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Very often in our lives, we have small things that take on oversized significance. Think about the act of proposing. Someone gets down on one knee and offers a small token (engagement ring) that has a big, life-changing impact. That’s like the Book of Philemon. It’s only a little over 400 words but takes on such a huge issue that’s not an easy subject for us to consider – much less walk out in our lives. And it’s this seemingly simple but very profoundly complex word: reconciliation.

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.


Reconciliation is so compelling to talk about. It’s something we all love to talk about. We love seeing it when it happens, but it’s hard to do. It’s so hard to work out and walk out in our lives, and for many of us, this hits incredibly close to home.  

One of the things we often do in church is take complicated things and try to make them simple. We say things like, Jesus Christ has forgiven you, and it actually says this in the scriptures, therefore, you should go forgive everybody else.  

Intellectually, we know that’s true, but then we look at our own situation, our own lives, all that’s happened, what was said, what was done, or what was left undone, and it’s much more complicated than that.  

It’s more than just doing something. The emotional component is much harder to iron out. And that’s what happened in Philemon. There’s a moral complication, this issue of slavery. There’s a relational complication.  

Since it’s something so improper, it would be easy for so many of us to stand on the outside and say, that’s wrong. But instead, Paul wades into the middle of it because standing on the outside and keeping our hands clean and our lives clean seems morally exemplary, but it’s also not useful.  

God sometimes brings us back to the difficult situations because He might want us to get our hands dirty.        

We pray the prayers, “God, fix that…God, fix this person… God, heal that situation.” God shows up in the world when we show up in the world with God. With the courage that He’s placed in us, the redemptive work He’s done and is doing in us. The way that God’s way gets out in the world, it’s not lightning bolts or a big voice, it’s when His people don’t just sit and hear, but they do something about what they’ve heard.  

But what happens when that tough thing in our rearview mirror suddenly catches up with us? Proximity produces pressure. The closer it is, the harder it is. Now, what if it includes a family member, a close friend, a spouse, or a child? When it’s someone that we placed our trust in, and it’s broken, it’s incredibly hard to rebound from. Suddenly the lines aren’t so clear anymore.  

Forgive and Forget  

When it comes to bigger issues, we cannot forgive and forget. God can do that. It says God separates our sins because He is God. We are not, so we cannot forget. The little things we can forget, but the things that go deep and really hurt us, we can’t.  

Why? Reconciliation.  

Bringing things back together always involves a debt. If someone steals something from us and we’re close to them, even if they give it back, there’s still a problem. It doesn’t make the problem go away. Trust was broken, and wounds were incurred.  

Think of it like an emotional piggy bank. There’s a bunch of change taken out when we wrong somebody. When we apologize, we get some of the change back, but not all of it. After a period of time, we have no change left, and the only way to build up more change is with time, consistency, and humility. It takes a concerted effort.  

Reconciliation involves a debt that something has to be done about. There’s this sense of loss, lack, and debt where maybe we’ve moved on with our lives, done the hard work, and tried to bandage the wounds, but there are moments where it bubbles back up or the anger and anxiety returns.  

That’s the difference between reconciliation and forgiveness.  

Forgiveness is something we do and something we choose to do. People cannot be forced to forgive, nor do they have to. We do it because we’re choosing to cancel the other person’s debt against us. But that doesn’t make it easy.

Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.

~C.S. Lewis          

Forgiveness sounds great to all of us until we’re in a spot where we have to make the decision to forgive, but as Jesus followers, we’re actually told to do it. Jesus says we need to do this so that we can receive the forgiveness of the Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness isn’t something we do once and then we are good to go. Feelings resurface, things can trigger different emotions, and we can be right back in the hurt and trauma of what happened to us. That makes forgiveness something we have to practice. We have to do it over and over again. It becomes our act of worship. When we worship God, it’s not just when we sing songs, it’s when we offer Him things that are important to us, that cost us, and that affect us deeply. It sets us free from the situation and allows us to receive God's forgiveness and grace. We have to let Jesus step into the hole in our lives that’s been created by the debt that the other person caused and allow His healing to happen over time.

This takes incredible faith, perseverance, and living in the hope that God will give us the grace we need for today, tomorrow, and every day after that.

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