Philemon 1:9 "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."
These last several posts have been dedicated to exploring the Biblical teach on forgiveness through Paul's letter to Philemon. We could nick-name the Epistle to Philemon as "The Book of Forgiveness". We saw in the last post how true, effective forgiveness must arise from delight touched by grace, rather than sheer duty. It is one's duty to forgive, however, only in Jesus Christ can such a duty be seen as a delight. This doesn't take away the difficulty of forgiveness. If anything, to rely upon the logic of Calvary and God's grace to exercise forgiveness is impossible to do in the flesh. When we have gripped hold of the cross - only then will we "let go" and desire to forgive. Today's post will go a step further in expounding on how love and forgiveness go hand-in-hand. In short, we will not only see how both go hand-in-hand, but also why they do.
Why forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand
What does Paul say he is doing instead in Philemon 1:9 - "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 forgiveness (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. At the cross, we see God's love and forgiveness explaining the activity of Jesus Christ on behalf of the sinner. John 3:16 tells us "For God so loved the world....". Yet again, we find these words in Romans 5:8 "For God demonstrated His love for us in this, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
God's love is clearly expressed at the cross along with the act of such love - namely forgiveness. Ephesians 1:7 states clearly - "in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins". Or again, the same words are repeated in Colossians 1:14.
This is the logic of Calvary. We know that forgiveness and love go hand-in-hand at the cross, but the question is: "Why"? Christ is the visible expression and revelation of the invisible Father, who is Divine love (see 1 John 4:8). Moreover, Christ forgives as the Father forgives, since Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, the visible expression of the Father who is invisible, spirit and the forgiver of sinners reconciled to Him through Christ in saving faith (see Colossians 3:13). True love and forgiveness derive from God, who in turn, instills it and commands it to His people (Ephesians 4:32).
Difference between non-Christian and Christian expressions of forgiveness
In light of what we just observed in Philemon 1:8-9, we can understand the difference between non-Christian and Christian expressions of forgiveness. When a non-Christian forgives, they do it because of duty. All human beings are made in God's image (Genesis 1:26) and henceforth can express in shadowy form moral and ethical actions. God by nature is a forgiving and loving God. As those made in His image, human beings can express a form of forgiveness and love. However, until people are re-cast in the image of Jesus Christ at saving faith (see Ephesians 4:23-24), forgiveness will only ever be an obligation, rather than a God-centered desire.
Unbelievers who exercise forgiveness and love express the form without the true substance. 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.
For those outside of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, forgiveness is viewed as the best of options. Often the preferred option is vengeance. 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. Instead, forgiveness is an expression of love. If anything - vengeance 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 to Jesus. She was 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.
What compelled God to work forth forgiveness at the cross?
How much has God forgiven us through Jesus Christ? What did we do that compelled the sinless Savior to go to the cross? Nothing. Forgiveness, like love, is not compelled. It is an act of the will influenced by love. 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. If God could forgive the likes of us through His Son out of sheer love, then cannot His love working through us result in us desiring to forgive that other person?
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. As already mentioned: if love is coerced, 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 sufficiency 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.