The Grace of Forgiveness
This is Paul's usual written greeting. But, unlike many social pleasantries (in Britain we ask, ‘How do you do?’ but nobody expects an honest answer!) it really means something. Paul knew that only the grace of God can bring peace. That is the gospel message for which he was in prison, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. It was also his personal testimony for he admitted he was the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). If Jesus could save Paul, He can save anybody! Nobody can have peace with God any other way (Romans 5:1).
The grace and peace came from God, named here as two persons with an identical character and nature - God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. The long-promised ‘God with us, Immanuel’ (Isaiah 7:14) was revealed when Jesus was born (Matthew 1:23). He was one with the Father. When Jesus said that about Himself, the Jews fully understood that He was claiming to be God (John 10:30-33). When Jesus died, God accepted full responsibility for the sins of the world and in Christ’s death He made full atonement for them (1 John 2:2). Only that gracious act of the Lord Jesus Christ can enable those who believe to have peace with God the Father (Romans 5:1). True reconciliation in relationships stems from God’s action which is also our example (2 Corinthians 5:17-19).
The Apostle was writing to Philemon, pleading for him to forgive, and receive back, his repentant run-away slave Onesimus who had become a Christian (Philemon 1:8-10). Paul knew that a righteous outcome was only possible through God's grace working in everybody involved, especially Onesimus and Philemon. The reconciliation Paul sought between the two men was a mirror of the reconciliation between God and sinful human beings. Onesimus had already repented and, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-18), was willing to return home. But if Philemon was willing to receive him, it would be a powerful and practical evidence of the grace of Christ to the whole Colossian church. That is why Paul prayed that the Holy Spirit would stir love and forgiveness in Philemon so that the gospel would be practically validated in changed hearts (Philemon 1:25).
Dealing with sin and its consequences is never easy. But for the believer, the biggest battle against sin has already been fought and won by Jesus on the cross. That is the grace of Christ which brings peace. All the other battles need to be approached in the security which comes from that grace and peace. If God has been so gracious to us, how can we hold another brother or sister in the grip of our bitterness or unforgiveness? Today, whatever conflicts you face, if your faith is in Jesus Christ then you must trust Him to reveal His graciousness to your enemies and bring you both into His peace (Romans 12:17-21). There is no other godly way to go forward.
© Dr Paul Adams