The conversation was years ago now. But I can still remember it. Immature behavior of the past continued to bring censure and judgement from another Christian who just refused to see past the past. It was a source of great frustration. I could feel their pain. Perhaps you can, too. Many of us have said or done stupid and wrong things and have had Christian siblings who have walked away from us because of it. They have never forgiven us or gave us room to grow in the Lord. Even if it was five or twelve or thirty years ago.
I never fail to be amazed at the lack of grace and forgiveness we show one another in the church when it comes to personal offense and hurt. We have much tolerance for all kinds of sin but when it comes to this there is zero tolerance. Personal offense has become the ultimate sin.
We can see how this wreaks havoc on a church and in families. So-and-so doesn’t want to be on a committee with this person or serve in a ministry with that person. Or they pretend to like someone, all the while gossiping about them or harboring ill-will in their heart towards them.
Now, of course, we need to admit that we aren’t going to feel kinship with everyone. Our personalities are all different and we will naturally be drawn to certain people and not to others. Ideally, this should be no cause for strife. But, of course, we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?
I thought of all of this as I was reading Philemon yesterday. The letter never used the words “forgiveness” or “second chance” but that is the theme of the book. Paul is writing a letter from Rome to his Christian brother, Philemon, regarding a slave by the name of Onesimus that had stolen from him and ran away to Rome. Through God’s Providence, Onesimus had become saved through Paul’s ministry there and was a new creation. Paul was writing to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus and give him a second chance.
I wonder if Paul had his own experience in mind when he wrote. He, who had been one of the worst persecutor of believers, had become a new creation in Christ and, understandably, the disciples viewed him skeptically and held him at arm’s length. It was Barnabas who gave him opportunity to share his testimony. The rest were afraid. There are only a few verses in Acts 9 that talk about this but I can’t help but wonder if proving that he was not the same man as before to his fellow Christians was no simple process and I wonder if this may have been cause for much discouragement and heartache.
And so when Paul is writing to Philemon, asking him to give Onesimus a second chance, Paul knows exactly how Onesimus feels. He understand his desire to make things right now that he had been transformed by Jesus Christ. And so he pleaded with Philemon to give him that opportunity.
I think this is a message we all need to hear. As believers, we should be people known for forgiveness and second chances. Not just for those who have been transformed by Christ through salvation but also for those who are being transformed by Christ through sanctification.
Because the encouraging truth is this: If we are believers, we are not the same person today as we were last year. Or the year before that. Or two years before that. We are growing and changing and maturing in the faith. It is so critical we remember this as we reflect on our own hurts and offenses from others. They, too, if they are saved, are growing and changing and maturing. We need to offer love and forgiveness and grace.
But what if we struggle with someone that hasn’t changed and doesn’t seem to be in the process of change? What then?
That’s a great question. And one that can be answered so clearly from this verse in Matthew–
But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:15)
Our call is to forgive and offer grace to all people (regardless of their desire or lack thereof of that forgiveness and grace), just as God forgave us and offers us SO MUCH grace.
Our forgiveness and grace isn’t based on that person deserving it. It’s based on the undeserved forgiveness and grace we have received from God.
I’ve noticed in my own life that my forgiveness and grace for others has become easier (not easy) as I am growing in my understanding of just how much I need God’s forgiveness and grace.
As a young believer I truly had no concept of the depth of my own sin. I thought I was a pretty good person and my pride in my “goodness” made me a person who was easily offended. But study of the Word and examination of self through the years started opening my eyes. And, while I still have such a long way to go, I am thankful to God for His work in my life. If you are a growing believer, I know you can say the same thing.
I think this topic of forgiveness and grace for one another is such an important one. While the culture (including the Christian culture) calls for effusive grace when it comes to SIN the call in regards to personal disagreements, hurts, and offenses is to offer NO grace. This is completely opposite of what is written for us in scripture.
There, we find that we are not to tolerate sin but rather confront it gently with the idea of restoration. (Galatians 6:1) AND that we are to offer forgiveness and grace for personal wrongs (Philemon).
A long time ago now, I started intentionally thinking three little words when I would be personally offended: “Let it roll”. Just let it roll.
This little phrase has served me well through the years. When I was tempted to hold a grudge or say something unwise in response, I’d think of this little phrase. When I was mulling over hurtful words or a bit of gossip said about me, I would first evaluate the truthfulness of what was said and take action if necessary and then I would think of this little phrase: Let it roll. This phrase continues to help me even to this day.
Just as rain rolls right off of a duck’s back so should those personal offenses and hurtful words roll right off of our backs. Now, of course, there are times when we need to have hard conversations due to patterns of behavior. Times when those little words aren’t adequate.
But, in my personal experience, they often are adequate. They often do remind me to let things go rather than to hold on to them and stew about them and make the offense bigger in my mind.
Whether it is with family or friends or co-workers and anyone else God puts in our paths, may we be known as people of forgiveness and grace, rather than people of grudges and bitterness.