SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2011
FORGIVENESS: VITAL TOOL IN CHRISTIAN LIVING
‘…And forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us…’ Lk. 11v4.
WHEN Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he made forgiveness the cornerstone of their relationship with God.
God has forgiven our sins, ‘For while we were yet sinners Jesus died for us’ Rom. 5v8. It becomes imperative therefore that we must forgive those who have wronged us.
Life has many walls and fences that divide, separate, and compartmentalise. Not made of wood or stone, these are personal obstructions, blocking people from one other and from God. But Christ came, as the great Wall Remover, tearing down the sin partition that separates us from God.
His death and resurrection opened the way to eternal life, to bring all who believe into the family of God. (Ephesians 2:14-18)
To remain unforgiving shows we have not understood that we ourselves deeply need to be forgiven. Think of some people who have wronged you. Have you forgiven them? How will God deal with you, if he treats you as you do others?
The letter to Philemon is Paul’s personal plea for a slave. Onesimus ‘belonged’ to Philemon, a member of the Colossian church and Paul’s friend. But Onesimus, the slave, had stolen from his master and run away. He had fled to Rome, where he met Paul. There he responded to the Good News and came to faith in Christ.
Paul wrote to Philemon and reintroduced Onesimus to him, explaining that he was sending him back, not just as a slave, but also as a brother. Tactfully, he asked Philemon to accept and forgive his brother. The barriers of the past and new ones erected by Onesimus’ desertion and theft should divide them no longer – they are one in Christ.
Interestingly, the purpose of the letter of Philemon is primarily to convince him to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and to accept him as a brother in the faith.
What barriers stand in your home, neighbourhood, and church? What separates you from fellow believers? Race? Status? Wealth? Education? Personality? As with Philemon, God calls you to seek unity, breaking down those walls and embracing brothers and sisters in Christ.
Sincerely speaking, there is much hate in the society and the Church of God is not even spared this. Remember, ‘if the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do’? Ps. 11v3.
As a Nigerian, I weep each time the national anthem is sung and this line recited: ‘Thy Labour of our Heroes Past shall never be in vain…’ With killings and bombings of innocent citizens, Nigerians and foreigners alike, you begin to wonder if heroes that laboured to secure Nigeria’s independence will not weep in their graves.
No day passes without a story of horror. Indeed, we are marching slowly but gradually and steadily to a Hobbesian state, where life is nasty and brutish. The Nigeria of our dreams, the once pride of Africa, is now a pariah in the comity of nations.
No wonder lack of forgiveness begets hatred and becomes even more serious within the circle of believers. But the danger remains. If it is not dealt with, it will become a clog in the heavenly race of believers. We have no option but to begin to deal with an unforgiving spirit and hatred.
Jesus prayed, ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing’ Lk. 23 v34. For Stephen, the first Christian martyr, his approach was: ‘… Lord, do not charge them with this sin. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.’ Acts 7v60
I think time has come for believers to review their Christian living and evaluate it in the light of biblical teachings.
St. Paul therefore admonishes: ‘never pay back evil with more evil… if your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink… don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.’ Rom. 12v17, 20, 21
VEN. ERNEST ONUOHA
Rector, Ibru International Ecumenical Retreat Centre,