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The Forgiveness of the Gospel


Part Two:
The Foundations of
Forgiveness
Philemon 8-13
July 31, 2005

Synopsis: the friendship and fellowship created by the gospel


fosters the atmosphere for Paul’s appeal to Philemon. Paul was
Philemon’s spiritual father, and had recently become Onesimus’
spiritual father. He appeals to Philemon on that basis, rather than
his apostolic authority, to do what was obviously right – accept
Onesimus back into his home, welcoming and forgiving, just as
Christ welcomed and forgave Philemon himself. So the friendship
and fellowship (and even partnership) in the gospel produces and
fosters an atmosphere of grace and in which we live with each other
and forgive one another.

The main issue at stake in the letter is forgiveness and


emancipation. Paul is appealing to Philemon to accept his slave
back into the household because as a Christian now he is far more
useful than he was before. Paul makes this appeal based on the
gospel of forgiveness, rather than upon his apostolic authority. The
gospel of forgiveness changes the heart and produces new and
supernatural desires to forgive, welcome and accept those who
have previously wronged us. Forgiveness flows from a forgiven
heart, and not from an authoritative command.

It is on this basis that Paul appeals to Philemon to do what is right


according to the gospel. And it is on this basis that Paul does not
command Philemon as an apostle. Paul rightly perceived the
relationship of the issues at hand. The forgiveness of the gospel is
something that carries much more weight than his apostleship did.
It was more authoritative than his apostleship was. Therefore, Paul
rightly perceived that the best means of communicating to
Philemon regarding Onesimus was brother to brother, believer to
believer, friend to friend, and not apostle to believer.

The fellowship which the gospel had created between Paul and
Philemon was in reality the highest authority to which Paul could
point. And since that gospel was Paul’s own authority - the
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message for which God had given His Son and appointed Paul - Paul
recognized that they both stood on level ground at the foot of the
cross. That is why Paul appeals to Philemon in this letter as a fellow
brother saved by Jesus Christ, rather than command him as an
apostolic leader appointed by Jesus Christ

Introduction

20/20 Special week of July 17, or so, called “The Power


of Forgiveness.” Story of the Jeager family. Camping in
summer of 1964. In middle of night, oldest daughter got
up to go to outhouse. Heard noise, thought nothing
further of it. Went back to bed. Woke up later that
morning to find half circle cut in side of tent and little
sister gone. During that week, city, county, and state
police, as well as FBI were involved in searching for the
little Jeager girl. On fifth day, the mother, Marietta,
remarks that she knew that the anger and bitterness
were not right and that she needed to forgive this man
who did this to her daughter and to her family. She
decided that day to forgive that man and stated that
from that day forth she would pray for him and forgive
him of any harm he may had already done to her
daughter.

This “power of forgiveness” enabled her one year later


to participate with the FBI in meeting with the suspected
kidnapper in order to try to find her daughter and
establish his connection with other kidnappings. After
that meeting, the man was arrested, he confessed to
two other kidnappings and murders, including the 11
year old Jeager girl whom he had raped and strangled.
Marietta learned and purposed to forgive this man for his
horrible crimes. Her husband however did not. He died
ten years later in his late 50’s evidently in his
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unforgiveness he had chosen to retain the anger, hatred,
and bitterness in his heart.

Transition: In Paul’s letter to Philemon we have a


different situation, yet a situation nonetheless in which
the power of forgiveness can be demonstrated.

Review of Basics of Onesimus’ and Philemon’s


Story

Reread Translation

I have no hesitations in boldly telling you what your duty


is. I could demand it in the name of Christ Jesus
because it is the right thing to do. But because of our
love, I prefer just to ask you. So take this as a request
from your friend Paul, one aged beyond my years, and
now also a prisoner for the sake of Jesus Christ. My plea
is that you show kindness to him, whom I regard as my
own son, whose father in the faith I became as a result
of my ministry here while wearing these chains…and by
the way, the one I am referring to is Onesimus.
Previously he was of no use to you, but now he is useful
to the both of us. I am sending him back to you as if I
was sending my very own heart and soul. I really
wanted to keep him here with me, as a substitute for
you, while I am in these chains for preaching the gospel.
But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I
didn’t want to help me because you were forced to but
because you wanted to. I didn’t want to force an act of
kindness because that should be spontaneous. Perhaps
you could think of it this way…Onesimus ran away for a
little while so that you could have him back forever, no
longer as just a slave, but something much better than a
slave, a dear brother in the Lord, especially dear to me.
Now he will mean much more to you as a slave and a
brother in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner,
give him the same welcome as you would give me if I
were coming…treat him as you would treat me. And if
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he has caused you any financial loss or harmed you in
any way, put it on my account and charge me for it.

The Foundations of Forgiveness:


Why Should We Forgive Others?

Foundation 1: Because of our Intimacy with Jesus


Christ (verse 8).

In Philemon: In verse 8 Paul indicates that he has


the authority in Jesus Christ to speak boldly or frankly
with Philemon regarding his duty to Onesimus. What
Paul is saying is that he has such an intimate
relationship and friendship with Philemon (as the one
who led him to Christ and as his friend) that he has a
certain freedom of speech or boldness of action with his
friend. He can speak candidly, honestly, and openly to
Philemon because he lived an open, honest, and candid
life before God.

In Our Lives: The case can be made from this


verse here that an appeal to forgive is made first and
foremost upon intimacy. Paul’s relationship with
Philemon was one of intimacy and that was the basis for
the appeal to forgive Onesimus. Our relationship with
Christ is one of intimacy, and that relationship is the
basis for Christ’s intimate appeal and authoritative
command for us to forgive one another. Christ gave up
His very life for us, the thing most dear to Him, the thing
most dear to any man. How much more intimate of a
thing can one do than to die for another person. Christ’s
death on the cross was an act of instant intimacy in
which He instantly forgave you, and drew you to Himself,
and made you to know His love for you.

• We are forgiven: Psalm 103:3; 130:4; Acts 5:31;


13:38; Ephesians 1:7.
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• Proverbs 19:11 reminds us that forgiveness is the
wisest thing to do because, “man's wisdom gives him
patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”

• It is this same intimacy with Christ which makes Paul


exhort us in Ephesians 4:32 – “Instead, be kind to
each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just
as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

• Paul repeats the same idea in Colossians, the same


letter which was sent with the letter to Philemon. In
3:13, Paul commands, “Bear with one another;
forgive each other if one of you has a complaint
against another. The Lord has forgiven you; now you
must do the same.

• It is based on this intimacy which Christ teaches us to


pray in Matthew 6:12 – “forgive us our sins as we
forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Foundation 2: Because of the Authority of Jesus


Christ (Verse 8).

In Philemon: Paul’s relationship with Philemon was


not only of intimacy, but also of authority since Paul was
an apostle of Jesus Christ and since Paul was Philemon’s
spiritual father and mentor. Paul had an apostolic
authoritative foundation for speaking to Philemon. As an
apostle of Christ, Paul could have commanded Philemon
what to do regarding Onesimus. This was not Paul’s
style usually, as he rather chooses to appeal based on
Christ and one’s love for Him, rather than from apostolic
authority.

In Our Lives: Jesus Christ is our Father and Mentor


and we must forgive one another because He has
commanded it. Further, this intimate position we are in
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with Jesus Christ is the grounds for the authoritative
command to forgive one another.

• Christ, Himself exemplified this forgiveness when He


was on the cross. One of the seven last sayings of
Christ on the cross is His statement, “Father, forgive
them because they don’t know what they are doing.”
He was quick and free to forgive even those who
were putting Him to death and mocking and scorning
Him.
• It is based on that intimacy with Christ which He
authoritatively commands us further regarding
forgiveness and our prayer life in Mark 11:25 – “And
when you stand in prayer, forgive whatever you have
against anybody, so your Father in heaven may
forgive your failings too.”

• Christ commands us to forgive without limits in Luke


17:3-4 – “Keep watch on yourselves! 'If your brother
does something wrong, rebuke him and, if he is sorry,
forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day
and seven times comes back to you and says, "I am
sorry," you must forgive him.”

• This is again repeated in Matthew 18 when Jesus


answers Peter’s question as to how often to forgive
someone. Matthew 18:21-22: “Then Peter went up
to him and said, 'Lord, how often must I forgive my
brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?'
Jesus answered, 'Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-
seven times.”

Transition: As you can see, our relationship with Jesus


Christ provides the first foundation for forgiving others.
We forgive because we have been forgiven. We are fast
and free with our forgiveness because Christ was fast
and free with His forgiveness. Our intimacy with Christ
means we want to maintain that same intimacy with
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other believers in Christ. And overarching our vertical
relationship with Christ and our horizontal relationships
with other believers is Christ’s authoritative command to
forgive others always, all the time, no matter what the
crime, no matter what the offense, no matter what the
sin, no matter how many times. Why?

Foundation 3: Because It Is the Fitting Thing To


Do (Verse 8).

This is why Paul describes it to Philemon as a “fitting


duty”. Philemon’s duty towards Onesimus was fitting
because it was a duty “in Christ” as your Bibles say.
Christ ruled Paul’s appeal, thus Philemon’s duty was
what Christ commanded and exhorted. Philemon’s
duties and obligations had been transformed by Christ.

It is your fitting duty to forgive others who offend you.


If you say you are a Christian then your whole life is to
be ruled by Christ Who forgave you. If He forgave you
then it is only a fitting duty that you forgive others as
free and as fast as Christ forgave you. Besides, in
comparison to what you have committed against an
eternal God, what has this person done to you?

Transition: It is only fitting that you would forgive


others when God has so graciously forgiven you. It is
based on this concept that Paul makes his statement in
verse 9, “yet for love’s sake, I appeal to you…” I appeal
to you this morning on behalf of Christ and on behalf of
His Word that you forgive others because it is only
fitting. You should forgive one another…

Foundation 4: Because God Loves You and


Forgave You (Verse 9)

In Philemon: Paul could be confident of the


effectiveness of his appeal on the basis of love because
he had already stated previously that he had been so
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encouraged by Philemon’s love. Remember, Paul could
have commanded obedience with supreme authority,
but he prefers to appeal to Philemon “for love’s sake.” It
is more congenial to Paul’s nature and especially to
Christ’s nature.

Now, this love here is not just referring to some


principle of love, because that should already govern us
in all our dealings and all our relationships with each
other. This is the grounds for everything we do in life.
No, instead, Paul is referring to Philemon’s love which is
and has been shown in concrete ways to the saints. This
was already mentioned in verses 5 and 7, where Paul
uses the Greek definite article in front of the word
“love.” This mention referred to concrete ways in which
Philemon had loved the saints in the Colossian church.
Now here, in verse 9, Paul was renewing the mention of
love and he was pointing the love he talked about
previously. Paul knew that Philemon had been so great
a source of love to the saints before, that he knew that
Philemon would be a source of love towards Onesimus
as well.

In Our Lives: Jesus Christ forgave us selflessly.


Philippians 2:5 states clearly that we are to have the
selfless mind of Christ. Christ was equal with God yet He
didn’t think twice about laying it all aside to come down
and live among us lowly men as a lowly man to die on
the cross to forgive us for our sins against Him. In the
same way, our forgiveness should reflect this same
mindset. We must be not just willing to forsake
everything about ourselves, but actually forsake
everything about ourselves (our social status, our
economic status, our spiritual status, our ecclesiastical
status…everything) when the necessary time comes to
forgive another fellow human being. That is exactly
what Christ did. Are you willing to endure the
consequences, no matter how tough or rough, in order to
forgive one another?
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Foundation 5: Because You Are A Child of God –


Verse 10

In Philemon: In verse 10 here, Paul is appealing


for “my child” or “this child of mine.” Paul is interceding
on Onesimus’ behalf, not just making some request
about him. He is interceding for Onesimus as if he were
physically his own child. This phrase is a common one
used by Paul to refer to those whom he has led to Christ.
And it is this link, Paul’s ministry, which is the common
denominator to Philemon and Onesimus. You see, if
Onesimus is Paul’s son in the faith, and if Philemon is
Paul’s son in the faith, then Philemon and Onesimus are
brothers in the faith.

Paul refers to him as one “begotten while I was in


prison.” This word for begotten means to give birth or to
bear a child. Paul gave spiritual birth to Onesimus. The
verb is usually used to refer a mother bearing her child
or of a father becoming a father. Paul is then seen as
suffering the labor pains with these who come to faith
under his ministry. When Onesimus came to see Paul in
prison, Paul helped him receive the liberating grace of
Christ through much intensive prayer and spiritual labor.

In Our Lives: This is no less what Jesus Christ did


for us on the cross, did He not! He suffered more
physical and spiritual labor upon that cross than we will
ever have the ability to imagine. His suffering on the
cross was spiritual labor pains to give birth to His
children. As He profusely bled and sweat to death…As
He cried and wept in physical and spiritual agony…As He
hung on a cross by nails in His hands and feet for
hours… As He did this and more, He bore your sins and
mine in order to completely pay for those sins appease
the wrath of God for those sins since you couldn’t and
when you wouldn’t. This whole process of spiritual labor
on the cross resulted in what we call forgiveness.
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Now…what room or right have any of us to withhold


forgiveness from someone who has sinned against us?
What right have we to maintain a bitter and angry spirit
towards one who has sinned against us? What right
have we when Christ suffered such pains on the cross to
forgive you? What right have you to despise that person
in your heart for the offense they have committed
against you, when Christ forgave you for all the offenses
you committed against Him while at the same time you
were despising Him? We should all be utterly ashamed
and become abhorrent at ourselves for ever thinking
such things towards one another when Christ selflessly,
freely, and quickly forgave us for all the sin we had ever
committed against Him and all the sin we will commit
against Him. We should be disgusted with ourselves for
not lavishing our love and forgiveness on others for the
petty things they have done to us…petty things in
proportion to and in light of the enormous and immense
amount of epic sin that we have committed against Him!

John in his first epistle, chapter 4, verses 7-11 sums


up this concept of your fitting duty to forgive others in its
totality. Forgiveness is loving one another, and if you
say you love one another (your wife, your kids, your
neighbors, your bosses, etc.) then you must forgive
them. Listen to John’s words and substitute the word
“forgive” for the word love, where appropriate.

(7) My dear friends, let us love(forgive) one another,


since love (forgiveness) is from God and everyone who
loves(forgives) is a child of God and knows God. (8)
Whoever fails to love (forgive) does not know God,
because God is love (forgiveness). (9) This is the
revelation of God's love(forgiveness) for us, that God
sent his only Son into the world that we might have life
through him. (10) Love (forgiveness) consists in this: it
is not we who loved God, but God loved (forgave) us
and sent his Son to pay for our sins. (11) My dear
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friends, if God loved (forgave) us so much, we too
should love (forgive) one another. (16) We have
recognized for ourselves, and put our faith in, the love
(forgiveness) God has for us. God is love, and whoever
remains in love remains in God and God in him. 19 Let
us love (forgive), then, because he first loved
(forgave) us. (20) Anyone who says 'I love God' and
hates (doesn’t forgive) his brother, is a liar, since
whoever does not love (forgive) the brother whom he
can see cannot love God whom he has not seen. (21)
Indeed this is the commandment we have received from
him, that whoever loves God, must also love (forgive)
his brother.

Foundation 6: Because That Brother or Sister in


Christ is the Very Heart of Jesus Christ (Verse 12).

In Philemon: Paul refers to Onesimus, in verse 12,


as “my very heart…” This word here is not the usual
word (kardia) for heart. It is a different word (splanchna)
which means “inward organs.” It was used also
previously in verse 7. That verse is key because
contextually it gives the argument for how we are to
understand its usage here in verse 12. To put it in a
nutshell, if Philemon’s love for the brothers refreshed the
hearts of the saints, then Philemon should refresh Paul’s
heart by receiving, accepting, and forgiving Onesimus.
Philemon was one who had refreshed the “inward
organs” of the saints, in verse 7. Therefore he would
find it difficult to treat Paul’s “inward organs” with
anything but consideration and care.

To put this word in perspective for you, this word


for heart here in verse 12 really refers to “bowels” or the
entire outlay of inward parts.
• It is that part which physically and emotionally
ached when that loved one died.
• It is that part of you which was overflowing with
joy and excitement when you were married.
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• It was that part of you which experienced and
displayed a panoply of emotions when your
child was born.
• It is that part within you that ached and grieved
day and night when you were going through
that divorce.
• It is that part within you which felt torn apart
when you found out your spouse had been
unfaithful to you.

All of these things are familiar to you because of


the amount of time you spent with those persons.

• Some of you spent years with your spouse


before they left and it was almost as if you felt
like you were being torn apart.
• Some of you spent years with your child when
one of them died or perhaps when they were
married.
• These are the emotions you experience
because of your relationship with these
people…and the more you knew those people
the more you rejoiced or the more you grieved.

The inward parts, bowels, the heart is that part


within you which is most deeply affected by the most
glorious or most grievous experiences. It is that part
within you which is really you…that part from which your
deepest emotions rise out to display themselves. The
inward parts are what are affected at the sight of
something grotesque you are moved to nausea,
something so aweful you are moved to shock, something
so sad that you are moved to passionate weeping. They
are the sweep of emotions which were evoked when you
watched such movies as Saving Private Ryan,
Braveheart, Titanic, and other such epics which display
human joy and agony in such a way that you were
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moved to experience and manifest a range of emotional
responses.

Now, why could Paul refer to Onesimus in this sort


of language? Because of all those who had come to visit
Paul and minister to him while in prison, Onesimus had
won a special place in Paul’s heart and that very point is
stressed for Philemon’s benefit. This language Paul uses
here emphasizes the huge and strong and unbreakable
bond of mutual love which intertwined Onesimus and
himself to each other.

That is what Paul is saying about Onesimus.


Onesimus had become knitted and melted into Paul’s
being. They had spent an incredible amount of time
together…especially as Paul had invested hours and
hours of time into this man, praying for him, reasoning
with him, sharing the gospel with him. He had invested
so much time into this man discipling him that they had
become one, as it were. And for Onesimus to go back to
Philemon meant that for Paul his heart was being torn
into…he felt as if a piece of him was missing. You know
exactly what this feels like, and this is what Paul was
going through. Paul was saying, “I am in truth sending a
piece of myself to you Philemon.”

In Our Lives: Theologically, the use of this word


splanchna shows how very personally Paul was involved
in this matter. To say that he was sending a piece of
himself to Philemon could not be better phrased. This
kind of talk emphasizes the knitting, intertwining,
melting, and joined together these two men were.
Imagine if Jesus were talking here instead of Paul. Jesus
would say the same thing…that this Christian brother or
sister who has offended us is a piece of Christ…joined to
Him at the cross, intertwined and melted to Him by the
Holy Spirit, and knitted together by the Father. To reject
the Christian brother or sister who offends us is to reject
Christ Himself since Christ laid down His life for that
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brother or sister, since He invested His Holy Spirit in that
person, since their heart is His heart…the new heart He
gave them at salvation. Paul knew that Philemon would
find Onesimus the same man Paul did if Philemon would
receive him back. And Jesus knows that we will find
great fellowship and wonderful ministry with that brother
or sister who offended us if we will just see them as
Christ does.

Conclusion

In my Friday lunch time blogsurfing, I came across a post


by someone named T. C. Black, evidently a pastor of a
church. His post was entitled, “Of Dogs, Chickens, and
the Price of the Gospel.” Here’s what he wrote.

“Monday evening I was relaxing with my


family and contemplating the upcoming
opportunity to check the inside of my
eyelids for holes. Suddenly my eldest
daughter shrieked "There's a dog out there
with a chicken in it's mouth!" or something
roughly equivalent. That was particularly
disheartening because we are in the midst
of raising chickens for the first time ever.

I ran outside and brandished the closest


conceivable weapon: a shovel which had
been leaning against the apple tree.
Chasing the dogs away we began to survey
the damage. A series of our chickens had
been eaten completely by these beasts and
a few more lay strewn about our yard in
various macabre positions. Further detail
isn't necessary. Suffice it to say that once
the Dogs had satisfied their hunger they
merely desired to satisfy their outright glee
at killing my chickens.
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Not a live chicken was in sight and I


prepped the kids for the end of the chicken
raising experiment and sent the youngest
inside. After cleaning up the mess I got in
the car with my wife and prayed. I knew
who's dogs they were and I knew that I was
upset enough to do and say something that
could easily build a wall between the young
couple that owned the dogs and the gospel
of Jesus Christ. God had burdened my heart
to be careful with what I said. So I asked for
help controlling my words.

The confrontation was ... non-


confrontational. The young woman was
instantly apologetic and blinked but didn't
protest when I told her what it would cost to
replace the various plain and fancy breeds
and buy food to raise them back to
maturity. I returned home gratified that the
chickens could be replaced.

To my surprise several frightened birds


began to emerge from the cornfields around
our house as night began to fall and we one
by one coaxed eighteen of them back into
their repaired enclosure. The kids were
elated at their return - especially when we
discovered that all but one or two of the
family favorites had survived the event.

That night I thought long and hard about my


response scheduled the following morning. I
had made my decision. When the sun was
up and the day was moving I prayerfully
knocked on the door and was greeted this
time by the man of the house. We
exchanged a few pleasantries and I
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presented him with an approximated bill
from the catalog showing the cost of
replacement.

Then I advised him that I had decided to


forgive the debt, and I shredded the bill. To
his honor he insisted on paying so I
expressed again that I was going to pay the
bill myself, but I wanted to explain to him
how a greater debt was paid.

I loved his words at this point,


"Well I guess I owe you that much."

I carefully began with a brief gospel


explanation. How we had accumulated a
debt of wrongdoing against God and yet he
lovingly paid the death penalty with his own
son's life so that we could be forgiven if
we'll only accept the offer.

I hoped against hope that they might


become believers because of this brief
encounter. And even though they did not a
few dead chickens are a small price to pay
for the opportunity to explain the gospel
clearly to someone who may not have
listened otherwise.

(Cited from
http://www.stilltruth.com/archives/2005/07/entry_21.html.)

Now, imagine if you will that the letter which Paul wrote
to Philemon was a letter written from Jesus to you
concerning someone who had sinned against you or
offended you in some way. Imagine Jesus describing the
brother or sister who sinned against you as Paul
described him or her in the words used in the letter to
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Philemon, specifically in the passage we tried to cover
this morning.

- V.8 - Since I am Christ, I could be bold


enough to command you do what you should do…
if I really wanted to.
- V.9 – But for love’s sake I appeal to you,
being the man that I am…a man who was aged
beyond my years because of my three-year
ministry without a home to sleep in, traveling in
the elements from city to city to preach and teach
the gospel…a man on whom numerous
assassination attempts were made…a man who
was rejected, mocked, and scorned…a man who
was tortured and crucified to forgive you.
- V.10 – I appeal to you for my child, my
son, this one who has offended you, the one for
whom I endured physical and spiritual labor pains
upon the cross to give spiritual birth to…
- V.11 – this one who was once good for
nothing, but now is good for everything…saved
and sanctified to be of good use for you and for
me.
- V.12 – I am sending him your way so
make every effort to receive him because this one
is my very heart, my very soul. Since he is my
very heart, make sure you don’t break it!
- V.14 – I want your acceptance and
forgiveness of this brother to be willingly, joyfully,
gladly…not because I compelled you to in some
way.
- V.16. This one who offended you is a
beloved brother, especially to Me. And if he is
such especially to me, how much more should he
be a beloved brother to you when he is not in your
physical presence and especially when he is in
your physical presence.
- V.17 – So if you count me as your partner
in ministry, if you count me as your Savior, receive
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this brother as you would receive me…because I
have done so.
- V.18 – But if has wronged you in anyway
or if he owes you anything, I have already paid for
it…it was already charged to my account.
- V.19 – I, Jesus Christ, am writing to you
with my own hand. I have paid for this brother’s
offense…not to mention the fact that you owe me
your own life.
- V.20 – Let me have joy from you in
myself…refresh my heart…glorify me.
- V.21 – Having confidence in your
obedience, knowing that you will do the right thing
and do it in a way far more abundant than what I
could ask, I write this letter to you.
V.22 – But meanwhile, prepare your heart because
I will be coming soon!