

The heart behind true forgiveness

Philemon 8-9 "Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus."

Yesterday we considered how forgiveness is the hub of Christian identity.  Truly a Christian is no more like Jesus Christ than when he or she forgives. (Ephesians 4:31-32; Colossians 3:13)  Today we want to deal with the essence of forgiveness itself. 

Forgiveness can only be effective when it arises from grace, rather than duty
Paul writes in Philemon 8-9 "Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus".   Paul's appeal to Philemon could had came out of his authority as an apostle, it could had been articulated as a guilt trip or even as demand out of sheer obligation.  No doubt Paul the mighty Apostle to the Gentiles could issue decrees, thus commanding Philemon to forgive this newly converted man Onesimus.  Without question Paul, the prince of preachers, could had laid upon Philemon to forgive Onesimus who had been converted under his time with Paul in prison.  Beyond doubt Paul could had used the fact that Philemon himself was a convert of Paul's ministry, and that somehow he "owed" Paul. 

If Paul would had done either of those methods, the forgiveness demanded would had been done out of duty, rather than grace.  What does Paul say he is doing instead in verse 9: "yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you."  It is love, based on the ultimate love of God at Calvary that governs the logic of forgivness. (Romans 5:8).  Grace - God's Riches At Christ's Expense, is the chiefest motivation for wanting to forgive those who outside of grace only deserve justice. 

Difference between non-Christian and Christian expressions of forgiveness
In light of what we just observed in Philemon 8-9, we can understand the difference between non-Christian and Christian expressions of forgiveness.  When a non-Christian forgives, they do it because of duty.  They do it because: "its the right thing" or "I know it will help me feel better" or "I know that it will benefit everyone for me to do it".  In the world outside of the cross, the mouth that utters "I forgive" has beneath its breath: "however".  Why?  Because outside the cross forgiveness makes no sense.  Forgiveness is viewed as the best of options - but to the unbelieving world - it is an option.  Often the preferred option is vengence. 

However for a person who has been brought to the cross by grace through faith and believed on Jesus Christ - forgiveness is the only thing that makes sense.  Forgiveness based upon what God did in Jesus Christ is not a duty.  Rather forgiveness is an expression of love.  If anything - vengance is cancelled out at Calvary.  All grounds of accusation and litigation are taken away at the cross. (Romans 5:6-10; Colossians 2:11-15)  Christian forgiveness not only changes the state of the guilty in the eyes of the forgiving person, but the forgiving person is changed too.

The one who has been forgiven much will love much
A wonderful illustration of the heart of forgiveness is seen in the account of the woman anointing Jesus' feet in Luke 7:40-50.  She came, a woman with a checkered past.  She came, crawling on the ground, hair unfurled, dragging on the ground.  She came, sobbing, weeping, trembling, bent in humility.  She began to wipe Jesus' soiled feet with her hair.  Her love was without bounds.  Why? Jesus stated that she loved much because she has been forgiven much. (Luke 7:47)   The love of the cross reached backward in time to her.  She by grace believed the promises of God and grabbed hold of Christ the Person of those promises.  The accomplishment of Calvary reaches forward in time to us.

How much has God forgiven us through Jesus Christ?  What did we do that compelled the sinless Savior to go to the cross?  I often tell people that no matter what someone has done to you to bring about your circumstances, it can never compare to what you and I did to compell Jesus to go to the cross on our behalf. 

Why the heart behind true forgiveness is love
In going back to Paul's comments in Philemon, why did he choose love as the basis of his appeal to Philemon? Because in order for forgiveness to be real and effective - it has to be a choice.  Only one other expression matches that set of criteria - love.  If love is forced or guilted into, then it is not love.  Love is the hand and forgiveness is the glove.  Love is the pond and forgiveness the fountain.  Love is the flower and forgiveness the scent.  Paul was trusting completely in the sufficency of the Spirit's inspired words flowing through him, and out of that pen on paper to soften Philemon's heart.  Forgiveness is influenced by love - and love is the cause of forgiveness, which results in change and transformed lives. 

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