There are some books of the Bible that are sadly neglected by many, perhaps most, Christians. Philemon is one of those. Tucked between Titus and Hebrews, its 25 verses contain some of the Apostle Paul’s most powerful words on forgiveness, words we would do well to heed.
We’re confused about what forgiveness means in our culture—so much so that we rarely use the word anymore. We think saying ‘sorry’ when we’ve done something wrong (or sometimes just when we feel bad) is enough. But forgiveness is so much more—because, at its core, forgiveness is a gospel issue. Indeed, without the gospel, there is no true forgiveness.
Jacob Abshire understands this and it’s what I so appreciate about his book, Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon. In this book, Abshire unpacks the message of Paul’s oft-neglected (and sometimes misunderstood) letter while showing readers how forgiveness brings life to the gospel-saturated, Spirit-filled heart and flows out of that same heart in response.
Forgiveness was a welcome surprise, for several reasons. First, commentaries typically lean heavier on the technical side, which, while helpful for study, makes many impenetrable for the average reader. By keeping Forgiveness grounded in common language, Abshire offers a very comfortable and accessible look at Philemon.
More importantly, Abshire’s examination this short epistle leaves the readers appropriately challenged, convicted and encouraged. Like Paul does with Philemon, Abshire doesn’t use Paul’s words as an opportunity to coerce readers into forgiving others. There’s no strong-arming or ham-fisted applications of the many commands to forgive we find in Scripture. Instead, Abshire (like Paul) reminds us that forgiveness and reconciliation is not so much a feeling, but a work of grace:
We often say that we have forgiven another person, yet we fail to take the first and foremost step – we fail to receive them. Without this crucial step, we fail to truly forgive. For this reason, forgiveness is not merely a feeling deep down inside that we may have. It is a commitment of the mind and will to another person. It is a commitment of grace that brings about the restoration of friendship and unity. Since it is lasting, it requires work. (p. 79)
Driven by devotion to the Word of God, Forgiveness provides much-needed assistance to those seeking to better understand Paul’s letter to Philemon while encouraging readers to respond faithfully the call to forgive those who wrong us. As those who have been forgiven of so much, how can we do otherwise? I trust readers will be blessed as they carefully read and apply this important work.
Title: Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon
Author: Jacob Abshire
Publisher: Truth411 (2012)