Thursday, June 16, 2016

Life-practical considerations and benefits of forgiveness

Philemon 1:20 Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.

For the past few days we have been exploring the major theme of forgiveness in Paul's short letter to Philemon.  If we were to outline Paul's little letter around the theme of forgiveness, we could do so in the following way:

1. Christian identity is expressed by forgiveness - Philemon 1:1-3

2. Christian love (rooted in God) drives forgiveness - Philemon 1:4-9

3. Christian delight grounded in the cross grants the logic for forgiveness.  - Philemon 1:10-19

So when we think about Christian identity, love and delight relative to forgiveness - we discover that forgiveness is not an option, but rather the only effective way to deal with experienced hurt and injustice. We've thus seen what forgiveness is and why for the Christian, it makes sense. Today's post aims to see the benefits that result from forgiveness. 

Considering the benefits of forgiveness
As we saw in the above verses, Philemon's positive response to Paul's appeal to forgive Onesimus will undoubtedly "refresh" Paul's heart.  Forgiveness benefits both the forgiver and the forgiven in the following ways:

1. Godly living will flow from delight, not just duty. 
As Paul writes in Philemon 1:20-21: "Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say."  We have already mentioned this benefit - but it bears repeating. When you and I regularly forgive - the Christian life becomes more of a delight rather than a drudgery.  

2. Godly insights will become more available.
Philemon 1:22 tells us: "22At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you." Have you ever noticed how your "spiritual-sky" is overcast during those seasons of bitterness? We know what we ought to do and yet don't. We hear sermons or Bible lessons and take in the truth intellectually, yet there is a log-jam blocking the passage-way between the head and the heart. Forgiveness grants the benefit of breaking up the clouds overhead and the log-jam in between the head and the heart. 

3. Godly fellowship will grow sweeter.
We read in Philemon 1:23-24: "Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24as  do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers."  Notice all of the wonderful people that can be opened up to us when we forgive.  It is no accident that the Bible talks about forgiveness in contexts where there are family members, church members and friends. Jacob and Esau needed to forgive one another. In the New Testament, we find Paul urging church members to get right with one another. Forgiveness opens our lives up to let the light of the Lord shine into them. 

Sweeter fellowship with people not only results when we forgive, but also fellowship with God. I'm certain every Christian, if not now, perhaps in the past, has been mad at God. Only at the cross can situations be made clear. When it comes to one's relationship with God, the perception of injustice on God's part is always do to mis-perception, since God is always just. Through the hurt we find God drawing us closer to Himself and our hearts being healed to where we embrace Him all the more. The marvel of forgiveness is recognizing that we have no grounds to exercise vengeance (even though we'd like to). When forgiveness occurs, the fellowship of other Christians becomes more sweeter and precious.

4. God's grace will operate more freely.
We discover in Philemon 1:25"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit". When you and I forgive, its not that we have to beg God for the grace needed to live with whatever consequences or whatever cost forgiveness may have to absorb.  Rather, by forgiving, we are stepping into grace already available. 

Final thoughts in practically exercising forgiveness
Drs. Timothy Clinton and George Ohlschlager are certified Christian counselors who have written a marvelous book entitled: "Competent Christian Counseling". In gleaning insights from pages 239-240 of their book, we can draw together all that we have considered in these last several posts on forgiveness. Their four-step process in practicing forgiveness is very apropos. 

1. Engage in lamenting. 

This has to do with engaging God in emotional honesty. They write: "lamenting means mourning the adverse effects of broken relationships and entreating God to bring divine healing and restoration." When I read these words, I think of Jeremiah and his book "Lamentations". His lament over the sins of His people made him raw. However, we would discover the hope of the New Covenant, the basis for God's salvation in Jesus, of which Jeremiah would be used of God to predict in the prophecy bearing his name (i.e the book of Jeremiah, chs 31-33).  

2. Encourage humility. 

Clinton and Ohlschlager write: "Humility allows a person to move beyond simply feeling the pain and anger of victim status to being able to empathize with the 'antagonist'. It also helps clients see their own contribution to the relational trouble." Certainly the authors' second step must be applied with delicacy. When considered in light of the 'logic of Calvary" that we have discussed in these last few posts, we find how forgiveness can oftentimes become a two-way street of healing.

3. Rehearse forgiving and apologizing. 

The authors note: "During a counseling session, have your client engage in a forgiveness event or ritual that may or may not include the other person". This particular step causes us to go from being spectators of forgiveness to becoming ready to forgive. 

4. Extend narrative horizons. 

In this last step of the process of forgiveness, Clinton and Ohlschlager note how this last step: "allows the client to see God's larger purposes of character development and spiritual maturity in the suffering and the forgiving."