Ever wish you had paid more attention in seminary? Struggling with preparing a sermon? GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins wants to help pastors with useful resources to help them as they serve the Lord.
With more than a quarter century of pastoral leadership, Hawkins makes available some of his most popular sermon outlines for pastors, Sunday school teachers and other Bible study leaders. These free resources can help you as you prepare your sermon or lesson each week.
The year was 49 B.C. The order came down to Julius Caesar to disband his army and give up the struggle. He stood on the banks of the Rubicon River and pondered his dilemma. If he continued his march by crossing the river there could be no turning back. He turned to his troops, tore up his orders, and led his dedicated legion across the Rubicon to march against Rome. This act of commitment to his cause brought about a declaration of war against the Senate and, for Caesar, it paved the way for his becoming ruler of the Roman world. Since that day the phrase, “crossing the Rubicon”, has been used to signify total commitment to a cause from which there can be no turning back.
There should be a Rubicon in every interpersonal relationship. That is, a line of commitment we cross from which we are “in” for the duration. Commitment is a lost word in the vocabulary of many modern relationships. Oh, some are committed alright. But, they are only committed to their own happiness. Thus, domestically, they move from relationship to relationship when their own satisfaction wanes. There is commitment at the office. But, for some, it is only a commitment to personal advancement and not to the team concept. Commitment is the missing element in many modern relationships. Not a lot of people are crossing the Rubicon of relationships today by making a commitment to one another that lasts a lifetime.
No treatise on interpersonal relationships would be complete without a word about commitment. Paul, having already addressed such vital principles as affirmation of one another, accommodation of one another and acceptance of one another, now turns his attention to the importance of allegiance to one another. He expresses his commitment to Onesimus by writing Philemon saying, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me” (Philem.17–18). And, in the next sentence he assures Philemon of his continued commitment to him by writing, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philem. 21).
Lasting relationships are those which are built upon loyalty and commitment to one another. There are four steps one takes in order to cross the Rubicon of relationships. Paul articulately and accurately portrays them in his letter to his friend, Philemon. The first step is openness. It is often the most difficult. However, the longest journey begins with the first step. Commitment to one another demands openness. Committed friends have no hidden agendas and feel free to ask favors of one another. The second step is obligation. Committed friends sense an obligation to one another. They stick up for each other. There is a third step in crossing this river. It is objectivity. Committed friends are objective. They get the big picture. They see past themselves to the importance of reciprocation. They return favors. The final step is optimism. Committed friends believe the best about each other and do more than is expected in their relationships with one another. They bring out the best in each other.
Crossing this river to committed relationships begins with the step of openness. Paul is open and honest with his friend, Philemon. He writes, “So, if you consider me a partner, welcome him (Onesimus) as you would welcome me” (Philem. 17). He felt free to ask a favor. Loyal friends have a sense of openness, freedom with one another. They do not play games nor manipulate each other with hidden agendas. They are open.
One of the signal characteristics of loyal friendships which endure over the years is the element of transparency. Without openness our relationships can never get past a superficial level. Honesty and openness build lasting, positive and productive interpersonal relationships. Relationships are a risky business. Some people guard against “opening up” to anyone. There are a lot of paper faces on parade today, masks which some refuse to take off. The fear of rejection is the main culprit! Therefore, there is something within many of us which guards against becoming vulnerable to anyone else. We fear we might be rejected and consequently, we never risk a relationship and step out in openness to cross our own Rubicon.
Paul takes the step of openness with Philemon. He opens up the possibility of rejection. He takes the risk. Many will never take the risk that comes with a relationship. In fact, many spend most of their time calculating why someone else can enjoy the friendship of others and excusing why they can’t. Relationships are a risky business. Ironically, the very thing we seek to keep covered up when conversing with others is the very thing, if we were open that would attract others to us. For example, my own origins are rather humble. For a time I considered this detrimental to the development of some relationships. It sounds foolish now, but in my immaturity I sometimes sought to pretend to be someone I was not. When, at this very point, I became open with others I found that what I thought was a problem was, in reality, an asset in the development of my own interpersonal relationships. We never have to be afraid of the truth and being open with others.
As we attempt to cross the Rubicon of relationships, we do one of two things. We build bridges. Or, we build barriers. If we build more bridges over the river than we do barriers we will have more loyal and committed friends. If we build mostly barriers few will want to cross over with us.
What is being built on the construction site of your own interpersonal relationships? Barriers? Are you building barriers so that no one can look into your heart? Do you fear they might reject you if they knew what was really there? So you are busy at work building a barrier. Do you see the folly in this? I have known men and women who have been deeply hurt and rejected in the past and are in desperate need of someone to share their loyalty and love. But, they will not take the risk of being open again. So, they build barriers with others in place of bridges.
Many of us have sought to have relationships with those whom we could not penetrate. They left us feeling as though we were left out of the most intimate parts of their lives. They would not cross the Rubicon with us. The first step of openness was never taken. They built their barriers in order to hide their fears and insecurities from us. I have found in my own relational experiences that, often, those who appear to be most superior are, in reality, the least secure.
Are there any bridges being built on the construction site of your own relationships? I am not talking about letting anyone and everyone cross over into the private turf of the hidden things of the heart. I am not referring to “letting it all hang out.” Openness with others is not a call for us to reveal all the sordid details of our hidden secrets. We all need our private moments. I am talking bridges here, not interstate highways. I am talking about a bridge between you and someone else. I am talking about becoming vulnerable and taking the risk of opening up with someone else. Something wonderful happens when two people connect in openness and honesty. Openness has its own way of building a bridge.
This first step of openness is what made Jesus of Nazareth so winsome in His interpersonal relationships. He was transparent. He traveled with His friends. He ate with His friends. He prayed with His friends. He wept with His friends. He was a people person. He became involved in their struggles. He built bridges of commitment across which others could walk with Him. He allowed people to look into His heart and know Him. He told others of His own needs. And, though it was risky, for some rejected Him, many others opened up to this One who had built a bridge of openness to them.
Take the woman of Samaria, for example. She had spent a lifetime building barriers…until she met Him! Her past was smudged with many haunting moments she wished could be lived over again. She had known so much rejection that she was nearly void of any self-worth or self-respect. But, one day she met Him at a well. He built a bridge. And, she crossed over. She opened up and in so doing found a friend for life.
As Paul opens himself to Philemon he chooses an interesting Greek word in calling him a “partner”. It is a word describing one mutually shared life. Paul and Philemon were connected. They were “together”. Since Paul has already referred to Onesimus as “my very heart”, for Philemon to now reject Onesimus would be like rejecting Paul himself. The journey back is hard enough in itself. But, it can be made more difficult by those who do not believe in the second chance.
The first step across the Rubicon of relationships is openness. We never have to be afraid of the truth! Barriers keep people out. Bridges make the way easier for others to cross the river into a life of commitment to someone else.
The second step across this bridge to commitment is obligation. Paul senses an obligation to his trusted friend, Onesimus. He continues the letter, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back” (Philem. 18–19). Loyal and committed friends stick up for one another. They are under obligation to each other. They are committed to each other and are quick to rise to each other’s defense in times of need.
Paul instructs Philemon to “charge” whatever is owed him by Onesimus to his own account. Paul is in no way suggesting that Philemon forget about Onesimus’ past wrongs and ignore the debt. He gives him a promissory note in his own hand with a promise to pay it. He is a committed friend. He is under an obligation that comes when we cross the Rubicon of commitment with someone else.
One of the characteristics of genuine commitment is a mutual obligation. Many bounce from relationship to relationship while always passing the blame for failure on the attitudes or actions of someone else. When a particular relationship arrives at the riverbank and it comes time to cross over in commitment, many move on to another relationship around the next corner rather than stepping out in openness and obligation. Some only want relationships where they can be on the receiving end. Commitment not only involves openness, but obligation as well. Strong relationships are built on an obligation to persevere.
There is a beautiful thing happening in this relationship between Paul and Onesimus. Paul is offering to pay a debt he doesn’t owe. Why? Because Onesimus owes a debt he cannot pay! Paul had nothing to do with his guilt. Yet, he assumed his debt. He says, “If he has done you any wrong, or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will repay it.” Paul is a true and trusted friend. Here he shows us his openness towards Philemon and his obligation towards Onesimus.
Although this sense of paying a debt we do not owe because someone else owes a debt they cannot pay is manifested in our horizontal relationships, it has its roots in our vertical relationship. There is a bit of Onesimus in each of us. We, like him, have gone our own way in rebellion against the One who loves us most. The Bible refers to what we owe our Lord as “a sin debt.” We cannot pay it. Just as Paul had nothing to do with Onesimus’ guilt, neither does Christ with ours. And yet, as Paul assumed the debt he did not owe, so, Jesus of Nazareth made His way across His own Rubicon to a Roman cross to pay our debt. In essence, He said to His Father about you and me what Paul said to Philemon about Onesimus, “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me…I will pay it back” (Philem. 18–19). It is no wonder Isaiah said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6).We are talking real commitment here. Commitment accompanied by a sense of openness and obligation. Those who have connected with their Source through Jesus Christ can go to the computer in heaven, pull up their names, look at their account, and read the words, “paid in full!”
Obligation to one another is the second step in commitment. Relationships stand strong through the years when friends stick up for one another. I remember an experience in my own life when I was falsely accused and a friend rose to my defense and took up for me. Although we have been separated from that experience by hundreds of miles and many years I have never forgotten it and a deeper bond between us resulted from it. How much more do you think Onesimus was committed to Paul after he got wind of the fact that Paul had risen so strongly to his defense? And, how much more would your friends be committed to you if you proved beyond a doubt your own commitment to them?
Openness and obligation are the first two steps across the Rubicon to a commitment to positive and productive interpersonal relationships. Objectivity is the third step. Paul was objective in his relationships. In his letter to Philemon, he challenges him to be likewise. He continues, “If he…owes you anything…I will pay it back — not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ” (Philem. 18–20).
Loyal friends are objective. They get the big picture. They see past themselves to realize the importance of reciprocation. They are quick to return favors. Commitment is a forgotten word in many relationships due to the fact that so many are bent on “getting” without ever “giving”. True and loyal friends are objective and they bring out the best in each other.
The wave of our modern day has been a rash of faddish “self-help” books which have flooded the marketplace advocating “doing our own thing.” They line the shelves of bookstores everywhere with their messages of self-assertion and manipulation. They instruct about the finer points of getting leverage over the other person in the relationship. They teach how to climb to the top of the ladder of success by intimidation of others. They may increase bookstore sales but they play havoc with a lot of interpersonal relationships. One of the reasons for the current trend of short-term relationships is a lack of objectivity. Many seem to be only interested in getting, being on the receiving end of the relationship 100% of the time. Few are objective enough to see the need of reciprocation, returning favors and giving of themselves to someone else.
When our daughters were young we enjoyed taking them to the park. They loved to ride the see-saw. I can see those two toddlers on it now…up and down…up and down…up and down. Relationships have a see-saw effect. There are times in a relationship when one of the parties does most of the giving and the other most of the receiving. Then, some circumstance of life will come along and turn the tables on us and, for a while the roles will be reversed. Anyone who has been married for a long period of time knows of this law of reciprocation. For example, I know of a wife whose husband has recently lost his job. Although he doesn’t verbalize it, he is having a real struggle with his own self-confidence and self-worth. He is contentious and on edge. He says some things he really doesn’t mean. He is not as affectionate and giving as he normally is. The money is dwindling. Fear is setting in. Quite honestly, the wife is not “getting” much from the relationship. Some women would allow this frustration to cause them to pull away from him. Some might even pull out. But the lady under consideration is open, obligated and objective. She realizes her husband needs her unconditional love now more than ever, even though he doesn’t deserve it. So she gives. And, for a time she gives much more than she receives.
Committed friends get the big picture. They are objective. They see past themselves and their momentary needs to the importance of reciprocation. They give. They understand that friends need friends the most when they do not necessarily deserve them.
The lack of objectivity is the point of breakdown in many relationships. The need to always be receiving and never giving, the inability to see that friendship is a two-way street, are key factors in the destruction of many relationships. Get the big picture. Be a giver. Return a favor. Hop on the see-saw. There may come a time when you need to make a withdrawal on the love and concern you have deposited into someone else’s account. Committed friends are objective and see the need of reciprocation in relationships.
Paul is optimistic. He concludes his paragraph on the importance of commitment saying, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philem. 21). Paul is very wise and winsome. He knows how hard it is to feel good about others if we do not feel good about ourselves. He is letting Philemon know, without question, that he believes he will do the right thing. This optimistic approach has incredible results. It brings out the best in Philemon. We bring out the best in others by letting them know we are confident they will come through. Optimism is the key. Committed friends believe the best about each other and they come through in the clutch. In fact, as Paul reveals, they do more than is expected of them.
Can you imagine Philemon’s emotions as he reads this letter from his trusted friend. Think about it. Paul has dropped the Onesimus bomb, laid the whole situation out, asked for a favor, and called in some chips. Having advocated the position of Philemon’s adversary, he now affirms his confidence in Philemon with the assurance that he will do even more than he is asked. He lets Philemon know he believes he will do what is right…and all in advance of the fact.
Paul lets Philemon know he believes in him. He says, “I know you will do even more than I ask.” There are two different Greek words he could have used to indicate this particular knowledge. One of them is indicative of a type of knowledge which comes by way of the mind through the senses. This type knowledge is grounded in personal experience. It says, “I know because I have experienced it. I have touched it. I have smelled it. I have tasted it. Thus, I know.” The other word is indicative of seeing with the mind’s eye. That is, we do not have to experience it to know it is true. We just know. And, this is the word Paul chooses when he lets Philemon “know” he is optimistic he will do even more than he asks. In essence, he is saying to his friend, “I don’t have to see it first. I have confidence in you. I know you will do the right thing.”
Are you optimistic? Do your friends and family know you have confidence in them? Or, do you always have to experience their performance before you affirm them in some way? Susie and I have raised our daughters to young adulthood. Since the day of their birth there has not been one single day in either of their lives when they did not hear me say, “I am proud to be your dad.” In a thousand ways we have sought to let them know we believe in them, we are confident they will do the right thing in life, and, in fact, we know they will do even more than we ask. Letting others know you believe in them brings out the best in them far quicker than berating them over their short-comings.
Paul does not command nor coerce Philemon to receive Onesimus. It is his call. Loyalty and commitment must be voluntary if they are to be effective. Thus, he simply presents his case, expresses his confidence in both parties and leaves the ball in Philemon’s court. He knows that people have a way of becoming what we encourage them to be…not what we coerce the m to be. Expecting the best in others and expressing confidence in them to do more than is expected goes a long way in helping them to do the right thing.
It is not too difficult to drown out the fires of enthusiasm. Just pour on the cold water. Throw in your two cents worth of discouragement. The whole world is full of negative pessimists. But, how many times has a simple word of confidence given someone the strength to go on? Optimism brings out the very best in every one of us. When an athlete knows the coach believes in him he tries harder. When an employee knows the boss believes in him he works harder. When a child knows his parent believes in him he climbs higher. Optimism is what ultimately gets us across our own Rubicon of relationships.
What do you suppose Philemon did? I think he did what Paul asked and even passed on the principles to Onesimus. I think he, in turn, let Onesimus know he still believed in him. Guess what happened to this former runaway servant. History has preserved another letter written in 115 A.D. from Ignatius of Antioch to the Bishop of Ephesus. And the Bishop’s name? Onesimus. Our Onesimus would have been in his seventies when the letter was received. Many scholars believe Bishop Onesimus of Ephesus was, indeed, the same Onesimus who returned to Philemon. If so, his success and fulfillment in life was due, in large part, to the optimistic encouragement he found in his interpersonal relationships with his loyal friends, Paul and Philemon. Their commitment to one another was built on openness. They were open and honest with one another. It was built on obligation. They were unconditionally committed to one another. Their relationship was built on objectivity. They reciprocated with each other and saw past their own individual needs. Finally, their commitment to one another was built on optimism. They believed the best about each other and challenged each other to excellence.
How do you think Onesimus felt when he heard Paul rise to his defense and offer to pay his debt? He became more committed to him in their relationship to one another than ever before. How do you think Philemon felt when he discovered that Paul really believed in him? It spurred him on to a deeper commitment. There are four steps to loyal and committed friendships. Be open. Be obligated. Be objective. And, be optimistic.
Have you crossed the Rubicon with anyone? Do you have a loyal friend? One who is open to you? One who feels free to ask a favor? Do you have a friend who senses an obligation to you? One who rises to your defense and is committed to you no matter what may come? Do you have a friend who is objective about you? One who understands the importance of reciprocation and gives as much as he takes in the relationship? One who loves you when you least deserve it? Do you have a friend who is optimistic toward you? One who believes the best about you and does more than you expect in the relationship? If not, why not?
Perhaps a more pertinent question may be… “Are you a committed and loyal friend to someone else?” Are you open with others? Or, do you always keep your guard up. Do you build barriers in place of bridges? Do you sense any obligation to anyone? Or, do you base your relationships strictly on the basis of what you can get from them without ever wondering what you can give to them? Have you stood up for anyone recently? This is the cement of relationship. Are you objective? Or, do you soon forget the investment someone else makes in your life? Are you slow at reciprocation and returning favors? Are you optimistic? Do you believe the best about others? Or, are you suspicious of their motives?
Where can we begin to build more positive relationships? It all goes back to being well connected at the source. That is, being plugged into spiritual power. We all have a friend who “sticks closer than a brother.” Jesus Christ is committed to you. He is open. His life is an open book. He builds bridges and not barriers.
He also builds relationships on obligation. He stands up for you. He crossed his own Rubicon for you and never looked back. He is committed. He is objective. He is no respecter of persons. And, He is optimistic. He always does more than is expected. He brings out the best in us. He believes in us and helps us to believe in ourselves.
Commitment is a lost word in the vocabulary of many people. There is a Rubicon in every interpersonal relationship, a river we cross from which there is no turning back or quitting. Many move up to the banks of this relational river with someone but never cross over. It takes four steps to get across. We must become open with one another. True commitment is based on openness, the ability to be honest and to take a risk. We must sense our obligations to each other. True commitment causes us to rise to each other’s defense. We must be objective. Reciprocation is the name of the relationship game. We must be optimistic. When we believe in someone else we bring out the best in them. Genuine commitment results in our…crossing the Rubicon!
Most of us know a lot about commitment. We are committed to our jobs. We show up on time and do an honest day’s work because we have made a commitment. Some of us enjoy the fellowship found in all sorts of endeavors from bowling teams to garden clubs. We show up because we made a commitment. Many of us are in civic or social clubs. When we miss a meeting we “make it up.” We are committed. It is time some of us made the same commitment to an interpersonal relationship.
Do something for someone this week. In Paul’s words, “Refresh someone’s heart.” Do a favor that is unsolicited. Loyalty breeds loyalty in relationships. Pay someone a sincere compliment. A few suggestions follow.
- Refresh the heart of someone who regularly serves you at a particular restaurant this week. Pay an honest and optimistic compliment. Rise to their defense.
- Refresh the heart of your husband or wife. Be objective. Perhaps it has been too long since you reciprocated in the relationship. Give. Don’t just always receive. Do something “out of character” for him or her this week. Buy her some flowers. Write him a letter and stick it in his briefcase before he leaves on a business trip.
- Refresh your child’s heart this week. Many of us dads are committed to a lot of things…except fatherhood. Think about that. Have you crossed the Rubicon to make a commitment to fatherhood or motherhood? Let your child know you are proud of them and that you believe in them. This optimistic spirit will help bring out the best in them and, in turn, cause them to be more committed to you than ever before.
- Refresh a friend’s heart this week. Take a risk. Be open. Let someone look into your own heart. Build a bridge. Honesty and openness will get you started on the way across your own Rubicon of relationships. Believe in someone…and let them know it!
- Be open. Be obligated. Be objective. Be optimistic. Go ahead, cross the Rubicon of relationships.
- The Art of Connecting: Accountability: Don't leave home without it! - Part 6
- The Art of Connecting: Crossing the Rubicon of relationships - Part 5
- The Art of Connecting: Burying the hatchet - Part 4
- The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3
- The Art of Connecting: A pat on the back - Part 2
- The Art of Connecting: Part 1
“Let’s just bury the hatchet!” How many times have we heard that well-worn phrase and how few times have we put it into practice? It carries with it the connotation of mending broken relationships, forgetting old scores and letting by-gones be by-gones. The phrase finds its origin with the American Indians in the nineteenth century. When making peace they would ceremoniously bury a hatchet in the earth to show that hostilities were over. From this act of “burying the hatchet” comes our custom of shaking right hands when making peace, striking a deal, or settling a dispute. The right hand, the hatchet hand, is used to symbolically prove no weapon is being carried. Thus, the phrase, “bury the hatchet”, has made its way into our western colloquialism as a symbol of the mending of broken relationships.This is one of the most vital, yet most overlooked, concepts in the art of connecting. The capacity to forgive, not only others, but, sometimes ourselves, is one of the key elements in maintaining positive, productive interpersonal relationships.
Paul continues his treatise to Philemon in his next paragraph with a strong word about burying the hatchet. He writes, “I am sending him (Onesimus) — who is my very heart — back to you…Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good — no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother” (Philem. 12–16). Paul is teaching Philemon, and us, that positive relationships are not only built upon appreciation and affirmation, consideration and cooperation, but their fabric must be woven with threads of forgiveness if they are to endure in the long term.
The single most important factor in on-going relationships is the ability to forgive, to bury the hatchet, when we have been wronged. Any relationship that is lasting and worthwhile over the years is prone to have its moments of stress and brokenness. This is true whether it be the relationship between a husband and a wife, a parent and a child, an employer and an employee or a friend and a friend. The ability to forgive and forget is always found in the most worthwhile relationships. In fact, the most solid relationships are those which have weathered the storms and buried their hatchets in the past. My wife, Susie, and I have been married over thirty years and there have been times when I have been insensitive and times (only a few, I hope) when I have spoken harshly. But she has always forgiven me and forgotten it. We have raised our daughters to young adulthood and there have been times when we have made mistakes as parents. But the girls have always forgiven us and forgotten it. There have been those times when they did not always obey and later came to ask forgiveness and together we would always bury the hatchet. My long-time associate, David Hamilton, and I worked together for over a quarter of a century. There were times when we sharply disagreed and even hurt the other’s feelings. But we have always forgiven each other and, in so doing, continued to move on to a higher level of relationship.
Unfortunately, many interpersonal relationships with so much potential are destroyed by a lack of forgiveness. When someone cannot bring it upon themselves to swallow their pride and bury the hatchet, they are building barriers in place of bridges to better relationships. Forgiveness and a wise forgetfulness are keys to every successful marriage, productive business career, continued church health and growth, and lasting friendship.
In order to bury the hatchet we must remember there are two sides to the cutting edge, two sides of a coin. There are two parties who must play a part in the mending of broken relationships. There is always an offending party and an offended party. The offending party is the one whose actions primarily bring about the rift in the relationship. In Paul’s letter the offending party is Onesimus. Remember, he was under an employment contract with Philemon. He robbed him and ran away under the cover of night. No doubt about it. He is the offending party, and blatantly so. There is also an offended party, one who has been wounded and wronged. Obviously, he is Philemon. And the truth is, most broken relationships need a “Paul”, someone to help the others see the part they need to individually play in order to bury the hatchet.
Now, what did it take to bring the two parties together and to mend the broken relationship? The same thing it takes today to bury the hatchet! The offending party must come to the table with a repentant heart. If not, there will be no genuine mending of the friendship. If Onesimus says that he is sorry, yet returns with no remorse nor change of heart or attitude, he will do the same thing next week or next month and the wound will never heal and the relationship will never mend. How many times is this scenario repeated in the lives of those around us today? There must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party.
However, it not only takes two to tango, it takes two to bury the hatchet. The offended party must have a receptive heart. If Philemon says that it is alright for Onesimus to return, yet remains resentful and retaliatory, there will be zero authentic restoration of the relationship. Most often, the burden is on the part of those who have been deeply wronged. The offended party must be receptive to the offender who seeks forgiveness with genuine remorse and regret. Both parties must play their own part in burying the hatchet.
Most broken relationships can be salvaged. I think I should repeat that and this time a little louder in all caps…MOST BROKEN RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE SALVAGED! I am a firm believer in reconciliation. But everyone must do their part. We live in a day when more and more people are going from one relationship to another to another, leaving strings of broken hearts and battered hopes in their wake. Too few seem to want to really pay the price of making a relationship work. There are those who, when faced with a breakdown in a relationship simply junk it. In place of finding the problem and making some repairs, they junk it. It doesn’t matter how much has been invested in it previously … they junk it. We do not do that with our automobiles. We make an investment in a car and if it doesn’t start in the morning what do we do? Junk it? No! If we can’t fix it ourselves, we call for help. We find the problem and get it fixed. We have too big of an investment in it to just junk it. If that is good sense for auto repairs it ought to be good sense for interpersonal relationships. Too many make too many deposits of love and time in relationships to walk off and leave them when we have trouble getting them going on a particular morning. If we can’t fix them ourselves, we shouldn’t be too proud to get some help!
In broken relationships our general tendency is to identify ourselves at the offended party each time. And, this is exactly why some of us live a lifetime with broken relationships strewn in our paths. Few of us want to admit we are the offending party. Few of us want to take personal responsibility. We have been programmed since childhood to point the finger at someone else. But, could there be a little of Onesimus in all of us? Could it be that we have something to learn from him today regarding burying the hatchet and mending broken relationships?
Burying the hatchet involves a repentant heart on the part of the offending party. Onesimus went back! And, he did so with sincere remorse and regret. It also involves a receptive heart on the part of the offended party. Philemon received him and the party began. Are you an Onesimus? Do you need to go back to admit you were wrong, where before you insisted you were right? Are you a Philemon? Do you need to forgive someone and forget it? Is there a hatchet that needs to be buried? Paul makes plain the way in this ancient, yet so up to date, letter.
The offending party
Every broken relationship has an offending party. Burying the hatchet calls for a repentant heart on their part. That is, a change of mind, a turnaround, a going back to a somebody to make a wrong right. Paul puts it like this to Philemon…“I am sending him — who is my very heart — back to you. 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” (Philem. 12–13).
Onesimus is the offending party. But, now Onesimus and Paul are of one “heart”. They are of one mind. They are together. And Onesimus is going back. He had previously wronged Philemon. Now that Christ had transformed his life, he had no option but to go back. The Greek word for repentance literally means, “to change one’s mind.” Onesimus has changed his mind about his actions of the past and is now on his way back to make his wrongs right. He is not on is way home to argue his case. He is going back to bury the hatchet. Some of us go back to others in hopes of reconciliation only to discover when we get there we are still trying to justify past actions and argue our case. Not Onesimus. He is taking responsibility as the offending party.
Reconciliation does not take place without someone acknowledging their wrong and going back to make it right. The greatest short story ever told was at this very point. It is the old and oft repeated story known as, “the prodigal son.” The prodigal was the offending party. He skipped out on his dad. Later he “came to himself” and returned home with a repentant heart. And his dad? He was certainly the offended party but he greeted the boy with a receptive heart. They buried the hatchet and both of them went on with life together. Onesimus, like the prodigal son, is on his way home. He doesn’t send a word of apology back to Philemon through someone else. He is going back himself.
Relationships based upon the solid foundation of being properly related to our source, Jesus Christ, are not out to help us escape our past and run from it, but to help us face our past and live above it. Having become profitably connected to his source and himself, Onesimus is now seeking to become connected again to his friend, Philemon. He is returning as the offending party to face the consequences of what he did and seek to make right his previous wrong.
We might have a different ending to our story had Onesimus received counsel from some “professionals” today instead of from Paul. Some today would have listened to his story and offered him counsel which says, “Look, forget about your past. You can find justification in what you did. Go on with your life. Try to learn from your mistakes. Forget Philemon.” And, had he taken this counsel, he would have lived out the rest of his days, like some do today, with something left unfinished, like a dark cloud always hanging over his head. That is no way to live a positive, productive and purposeful life.
Often, the way forward is back. Back — to admit I am wrong where before I had insisted I was right. Back — to make a previous wrong right. Yes, the way forward is often back. This is one of the great paradoxes found when we are connected with Jesus Christ. In His economy, the way up is down and the way down is up. Paul describes this present paradox as the way forward is back. He writes to Philemon, “I am sending him — who is my very heart — back to you” (Philem. 12). It was at this very point of illustrating the “way forward is back” principle that Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you — leave your gift there in front of the altar — first go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.” Do you see it? It is one of life’s great principles…the way forward is back!
Could this be the point of frustration with some of us? That is, we are trying to go on, to go forward, but something is left undone and we have not yet gone back? We have not gone back with genuine remorse to say, “I am sorry. I was wrong.” It may be that until we go back we will never make much forward progress and spend our days running into dead-ends, cul-de-sacs or zooming around traffic circles instead of making forward progress on the freeways of life. Only Hollywood movies can be successful with the principle that “love means never having to say you are sorry.” In real life no relationships can succeed on that premise. Those who enjoy the most profitable long-term relationships are the ones who know what it is to say, “I am sorry. Please forgive me.”
Onesimus gives us hope. Look at him before anyone of us become convinced that our particular case is hopeless. There is hope for any of us who will admit to being the offending party. When we do, we join Onesimus in some pretty good company. Moses, the highly revered emancipator of the Jewish people, was a murderer. He discovered the way forward is back. And, he went back and in so doing led his people to the Promised Land. What about King David. Now, we are talking about an offending party here! He stole the affection of another man’s wife, got her pregnant and even assented to the man’s death. But later, plagued with remorse, he discovered the way forward is back. If any of us doubt the sincerity of his repentance we need but read his fifty-first psalm. And, don’t forget Jonah. He was the original Onesimus. He shook his fist in the face of God and later in a fish’s belly found out that the way forward is back. He received a second chance and God used him in a greater way than ever. We cannot leave the subject of the second chance without a mention of Simon Peter, the big fisherman. He was certainly the offending party. He blew it in his own relationships. But like those before him, he discovered the life changing principle that the way forward is back. He went back and then did he ever go forward from there! (Read the book of Acts in the New Testament to find out.) When we go back God forgives. And when God forgives, He forgets and His followers go on to their greatest days after finding forgiveness. The way forward is still back!
Who gets the ball of reconciliation rolling? Both sides must do their part. There must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party and a receptive heart on the part of the offended party. Relational difficulties often persist when we who are the offending parties become to blind to our own abuses we never admit we did anything wrong. Many broken relationships are never mended because neither side will take any personal responsibility. We spend our days futilely seeking to justify our actions and eventually beginning to believe our lie. Consequently, some of us live out our days with things unfinished. The hatchet of broken interpersonal relationships will never be buried unless there is genuine repentance on the part of the offending party. The way forward is back.
The offended party
Every broken relationship has an offended party. Burying the hatchet calls for a receptive part on their part. That is, a heart that is void of the spirit of retaliation or resentment. In the broken relationship under our consideration, Philemon plays this part. He is the offended party. The rift in the relationship did not necessarily occur because of anything he did. However, the ball of reconciliation is now in his court. Will he receive Onesimus back in a retaliatory way? Or, even worse, with pent-up resentment?
Many reconciliations never take place because the ones who have been wronged cannot bring themselves to accept nor receive the offending party even when they return with genuine remorse, regret and repentance. Hatchets are never buried until the offended party receives the one who has wronged him with a truly forgiving heart.
Philemon had a veritable opportunity for revenge and retaliation. In fact, by Roman law, Onesimus’ crime was punishable by death. Here was an opportunity for retaliation and revenge. And, at the very least, here was an opportunity for some good old-fashioned self-inflicted resentment. Philemon had been wronged, and, by a trusted confidant. In the end, reconciliation between these two men took place in large part because Philemon had a receptive heart which was void of retaliation or resentment.
In regards to his receiving Onesimus back into good graces, Paul writes to Philemon saying, “But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced” (Philem. 14). Paul could have ordered the two to mend the broken relationship. He could have pulled his apostolic authority on them. But, he was wise enough to realize there can be no true reconciliation that is manipulated, coerced or forced. It must be voluntary. It must issue out of a willing heart. It results from common consent not controlled coercion.
Paul was desirous that Philemon’s response would be, in his words, “spontaneous”. That is, voluntary and of his own free will. Forced and manipulated reconciliations actually drive people farther apart and lead to increased resentment. They never lead to true reconciliations. There are those who through manipulated means seek to orchestrate reconciliations with hidden agendas for their own self profit and pride. But they are inevitably found out. Reconciliations that last are those not forced but “spontaneous”, voluntary, issuing out of the heart with pure motives. Hatchets are never completely buried unless they are done so voluntarily.
Paul continues his letter saying, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good” (Philem. 15). Wow! Now there is a thought! Something good can result even out of bad experiences. The sentence begins with a thought provoking word…“Perhaps.” Paul is saying, “Just think about it a moment.” He is asking, “Could it be?” “Perhaps it happened for a reason.” This is the truth from our Source, the Creator God, revealed through His prophet Isaiah saying, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways…As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55: 8–9). Paul is not being presumptuous with his “perhaps” to Philemon. He is simply allowing room for something good to emerge out of what began as something bad. Is it possible that there is a “perhaps” in your own experience?
The beautiful thing about burying the hatchet and mending broken relationships is that they can become productive learning experiences which ultimately result in our own good and God’s glory. Don’t misunderstand Paul’s purpose here. He is in no way condoning Onesimus’ past actions. He is showing that we can triumph, even over our wrongs and past mistakes, when we each play our respective parts in reconciliation.
When we read these words — “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good” — we are reminded of the story of Joseph and his estrangement from his brothers. Andrew Lloyd Webber, of “Phantom of the Opera” fame, has brought this ancient story to life in his Broadway production, “Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Most of us know the story well. His brothers, filled with jealously and resentment, sold him to some nomads in a caravan in route to Egypt. They lied to his father by telling him they had found Joseph’s many colored coat soaked in blood and he had no doubt been consumed by a wild animal. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, through a series of events Joseph went from a prison to the palace to become the prime minister of the most progressive nation in the world by the time he was thirty years of age. Famine came to Israel and eventually brought these brothers to Egypt in hopes of finding food. When confronted with their long-lost brother they became filled with remorse and regret and, in the end, a beautiful reconciliation took place.
The brothers were the offending party. Joseph was the offended party. The rift in the relationship had gone on for years and years. The brothers were full of repentance. Now the ball was in Joseph’s court. How would he respond after all those years of being wronged and living with the consequences? From the human standpoint most of what happened to him was bad. He was the key to reconciliation. When he revealed himself to his brothers, he said, “Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to save lives (Gen. 45:5) …You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” (Gen. 50:20). God allowed it…and for a reason! Yes, as Paul says, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good.” Is it possible that there is a “perhaps” written across your own experience?
It is at this very point that we are reminded of what Paul wrote in another one of his ancient letters to his friends in Rome. He reminded them, and us, of an important truth when he said, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). This is confidential. He says, “We know.” This truth is not understood by a world that is not connected at the Source. It is a family secret known to those in the family. This truth is also constructive. Yes, “things work together for good.” Not everything that happens is good. Onesimus’ actions which resulted in his broken relationship with Philemon were not good. But God can take even bad things and work them together for our good. It is also comprehensive. Look again, “all things are working for good.” I hate the taste of baking soda by itself. I would never think about sitting down to eat a bowl of flour. But when you put them together and make some biscuits…now I can go for that. Unpleasant things can “work together” for good. This truth is also conditional. It only works for those “who love God and are called according to His purpose.” If we are the offending party our purpose is to repent with remorse and regret. If we are the offended party our purpose is to receive without revenge or resentment. Yes, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good” (Philem. 15).
Most often when we are in the midst of great difficulty it is hard to see any good in it at all. It is for this very reason that I love Paul’s use of the words — “for a little while.” Difficulties are temporary. Broken relationships can be too! The most repeated phrase in the Bible is, “And it came to pass!” Most of our difficulties have a way of passing. We can all think of past experiences which, when we were in the midst of them, were so bad, yet, looking back in retrospect, turned out for our good. Perhaps the reason you, too, were separated from something or someone for a little while was that you might win in the end.
Paul continues his appeal to Philemon, the offended party, saying, “have him back…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 man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philem. 15–16).
What is the moral here? There is often a deeper relationship after reconciliation than there was before. The offended party does not soon forget the humility and repentance of the offending party. And, the offending party does not soon forget the forgiving and receptive heart of the offended party. Therefore, there can be a deeper and more appreciative love toward one another. Thus Paul writes, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a while was that you might have him back for good — no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you both as a man and a brother.”
Philemon had a receptive heart toward Onesimus. His reception of him “as a man” points to reinstating him to his previous position. Onesimus will be a better employee in the future because of his second chance. But that is not all. He is also returning as a “brother.” But, even more — “as a dear brother.” This new position is what lifts us all to a higher and more productive relationship as “brothers” because we are both plugged into the same source.
The new and closer relationship we can enjoy with one another through Jesus Christ does not free us from previous obligations and responsibilities. Paul is not asking, nor suggesting, that Philemon free Onesimus from his prior commitments or obligations. He is opening Philemon’s eyes to a totally new relationship. On the socio-economic level things might well remain the same between the two individuals. But, on the spiritual level they would become equals, “brothers”. It is important that Paul is stressing our worth and dignity as individuals as well as followers of Christ. Here is respect and the observation of basic human dignity in our relationships.
Our interpersonal relationships are changed for the better when they are changed from within by the love and power we find in being plugged into our source, Jesus Christ. We will never know mended relationships on the highest level until we each are properly connected to our source. I think it is time to rewind the tape once more. We will never be properly related to one another until we are properly related to ourselves and we will never exhibit a healthy sense of self-worth and self-esteem until we are properly connected to our Source of power and love, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Leonardo da Vinci, the famous artist best known for his depiction of “The Last Supper”, epitomizes the value of mended relationships and buried hatchets. While most of us are familiar with his famous painting of our Lord’s last meal in the upper room, few have ever heard the real story behind the story. While in the process of painting his masterpiece he had a brutal and bitter altercation with a fellow painter. The master was so enraged that he began to plot an evil scheme. He would paint the face of his own adversary into the face of Judas and thus portray him to all posterity as the traitor himself. As soon as da Vinci finished painting Judas everyone immediately recognized him as Leonardo’s former friend. He continued to paint the Lord’s Supper scene adding each of the disciples into the portrait. It then came time to paint the face of Christ. However, as much as he tried, one attempt after another, he could not paint the Lord’s face. Something was strangely keeping him from it. His own heart revealed to him that his hatred for his fellow painter was the problem. He buried the hatchet with his friend, repainted Judas’ face with another, and then, with great liberty, painted the face of Christ and, thus, completed the masterpiece we have admired down through the centuries.
Reconciliation only takes place when both the offending and the offended parties do their respective parts. Quite honestly, the problem with some of us who are offended is not that we retaliate but that we harbor resentment. And, the truth is, this is much more deadly. The most devastating effect of resentment is not what it does to others, but, what it does to us. It will damage us physically. Harboring hatred in the heart can have a damaging effect on such things as blood pressure and normal bodily functions. Many who have been eaten up with resentment have also found they were soon eaten up with ulcers as well. It has a damaging effect upon us physically.
Resentment has a depressing effect upon us mentally. When it consumes us it can warp our capacity to think right. Many people suffer from mental and emotional problems for the simple fact that they harbor deep resentment toward others and have never forgiven past wrongs even though the offending parties have returned in genuine remorse. Resentment has its own diabolic way of damaging us physically and depressing us mentally.
But there is more. It also debilitates us spiritually. None of us can effectively pray or read our Bibles when we harbor hatred or resentment toward someone else. Once Jesus said, “When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins” (Mark 11:25). One of the most dangerous things about broken relationships is the effect they can have on the offended party who will not bury the hatchet with the offending party. It damages us physically, depresses us mentally and debilitates us spiritually. Relationally speaking, the way forward is always back. It is at this very point that, in another letter, Paul challenges his friends at Ephesus to, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:31–32).
In our macho world a lot of people have a warped image of the offended party who forgives and forgets and begins again. His caricature in the minds of many is of one who is weak and wimpy. However, just the opposite is true. Forgiveness is a positive and powerful force and it takes a strong person to forgive. Anyone can harbor resentment with an unforgiving spirit. It doesn’t take any strength at all. But, it takes a strong man or woman to be big enough to say, “I forgive you. And, what is more, I will forget it. Let’s begin again!”
Think for a moment about the individuals who have had the greatest impact upon your life. As I think about it, four or five people surface in my mind. My dad and mom are two of them. They surrounded me with love. They instilled self-confidence within me causing me to believe my reach could always exceed my grasp. I never remember them missing one of my ball games. They were always “there” for me. I think of my wife, Susie. No one knows quite like I what an incredible individual she really is. For over thirty years we have been “one” — physically, emotionally, spiritually, parentally — in the most wonderful sense imaginable. My mentor, Fred Swank, comes quickly to mind. He was a people person extraordinaire. He was like a second father to me. He loved me and gave me his most valuable possession, his time. Although he is no longer with us physically, seldom does a day go by that I do not put into practice something he taught me about relationships.
As I think about these particular people, it dawns on me that they all have one thing in common. It isn’t just that they believed in me and encouraged me. But, they each in their own unique way, forgave me of my faults. Yes, they forgave me and they forgot it! There were more times than I like to remember when I rebelled against my father. But, he always forgave me and never brought it up again. As many times as I have let Susie down, she has always forgiven me and forgotten it. The same holds true with Dr. Swank. I made a lot of mistakes under his tutorship and supervision but he always forgave me and helped me learn from those very mistakes so they would not be made again. Forgiveness has a dynamic power about it in the lives of others. There is something about it that brings out the best in us, regardless of whether we are on the giving or receiving end.
Reconciliation was set into motion with Philemon and his estranged friend, Onesimus, because both of them did their part in burying the hatchet. Onesimus returned with a repentant heart and Philemon, in turn, received him with a receptive heart. Often the pieces of broken relationships are never put back together because as much as the offending party would like to see them mended, the offended party is so filled with retaliation, revenge or resentment they cannot bring themselves to truly forgive much less forget.
On the surface one might think the key to reconciliation lies with the offending party. Not really. In most cases a genuine burying of the hatchet awaits the offended parties’ ability to forgive and forget previous wrongs.
We are talking about relationships here. This is what life is all about. The most important key in on-going positive, productive interpersonal relationships is the ability to forgive. In fact, the strongest lifetime relationships are the ones who know what it is to repent and receive, to forgive and forget.
Philemon and Onesimus have been on center stage in this relationship drama. However, there is one person who plays a major part in their reconciliation. Look at Paul. He is the reconciler. He stands in the middle with Onesimus (the offending party) in one hand and Philemon (the offended party) in the other. And, he brings them together. And so, one with a repentant heart and the other with a receptive heart bury the hatchet together.
There is a much deeper truth here than what appears on the surface. What we really have is a picture of the very way we can become plugged into our Source of power for living. There is a sense in which we are Onesimus. We are the offending party. The Creator made us to fellowship with Him. But, we chose to go our own way and leave Him out of our lives. For many years we had no relationship with Him whatsoever. He is the offended party. He provided a perfect paradise for us all. But, we thought we could do better. He, then, gave the best He had to offer and we nailed Him to a cross of execution. Yes, we offended Him. Jesus of Nazareth came into our world. Why? In order to take me, and you, by one of His nail-pierced hands and reach up to
His Father, our Source, with His other hand and bring us together into a positive and productive relationship.
Is there an Onesimus reading these words? God is ready, and waiting, to receive you. He will forgive. And, what is more, He will also forget. Perhaps, in His still, small voice He may be saying to you right now, even through these words, “Let’s bury the hatchet. Let’s start over. Let’s have a brand new beginning.” And, the beautiful truth is, He has already buried the hatchet…deep into a Roman cross outside the city wall of Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. There He demonstrated His love and receptive heart toward us in reconciliation.
I stood one winter day at that very spot called Skull Hill. The largest snowfall in decades covered the landscape of Jerusalem. It was beautiful as it nestled into the crevices on the face of Calvary. The holes which form what looks like eye sockets and make Golgotha different in appearance from any other hill on earth were filled with snow. The words of the ancient Jewish prophet, Isaiah, came quickly to mind, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Is. 1:18). If you will come home to him as Onesimus came home to Philemon, He will receive you as Philemon received Onesimus and you can begin the great journey for which you were created in the first place, the eternal connection.
Corrie Ten Boom was the daughter of a Dutch watchmaker who hid Jews in their home during the days of the Nazi holocaust. As a young lady, she and her sister, Betsy, were arrested, interrogated and sent to Ravensbruck, the infamous German concentration camp. There her sister, Betsy, died. Corrie lived to tell her story in the best-selling book, The Hiding Place and the motion picture by the same title. She relates that years after the atrocities she was invited to speak in a church in Munich. It was there she came to face to face with him, the former Nazi who stood watch at the shower door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. She could never forget that face. Suddenly, it all flashed back…the room full of mocking, jeering men…the heaps of clothing piled in the corner…and Betsy’s pained and tormented face. He approached her after the service had concluded with a radiant smile.
“Fraulein,” he began, “I am most grateful for your message. To think that, as you say, He has forgiven me of my sin!” He offered his hand in reconciliation. Corrie Ten Boom, who had spoken so often of the need to love and forgive, kept her own hand at her side. She says she began to think to herself as the vengeful and angry thoughts flooded her mind, “I began to see the sin of my thoughts. Jesus Christ had died for this man. Was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.”
Corrie Ten Boom tried to smile at the man. She couldn’t. She struggled to extend her hand. She could not. She felt nothing. No love. No warmth. She then breathed a silent prayer, “Lord Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.” She plugged into the Source! As she took his hand an incredible thing happened. Into her heart leaped a love for this stranger that was overpowering.
Corrie discovered that it is no more on our own forgiveness than it is on our own goodness that the world’s healing hinges. Along with His commands to forgive others He also imparts the love to do so. Yes, we have been saying it all along. We will never be in proper relationship with others until we are in a proper relationship with ourselves and this is only possible when we tap into His love and power. Then, and only then, can we truly be about the business of…burying the hatchet!
Remember, burying the hatchet takes two doing their individual parts. There must be a repentant heart on the part of the offending party. There must, also, be a receptive heart on the part of the offended party. Who are you in this story?
1. Are you Onesimus, the offending party? Be honest. Is there anything in the past you have done to offend anyone? Is there anything that is left undone? Be big enough to admit it. You will never stand taller than when you go to someone and voice those two liberating words, “I’m sorry!” Perhaps, you need to write a letter, make a phone call or, better yet, pay a visit to someone and admit you were wrong. Do it for your own sake. It will set you free. After all, the way forward is still back!
2. Are you Philemon, the offended party? Be willing to forgive. Let God help you forget and go on with life. Harboring resentment will only damage you physically, depress you mentally and debilitate you spiritually. Perhaps, you need to write a letter, make a phone call or, better yet, pay a visit to someone and say, “You are forgiven!” It will set you free. It is a wonderful opportunity to pass on to someone else the forgiveness you can find in the Lord Himself.
3. Perhaps you are neither Onesimus nor Philemon. Could it be that you are Paul? What the world needs now are more men and women like Paul who play the role of reconciler. Do you know of someone who is the offending party in a relationship? Care enough about them to encourage them to see their need. Do you have a friend who is the offended party? Care enough about them to encourage them to forgive and forget, to bury the hatchet with that other person who displays genuine remorse and regret and knows how to say, “I’m sorry. Please forgive me.” You could be the key. Take the initiative in playing the part of a reconciler this week with someone you know. They will thank you forever for it.
4. We only have three relationships in life.
- The external connection, our relationship with other people.
- The internal connection, our relationship with ourselves.
- The eternal connection, our relationship with our Maker.
It may be that before you can forgive others for a particular offense you need to forgive yourself and let God love you and fill you with His power and forgiveness. The way to plug into Him is to begin by saying, “I’m sorry. Forgive me.” And, He will. He promised. And, He will go one better than that…He will forget! He will give you a brand new beginning!
- The Art of Connecting: Accountability: Don't leave home without it! - Part 6
- The Art of Connecting: Crossing the Rubicon of relationships - Part 5
- The Art of Connecting: Burying the hatchet - Part 4
- The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3
- The Art of Connecting: A pat on the back - Part 2
- The Art of Connecting: Part 1
I am an All-American boy. Part of the proof is in the fact that I drive American-made automobiles. One of the reasons I do is because of the super service department at my local dealership. Periodically, I take my car in for a check-up. The service manager makes certain my automobile is properly maintained so that it will continue to run smoothly with minimal mechanical maladies.
Like many of my readers, my wife and I are fortunate enough to own our home. Or, I should say the mortgage holder owns it. Periodically, we give it a check-up. Recently, we made some repairs on the roof. It wasn’t leaking…yet! Some wood was rotting around one of the eaves and it was only a matter of time before big problems would ensue. So, we did some preventive maintenance.
I have a body. Not much of one, some might argue! But, a body never-the-less. Every year I go to my physician, Dr. Ken Cooper, for a check-up. I get a complete physical in order to make certain everything is in proper working order and to, hopefully, detect any possible problems. Along with a physical exam I watch my diet and try to take good physical care of myself. It is called preventive medicine.
Much of what goes wrong with my car or my home or my body does so because of one word…neglect. No checkup. No maintenance. No accountability. Accountability. Now, that is an important word. If it is good enough for cars and homes and physical needs, why shouldn’t it be good enough for interpersonal relationships? It is good from time to time for husbands and wives to sit down with each other and “check-up” on their relationships to one another. It is good from time to time for parents and their children to sit down and hold each other accountable in the relationship. It is good from time to time for friends to stop long enough to do some preventive maintenance with their interpersonal relationships.
Paul closes his letter to Philemon by letting him know he will hold him accountable in the relationship and will come by later for a check-up. He writes, “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philem. 22). Philemon knew what this meant. Paul was going to come by later to checkup on the relationship! Philemon knew he would be held accountable. Paul was a wise man. He knew much of what goes wrong in relationships does so because of neglect. No accountability. No check-ups. No maintenance in the relationships.
Accountability is a part of life. We all need it. We need accountability in the marriage relationship. Marriages that last are those which have some preventive maintenance. When accountability goes, relationships go with it. I am accountable to my wife. I do not just go my own way telling her that where I go and what I do is none of her business. It is her business. We are one. We have a unique relationship because we are accountable to one another for what we do, where we go and how we behave.
We all know about accountability. We have it at the office. We do not just show up at work on Monday morning whenever we so desire. We must be there at a certain time and work a certain number of hours if we expect to get paid. Some of us are accountable for quotas and the like. Profitable businesses are successful in large part due to the insistence upon accountability at the office.
Look at our national, state and local governments. We have accountability here. As citizens we need laws to govern and protect us. We need to be held accountable if we run through stop signs and break speed limits. Without accountability in government there would be total anarchy. Accountability is a part of our everyday life. We are faced with it in some way at every turn of the corner.
We have accountability in our schools. Teachers hold students accountable with their studies. They must turn in homework assignments, write certain papers and take scheduled tests. No one graduates or earns a degree without being held accountable for the required assignments. Accountability is a way of life for all of us.
What about the athletic arena? We have accountability there also. If an athlete refuses to attend practice sessions, he or she doesn’t play in the game. And, for example, in basketball, when a player commits five “fouls” in a single game he is taken out of the game by the official. Athletes are accountable to officials, umpires and referees on the playing field.
Accountability is all around us. We see it in the business world. Many of us have mortgages with scheduled monthly payments. We are held accountable to pay them promptly and on time. If we fail to do so we are in danger of foreclosure.
Accountability is a significant part of everything we do. It is strange that, although we have accountability in every aspect of life, when we come to our own interpersonal relationships with our friends we do not see the need of it. Is it any wonder there is an epidemic of short-term relationships today? If accountability is necessary in government, athletics, education, business and the like, it is also essential in developing lasting positive and productive friendships.
When I was a teenager a friend by the name of Jack Graham and I began to take note of what was happening around us. We watched some of our peers disintegrate and destroy their young lives through such things as alcohol, drugs and illicit sex. Jack and I became accountable to one another. We didn’t know what to call it, but we made a promise to God and to each other that we would help one another to stay clean. We checked up weekly on one another and held each other accountable. To this day, although we began almost forty years ago, he is still my best friend and we still have a relationship that involves personal accountability to one another.
What destroys relationships? Think about it. The answer is found in such attitudes as self-reliance, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and self-centeredness. Accountability is an absolute necessity in the building of long-term friendships. Over the long haul it is one of the most important factors in a relationship. The lack of it has been the downfall of a lot of potential and promise. Accountability is the “ability” to be open and allow a small number of trusted, loyal and committed friends to speak the truth in love to us. We should only be accountable to those who have our best interest at heart. We all are in need of someone from whom we can receive concerned counsel and correction.
Accountability is a word many of us fear. It is not in our nature to want to be held accountable for our attitudes or actions. Some of us fear it because we misunderstand it. We think it means only “put-downs”, criticisms or rebukes from those who take delight in sitting in the judge’s seat. Remember, we are talking about the accountability that comes from a very select few trusted, loyal and committed friends who want only the best for us. Relationships are doomed to defeat without the element of accountability. We all need it.
Accountability in interpersonal relationships calls for three things. First, insight. Paul closes his letter to Philemon by reminding him he is coming by to checkup on how things are going between him and Onesimus. Hindsight also plays a major role in accountability. It involves an investment of time and interest. We need the hindsight to see that every area of positive relationships (affirmation, accommodation, acceptance and allegiance to one another) are important. I am not going to make myself accountable to someone who is not a trusted friend and who does not have my best interests at heart. Accountability also calls for foresight. Paul concludes his letter with the hope that “grace” might rest upon his trusted friend. We need the foresight to see that we all need a little grace to make any relationship positive and productive. Accountability. We all need it. Don’t leave home without it!
We now arrive at the final paragraph of this enlightening letter on interpersonal relationships. I can almost see Philemon now, with chin cupped in hand, as he reads, “And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers” (Philem. 22). Paul is a bit subtle here. But the message is loud and clear. “I am going to come by to check up on you. Get the guest room ready! I am coming by to see how you and Onesimus are doing in your relationship.” Here is accountability in capital letters.
How do you think this motivated Philemon? The prospect of Paul’s upcoming visit no doubt speeded up the process of his doing the right thing in his relationship with the remorseful Onesimus. We all need accountability to help us do what we ought to do. When we speak of holding each other accountable we are not speaking of making threats. Some confuse the two. Paul does not say, “Unless you do what I have asked you to do, I am not coming by to see you anymore. “Men and women who endure relationships built upon threats base their friendships upon performance. Not Paul. He builds relationships on such things as affirmation, forgiveness, commitment and accountability.
There is a subtle insight into this letter that is only apparent when it is read in its original Greek form. He requests that Philemon, “Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.” The “you” and “your” are both plural. This is both subtle and significant. Paul is reminding Philemon that others will be watching. Consequently, we discover the insight that accountability calls for us to become transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.
Accountability with one another calls for the insight to see we must be transparent with our true friends. Everyone needs someone with whom they can be genuinely open, honest and transparent. This vulnerability carries with it the risk of being wounded. But, transparency is imperative to accountability.
Those who are accountable must also be touchable. Everyone needs someone whom they can touch. That is, someone who is accessible and approachable. To his Roman friends Paul later wrote, “You are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” To his friends in Galatia he wrote, “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying one another…carry each other’s burdens.” To be accountable to someone demands that we become not only transparent, but, also, touchable.
Relationships which profit from accountability do so because the parties involved are also teachable. None of us should ever stop learning. We have so much to learn from one another. It is a dangerous time in any interpersonal relationship when someone feels they know it all and no longer possesses a teachable spirit. This insight implies a spirit of humility. We can teach each other. We can learn from one another. We need each other. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
Those who are accountable to one another must not only be transparent, touchable and teachable, they must also be truthful. Many never allow themselves to enter an accountable relationship because of deception. They are so deceived in the thinking process that they are convinced it is always someone else’s fault when a relationship becomes bruised or broken. Many people have left dozens of broken relationships in their wake and, in their minds, they have not been responsible for the break-up of a single one. They are deceived. Without truthfulness there can be no accountability in our relationships.
Some men and women are never accountable in their relationships because of denial. Some simply live in a state of denial. Still others are never accountable because they live in defeat. Everyone needs someone with whom they can be truthful. It is extremely therapeutic to be able to be genuinely truthful with a faithful friend without the fear that he or she will reveal your innermost secrets of the heart. It is impossible to become accountable to one another unless we are both committed to the truth, whoever or whatever it may hurt. We never have to be afraid of the truth. It liberates. It sets us free.
For example, take the well-known case of King David and his mistress, Bathsheba. Like so many today, he tried his best to cover up his affair with her. He did not want his family or friends to know about it. David was fortunate in that he had a trusted friend who held him accountable. Nathan cared enough to confront his friend who was on a collision course. And, he did so in confidence and in love. David came clean. When he was confronted with the truth, it hurt. But, it also healed. Nathan held his friend accountable and it kept the king from greater hurt and heartache. It worked because in their relationships with one another they were transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.
Many of us have personal friends we see heading down a road that has a dead end. But we let them go. We do not really care enough to confront with compassion. We have little accountability in relationships today. Real friends hold real friends accountable. How? By being transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful with one another.
WARNING! We are not talking about open season here. We are not advocating opening up our lives to anyone and everyone. And, in particular, we are not talking about becoming accountable to those who boast of the gifts of criticism, gossip or judgment. Stay away from those folks. They do not have your best interest at heart. They will end up hurting you a lot more than they will help you. We are talking about accountability between a small number of loyal, affirmative, forgiving and committed friends who, like Paul, have earned the right to ask some hard questions. Solomon also said, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Prov. 27:6).
Accountability calls for insight. Paul lets Philemon know he is coming by to check up on him. We all need a measure of accountability. There is something about knowing that we will one day have to give account of ourselves that motivates us to be more conscientious about our task. We all need someone with whom we can be transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful.
Accountability becomes possible when we have the hindsight to see we have made an investment of time and interest in another’s life which earns us the right to hold them accountable. And, to be accountable ourselves. Paul continues his closing paragraph by sending Philemon greetings from five of their mutual friends, a somewhat subtle reminder of those with whom he and Philemon have had solid and mutually beneficial relationships in the past. He writes, “Epaphras sends you greetings and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.”
Paul, in hindsight, mentions five individuals here. They are not recalled at random. They are each mentioned for a definite purpose. He is a genius at the art of connecting. He has dealt with five major contributions to positive interpersonal relationships…affirmation, accommodation, acceptance, allegiance and accountability. Each of these men is mentioned, in hindsight, to illustrate what he has been driving home throughout his personal correspondence to Philemon. Each man is representative of a paragraph in the letter and of a chapter in this book.
For example, he began the letter with the importance of affirmation, a pat on the back. It is no coincidence that he now brings up the name of Aristarchus. He was Paul’s traveling companion on his third missionary journey throughout the Mediterranean world and was arrested when they were in Ephesus. He had been through thick and thin with Paul. He went all the way to Rome with him affirming him all along the way. Paul reveals they had a synergy together that was strengthened by their affirmation of one another.
Paul also mentions a man named Luke. Dr. Luke, we might call him. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul refers to Luke as his “dear friend and doctor.” Paul brings him up in hindsight to Philemon to remind him of the win-win philosophy of relationships mentioned earlier in the letter. Paul and Luke played win-win with each other. Luke was a Gentile. In that day most Jews, like Paul, would have had no dealings with him. But Paul and Luke had something to offer each other and found their friendship to be mutually beneficial. Luke accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey and tended to his physical needs which were many. There is no doubt that Luke’s health skills added years to Paul’s life. They traveled a lot of miles together. On more than one occasion Paul was stoned and left for dead. He had a physical malady many believe was either epilepsy or failing eyesight. Luke was always there by his side. They needed each other. If there ever was a win-win relationship in life it was the one between Paul and Luke. Philemon knew about this and the moment he read Luke’s name he thought about Paul’s words a few paragraphs earlier, “He is now profitable both to you and to me. We all can win.”
Paul has also made much of the necessity of forgiveness in our relationships. Thus, he mentions a man named Mark. It was young Mark who was with him on the first journey departing from Antioch. But, he failed. He quit. He went A.W.O.L. when the going got tough. Twelve years have now passed and this is the first mention of Mark in any of Paul’s writings. Obviously, they have buried the hatchet and he is back. And, in case there is any doubt in anyone’s mind whether their new relationship flourished, Paul mentions him in a later letter to Timothy saying, “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me.” Mark knew what it meant to be accountable and he knew what it meant to be forgiven. Paul’s forgiveness and insistence upon accountability paid off in the end. Mark is the author of the Gospel which bears his name. Oh, the mention of his name spoke volumes to Philemon’s heart as he continued to read this letter. In hindsight, he had no option but to restore his broken friendship with his former friend who was on his way home.
Paul has also talked about the need of commitment in our interpersonal relationships, the need to cross the Rubicon. Therefore, it comes as no surprise he mentions Epaphras. This man’s life was characterized by a total commitment to his friends. In the Colossian letter Paul says, “Epaphras…sends his greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicia and Hierapolis.” He so crossed the Rubicon of relationship with Paul that he went to Rome and voluntarily shared Paul’s imprisonment with him there. He was also a well-known friend of Philemon coming from the same city. His very name is synonymous with commitment. Philemon knew where Paul was coming from the moment he read his name.
Finally, Paul reminds Philemon, and us, that accountability plays a vital role in any long-term positive and productive relationship. Therefore, he mentions a man named Demas. Demas’ own story ends on a lamentable note. Paul writes in his second letter to Timothy, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica.” Demas is a sad commentary on the fact that without accountability long-term relationships have little hope of survival. By mentioning these five mutual friends, each representative of an area of positive relationships, Paul is reminding us all that we need each other. We not only need to be connected with our Source and with ourselves, but, we need to be connected with each other. We need support and strength.
In hindsight, we see this principle of accountability was what Paul effectively and continually used to develop his productive and mutually beneficial relationships. It takes hindsight to see that accountability is based on loyalty to one another. I do not intend to make myself accountable to someone who does not have my best interest at heart. Paul had a small group around him who were committed to one another and bent on affirming one another daily. This is not only what the world needs now; it is what you and I need now. To understand accountability we need insight and hindsight. We also need foresight.
Paul concludes his letter to Philemon with a benediction, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” What is his point? We must have the foresight to see we need grace and without it there is no hope of accountability in interpersonal relationships. Too many never become accountable to anyone else because of a warped idea of what it really is. Some equate accountability with judgment when it is intended to be equated with grace. Paul is not talking about judging one another’s faults here. He is talking about mercy and grace issuing out of mutual love and respect among friends.
Grace…that is what is needed in so many relationships today. Grace can be defined as unmerited favor. While mercy is not getting what we do deserve, grace is getting what we do not deserve! And, if it is good enough to receive from our Source of love and power, the Lord Himself, it is good enough to pass on to those around us. This is the key that unlocks the door to accountability. We all need the foresight to see that we need grace in our relationships for without it there is no hope of building positive interpersonal relationships with anyone. If I make a mistake in my own relationships I always seek to err on the side of grace and mercy rather than on the side of judgment.
Paul is making it plain to Philemon that if he is going to do what he is being called upon to do with Onesimus he is going to need an extra portion of grace to accomplish it. It is really not in us to forgive and forget. Onesimus is on his way home. Philemon knows he must receive him and forgive him and now he is reminded that it will take the grace of God to do that. God’s grace…that is what we all need in our interpersonal relationships. We need the grace to go forward and the foresight to see we cannot do it in our own strength. Yes, until we are properly connected at the source we will spend a lifetime trying to build relationships without grace. And it cannot be done.
Paul asked that the grace of God be with Philemon’s “spirit”. This is by design and not by accident. We are made of body, soul and spirit. My spirit is the real me. It is that part of me that makes me different from all the other created order. It is that part of me that can connect with God. It is my inner self. We need the foresight to see that if we are not connected with our source in the spiritual realm we will never be properly connected with others in the emotional or physical realm. We need this grace to live in long-term interpersonal relationships. Husbands and wives need grace in their accountability towards one another. Friends in the marketplace need grace to get through the week. From time to time we all need grace, we all need to get what we do not necessarily deserve. Accountability cannot exist without a measure of grace.
With this reminder about grace Paul closes this most intimate and personal letter on interpersonal relationships. It is a word for us although it is removed by two millennia and 8,000 miles. It is as up-to-date as any best-selling book on relationships in the marketplace today. It calls to mind the life-changing method of a simple pat on the back. It brings us into win-win relationships with our friends. It speaks of the necessity of burying some hatchets along the way. It calls upon us to cross the Rubicon of relationships by making a life commitment to each other. And, it concludes with the importance of accountability to one another. We need each other.
If a periodic check-up is important to the maintenance of my automobile, my home and my physical body, why isn’t it good enough for my interpersonal relationships? Much of what goes wrong with my car, my home or my body does so because of one word… “neglect!” No accountability. No check-up. No maintenance. Accountability is a part of life. We all need it desperately. The knowledge that someone is going to hold us accountable motivates us to do the right thing. Paul is coming by to check up on Philemon. The anticipation of this would spur Philemon on to obey the wishes he found in his personal letter from his trusted friend.
We come to the end of the letter. And, the end of the volume in hand. What happened? Did Philemon do what Paul asked? Did he receive Onesimus with open arms as a “dear brother”? Did he forgive? Did he forget? The answer to these questions is shrouded in silence. Quite honestly, we do not know. But, these are not really the pertinent questions for us. The question is not, “What did Philemon do?” The question is, “What will you do with the Onesimus in your own life?” The issue has been left unanswered so that you may finish the story. It will take grace to do that. We conclude as we began. We will never be properly related to each other until we possess a positive self-image and self-respect. And we will never be properly related to ourselves until we discover how indescribably valuable we are to God by becoming properly connected to Him. This has always been, and, will always be, the bottom line in…the art of connecting!
Be honest…with yourself. How many long-term relationships do you have? Think about it. How many friends have you kept across the years? Do your relationships suffer from neglect? Neglect your car long enough and there will come the morning when it will not start. Neglect your house long enough and there will come the day when the roof will leak. Neglect your body long enough and there will come the day it too will break down. Neglect your interpersonal relationships and, like everything else in life, they, too, will disintegrate. We all need accountability in our relationships. Remember, there are only three relationships in life. The outward expression, our relationship with others. The inward expression, our relationship with the self. And, the upward expression, our relationship with God. Accountability is called for in all three expressions.
- We need accountability with others in the outward expression of relationships. Stop building barriers. Build a bridge to someone this week. How? Give them a pat on the back. Bury a hatchet with someone. Learn to say, “I am sorry.” Or, “I forgive you.” Then, forget it. Make a conscious decision to cross your own Rubicon with someone. Be vulnerable. You need accountability with someone you can trust. When you find him or her, then become transparent, touchable, teachable and truthful. We really do need each other.
- We need accountability with ourselves in the inward expression of relationships. Make an honest self-inventory of your past relationships. Could it be, even the most remote possibility, that you are to blame for some of your own failed relationships in the past? Take some personal responsibility. Be accountable to yourself. List some things you could do differently to improve your relationships. Put them into practice with someone this week. Stop fooling yourself. It may not always be the other person’s fault. And, by the way, forgiveness should not always be extended to just the other party. Sometimes it should be extended to ourselves. Forgive yourself and move on!
- Ultimately, we will all be accountable to God in the upward expression of relationships. Yes, there will come a day when everyone “must give an account of himself to God.” In anticipation of this day there are three important questions you should ask yourself when you arrive at some of the confusing intersections of life. First, ask yourself, “Can I do it in Jesus name?” The Bible, the greatest book on interpersonal relationships ever written, says, “Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus.” There are a lot of past decisions we wished had been averted that would have been if we had asked that question before the light turned green and we made a wrong turn. A second question is — “Can I thank God for it?” That is, when it is all over, can I look back and thank God for the decision I made? The Bible says, “In everything give thanks.” Finally, ask yourself, “Can I do it for God’s glory?” Paul admonished those at Corinth in his letter to them that “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Have the foresight to see that even though you may neglect the need for accountability with others in relationships or even with yourself, you will, ultimately, be accountable to the One who loves you most and gave Himself for you. Get connected to Him through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will awaken to a brand new you. Positive and productive interpersonal relationships will then be but a by-product in…the art of connecting!
- The Art of Connecting: Accountability: Don't leave home without it! - Part 6
- The Art of Connecting: Crossing the Rubicon of relationships - Part 5
- The Art of Connecting: Burying the hatchet - Part 4
- The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3
- The Art of Connecting: A pat on the back - Part 2
- The Art of Connecting: Part 1
It was the 1960’s. What a time to be in high school! Those were the days of pep rallies and pom-poms, glass pack mufflers and drag races, bass weejuns and Levis, madras windbreakers and buttoned-down collars, hay rides and sock hops, the Beatles…and…high school English! Well, we couldn’t have everything in those days. When it came time to do my English homework I would much rather have been, in the words of Petula Clark, “Downtown, where all the lights are bright”. My high school English teacher’s name was Miss Ava White. Emphasis on the “Miss”, if you please. Not “Mrs.” nor “Ms.” but “Miss”.
Miss White had devoted her life to teaching high school English and had developed quite a reputation around my home town for being a strict, no-nonsense disciplinarian. Some might think that automatically goes with the turf of never having married and being consumed with the finer points of “the language”. The first half of the year I never applied myself in her class. I seldom studied, had a very active social life, and, in my immaturity, sought simply to just “get by”. I remember well the day Miss White told me she wanted me to stay after class. I immediately thought to myself, “I know what this means. She is going to give me a piece of her mind for my poor conduct and grades and probably accompany it with a pink slip and a trip to the vice principal’s office.” I knew what would happen there. I had visited before. I had been the recipient of his discipline and those were the days before corporal punishment was banned in our public schools.
When everyone had left, Miss White called me to her desk, looked me square in the eyes, and said, “Son, you have character. You are smarter and capable of doing far better work than you are doing. I just wanted you to know that I believe in you and am confident you could be an “A” student if you would go for it.” Wow! She believed in me. And that pat on the back after class did more for me than I could ever put in words. Miss White and I started meeting after school, not that I wanted any of my friends to know it. I would sneak up the back stairwell at the end of the day to her room on the third floor. She spent an hour with me each day teaching me how to outline and to think analytically. She believed in me and she let me know it. In no time my grades soared from “C’s” to “A’s”. To this very day, every time I outline a book or write a chapter, I am indebted to Miss Ava White. She changed my life and the way I thought about myself with a word of affirmation, a simple pat on the back.
A word of affirmation, yes, a pat on the back, is an essential element in the development of positive and productive interpersonal relationships. Paul’s private and personal letter to Philemon is a case study in the art of connecting. In the first paragraph of the letter following his salutation he uses this principle of a pat on the back as an entree into what was to come later in the heart of the letter. Paul affirms his friend saying, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philem. 7). How is that for a pat on the back?
Everything has a beginning and all beginnings are vitally important. A lot of relational failures result from getting started on the “wrong foot”. Some relationships that might have been, crumbled at the outset through an awkward date or an ill-planned interview. Affirmation is the beginning of positive connecting. A pat on the back that is genuine and from the heart has a disarming effect. It sets the other person at ease and causes them to feel good about themselves. If we think about it, most of us can attest to times in our lives when some “Ava White” spurred us on to greater heights by giving us a simple pat on the back.
The lack of positive results in many negotiations is at the very point of the lack of mutual affirmation by the parties involved. This is certainly true, for example, in the fifty-plus year struggle for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian situation which has demanded world headlines for over five decades. Think about it. This is one situation that is virtually void of the element of affirmation on either side and the result has been stagnation and stand-off for years. What do you think would happen if the current Israeli leadership would affirm the Palestinians’ plight? If they recognized their right to individual dignity and some type of self-autonomy? If they acknowledged the tragedies of the massacres of villages like Deir Yassin where 254 women, children and old men lost their lives in 1947? If they acknowledged the displacement and confiscation of homes of thousands of innocent victims? In short, if they simply spoke some word of affirmation, some simple pat on the back. And what would happen if the current Palestinian leadership affirmed Israel’s right to exist within safe and secure boundaries and genuinely repudiated previous statements about driving them into the sea? If they acknowledged the modern Jewish struggle and the atrocities that took the lives of their grandparents, fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters in such places as Dachau and Treblinka? In short, if they simply spoke some word of affirmation, some simple pat on the back. Perhaps this sounds a bit simplistic. But, my point is, a pat on the back has an incredibly disarming effect and can indeed become the launch pad for the beginning of positive and productive interpersonal relationships. There is little hope for successful negotiation in any relationship that is void of the element of affirmation.
Realizing this valuable principle, Paul begins his letter to Philemon with a pat on the back. Before coming to the heart of the letter with its request to receive Onesimus back, he disarms Philemon by telling him how much he appreciates him and what an encouragement he has been to him personally. The lack of affirmation in modern relationships is epidemic. In fact, it is almost an extinct commodity in our “me” culture. Think about it. When was the last time you gave someone a pat on the back, a word of positive affirmation and appreciation, a word of encouragement? When was the last time you sat down and wrote a thank-you note or made a phone call to lighten the load of a friend with a word of affirmation?
We all need a pat on the back from time to time…and often when we deserve it the least. This is certainly true in the home. Our children need our love the most when they deserve it the least. A pat on the back is the best way to begin productive interpersonal relationships.
There are many revealing aspects about affirmation in Paul’s letter to Philemon. He begins by showing that a pat on the back involves appreciation. He says, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philem. 4). He was not hesitant nor ashamed to let his friend know he was appreciated. The tense of the verb in the Greek allows Philemon to know this was not just an arrow of thanks shot at random but it was a sincere word on Paul’s behalf. He repeatedly found himself feeling thanks for his friend and he wrote him to let him know it. Thanksgiving has a liberating effect about it. Have you told anyone you are thankful for them lately? How about your son or your secretary? Your husband or your hairdresser? Your employer or your employee? Paul let his friend know he was appreciated. Appreciation is the missing element in many relationships and its absence is at the root of many misunderstandings and strained friendships.
In the event that anyone might get the erroneous idea that this important principle of a pat on the back is simply a manipulative maneuver in the attempt to influence another person, Paul makes clear that it must be authentic and not artificial to be effective. He goes on to say why he is thankful for Philemon. In his own words, “Because I hear of your faith in the Lord Jesus and our love for all the saints” (Philem. 5).
Honesty is essential in long-term productive relationships. Many secular volumes dealing with relationships within the marketplace are built upon manipulation and are often dishonest in their approach to gain leverage over the other party in relationships. Give people some credit. Most are wise to this approach. Make sure the pat on the back you may give someone is authentic and not artificial. Not all affirmations are necessarily authentic.
Manipulation and false affirmation simply to take advantage has no place in positive interpersonal relationships. Learn from Paul. He finds a character trait in Philemon to which he can legitimately give him a pat on the back. He affirms his loyalty, his personal belief, by saying he is thankful for his “faith in the Lord Jesus”. He also affirms his love, his positive behavior, by saying he is thankful for his “love for all the saints”.
Paul affirms his friends genuine loyalty. He says, “I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus.” In the art of connecting, order is important. Genuine faith in our Lord comes before true love for our friends. We cannot place behavior before belief because what we believe generally determines how we behave. Paul writes these words in the present tense to indicate his appreciation that faith and love are on-going character traits of Philemon.
Having affirmed his friend’s loyalty, Paul now affirms his genuine love saying, “I hear about your love for others” Philem. 5). When faith is authentic it always manifests itself in love which is the glue that holds together all lasting interpersonal relationships. Belief determines behavior. When someone truly loves others it is because they love themselves and they love themselves because they have come to realize how much God loves them. Philemon’s love for others was but an authentication of his faith in the Lord.
It is also noteworthy that Paul mentions Philemon’s love for “all” the saints. He had productive relationships because he didn’t play favorites. He reached out with affirmation not just to those who were popular and prosperous, but to those who were powerless and poor. Do you see what the letter writer is doing here? There is authentication in his affirmation. It is legitimate. Paul is thinking ahead. Later in the letter he will bring up the situation with Onesimus. Philemon’s love for all the saints, about which he speaks, will obviously include Onesimus, the runaway former employee who is already on his way home in remorse and restitution. What choice would Philemon have but to receive him and restore the relationship? And what choice do we have when we are in the same place? Near the end of the letter Paul will say, “If you consider me a partner, welcome him (Onesimus) as you would welcome me.” And when he does, these words of authentic affirmation about love for all the saints will ring in his mind.
Recent national polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Americans profess to have some type of a relationship with God and believe Him to be the source of all being. But these are the two acid tests — a personal belief followed by a positive behavior. Loyalty and love. They are two wings on the same airplane, two sides of the same coin. They go together like Siamese twins. Through all sorts of subtle ways, many modern philosophers tell us that it doesn’t really matter what we believe just so long as we love others and are benevolent. But what we really believe always has its way in determining how we behave. John, one of Paul’s contemporaries once put it like this, “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers…If anyone says, I love God yet hates his brother, he is a liar. for anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Their own leader and teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, in His great commandment, said loving others issued from first loving God, our source, with all our heart.
Put yourself in Philemon’s place as he read this initial paragraph in this personal piece of private correspondence filled with words of authentic affirmation. Word had gotten out about him. Paul writes because he says he has “heard” about all these positive character traits on the part of Philemon. Can anyone in your home give you an authentic pat on the back? Can anyone in your office give you an authentic pat on the back? Has anyone in your sphere of influence “heard” about your faith in and love for others? Is the word out on you as it was on Philemon? If not, why not?
A pat on the back must be authentic in order to be effective. In winning friends and positively influencing others it is not enough to let them know they are appreciated but why they are appreciated. This is not manipulation. It is honesty in affirmation.
A genuine pat on the back involves not only appreciation and authentication but it also has an element of aspiration about it. It causes us to aspire to greater goals. Paul continues his epistle, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith” (Philem. 6). Now what is this effective people person up to? He is challenging Philemon to “be active”. Not reactive! But, active. Having previously acknowledged his faith, Paul now gives a word of encouragement and challenge to his friend. He calls on Philemon to aspire to release that same faith. A pat on the back involves a note of aspiration. It should challenge us to greater heights. Think about it. What happens when someone pats you on the back? It turns you on! You aspire to rise higher than ever before.
Listen to Paul’s words. “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith” (Philem. 6). Paul’s pat on the back spurred Philemon on. It is easy to douse out the fires of enthusiasm in the lives of those around us. Just throw a little cold water on them. Put in your two-cents worth of discouragement.
Our world has no shortage of negative pessimists. But how many times has a pat on the back, a word of affirmation given someone the aspiration and self-confidence to go on? Those among us in the business of building mutually beneficial, positive relationships share those things nearest and dearest with others. And nothing can be of more value than a personal faith which produces an endless hope instead of a life philosophy offering nothing but a hopeless end.
Paul was active in sharing his faith and challenged others to be also. Can you imagine winning a million dollar sweepstakes and not telling any of your friends or family or fellow workers about it? Can you imagine winning the World Series in baseball and never wearing your championship ring, never sharing the good news with anyone? And you tell me, is it possible to be connected with the Creator of the universe through a personal faith in His Son and not be active in sharing that faith with others? Paul’s affirmation and encouragement of Philemon brought a positive aspiration into his life that motivated him to become proactive in his relationships with others.
Jesus reminded His followers that a truly wise person was one who not only knew what he should do but was one who became active in putting it into practice. Paul is challenging his friend, Philemon, and us, to become the initiator in our relationships by becoming active. A pat on the back has an element of aspiration about it. It challenges us to aspire to new beginnings. It moves us to make it happen. A pat on the back will work in your business. It will get you off dead center. It will work on your athletic team. It will work in your classroom. It will do wonders in your home. When you affirm someone it motivates them to try harder and do better. This is why the most successful college football coaches over the long haul are leaders who lead their young athletes by encouragement and affirmation. Watch them on the sidelines as they move from player to player patting them on the back and causing them to believe in themselves. This is why the most successful businessmen are men who motivate others to be better than they are through encouragement and affirmation. This is why the best educators are those like Ava White who recognize the importance of giving a young teenager a pat on the back, even when he might not deserve it.
A pat on the back is the first step in the development of positive, productive interpersonal relationships. To be effective, affirmation involves appreciation, authentication and aspiration.
Paul continues to challenge Philemon to be proactive in order to “have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”(Philem. 6). Much is under the surface of this statement in the opening paragraph of affirmation in his letter to Philemon. He is “anticipating” asking Philemon to receive Onesimus a couple of paragraphs later in the epistle. He was keenly aware that if Philemon possessed a “full understanding of every good thing” he would have no recourse but to forgive and accept his runaway former employee. This phrase of the letter is filled with anticipation that Philemon will do the right thing. There is a bit of a sense in which he is setting his friend up here, anticipating the fact that if he does, indeed, have a “full understanding of every good thing in Christ” this will also include Christ’s familiar command to forgive those who trespass against us.
Paul is anticipating the fact that Philemon’s “faith and love for all the saints” previously mentioned will include Onesimus who earlier wronged him. This is a big pill to swallow. In fact, you cannot know how big a pill it is unless you have been deeply wronged by someone you held within your confidence and trust. Paul believes in Philemon and is filled with anticipation as he pens his letter. A few paragraphs later he will call upon his friend to “welcome him (Onesimus) as you would welcome me”. And then he concludes saying, “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philem. 21). Talk about a pat on the back that carries with it a note of anticipation…there it is!
Do you see it? Paul maintains a positive anticipation of the resolution of the broken relationship between his two friends. And when we note carefully what he writes, it is affirmation of both of them that is the key. He genuinely praises Philemon and Onesimus in the same letter. We have all experienced the dynamic power of affirmation that leads to anticipation. Have you ever been with someone who talked positively and favorably about someone else in their absence? What happened? You went away feeling better about them both. A pat on the back has a liberating effect.
The problem with some of us who find ourselves in estranged relationships such as Philemon and Onesimus is that we have resigned ourselves to the belief that we will live out our days without reconciliation. If you are Onesimus in your interpersonal relationships, if you are the offending party who has split the scene, do what he did. First, get in right relationship with yourself by getting rightly related to God and then begin to anticipate mending the broken relationship through reconciliation and, if need be, restitution. If you are Philemon, the offended party who has been deeply wronged, receive your Onesimus and forgive him when, and if, he comes in genuine remorse and repentance.
Perhaps there is an Onesimus in your life who has wronged you. Perhaps there is a Philemon in your life, someone you have wronged. Perhaps you are Paul and could be the key in restoring broken relationships. The situation may seem so complex you are at a loss as to where or how you could ever begin? The place to start is with a pat on the back. How do you think Onesimus must have felt when he heard Paul say to Philemon, “If he (Onesimus) has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.” That particular pat on the back helped bring him home in remorse. How do you think Philemon felt when he heard Paul say, “I am confident of your obedience and I know you will do even more than I ask.” That particular pat on the back was the encouragement he needed to do the right thing. Anticipation… it is the outcome of an expression of authentic appreciation.
In his letter, Paul relates a bona fide admiration of his friend Philemon. He resumes his letter stating, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement” (Philem. 7). In reality, it is not simply Philemon’s love for Paul personally that has brought him this encouragement, but, his love for “all the saints”. What is it about this fellow that is so admirable to the great apostle? It is his love. Where did it originate? In the eternal connection, his “faith in the Lord Jesus”. This is what inspired his love for others. His giving of himself which cheered and challenged, motivated and moved others to greater service brightened Paul’s day across the miles and into the very Roman prison cell in which he was held. This led him to say in admiration of his friend, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”
Some time ago, my wife, Susie, and I were guests of friends at Skibo Castle in the Scottish highlands. It is the former home of the late, great Scottish-American industrialist, Andrew Carnegie. I was particularly fascinated by his library, still in place and containing much of his personal correspondence. There I came across the name of Charles Schwab. I suppose everyone from Dale Carnegie to Alan McGinnis who has written on positive relationships has told his story. It certainly bears repeating in any chapter dealing with affirmation of one another. Charles Schwab worked for the multi-millionaire industrialist, Carnegie. He became the first man to earn a one million dollar salary in a single calendar year. One might be quick to assume that he knew more about the manufacturing of steel than anyone else in the world. Wrong. In fact, by his own admission there were many others with far greater technical know-how than his. Why then would Andrew Carnegie pay Charles Schwab a million dollars a year? And, keep in mind, this was shortly after the turn of the twentieth century. Schwab was paid such a handsome amount primarily because of his ability to motivate others into positive and productive interpersonal relationships. He was one of the first widely recognized motivators and movers of men.
Charles Schwab put his secret in his own words — “I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among men the greatest asset I possess. And the way to develop the best that is in a man is by appreciation and encouragement. There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of men as criticism from their superiors. I never criticize anyone period. I believe in giving a man incentive to work. So, I am anxious to find praise but loath to find fault.” Charles Schwab let others know what he liked about them and then positively motivated them to build the most successful industry in the entire world. Long centuries before Schwab helped Carnegie build his financial dynasty through admiration and encouragement, Paul used the same technique in this ancient piece of personal and private correspondence to his friend, Philemon. And, I might add, it still works today. The best way to increase production is through appreciation, admiration and affirmation. Yes, a simple pat on the back.
The best way to give someone a pat on the back is with a positive word of encouragement. Try it the next time you are in an office elevator, stopped at a turnpike toll booth or conversing with a waitress in your favorite restaurant. We touch the lives of people everyday who have not heard a complimentary word of appreciation and admiration in years. Some in a lifetime. Say it with a smile… “That is a beautiful dress.” “You have such a pleasant smile.” Some of us go months and even years without a personal word of admiration directed at our wives or husbands and then wonder why the relationship seems to be in a rut. Some parents allow their teenagers to graduate from high school and move away without any remembrance of a word of affirmation or encouragement on the part of a mom or dad. What am I saying? A simple compliment, a pat on the back, can make someone’s whole day and change the way they think about themselves. It can make your employees more productive in the office, your family more respectful and loving around the house and it can make your friends enjoy your company and look forward to being in your presence.
Listen once more to Paul’s word of admiration to his friend, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement.” We live in a macho world where it is not in vogue for men to express their love for one another. In many ways that is sad and even tragic. When Holly, our daughter, was in high school I drove her to St. Thomas High School in Fort Lauderdale where her team was playing in a basketball tournament. I had never been on that campus before and as I drove into the parking lot I noticed a sign on the football stadium that read, “Brian Piccolo Field”. Brian Piccolo was a hometown boy who played football a generation ago at St. Thomas High. He went on to an out- standing college career at Wake Forest University and then to the world-famed Chicago Bears of the National Football League. Alan McGinnis tells his story in his classic volume, The Friendship Factor. When on road trips with the Bears, Piccolo’s roommate was the great, black, Hall of Fame running back, Gale Sayers. In those early days of integration and racial strife neither of them had ever had a close friend of the opposite race. Their friendship developed into one of the best known in sports and is forever immortalized in the motion picture entitled, “Brian’s Song.”
During the 1969 football season Brian Piccolo was diagnosed with cancer. It was not unusual for Gale Sayers to fly to his bedside between games. They planned to sit together with their wives at the Professional Football Writer’s annual dinner in New York City where Sayers was to receive the prestigious George Halas Award given to the most courageous player in professional football. Brian Piccolo did not make the dinner. He was confined to what would soon become his deathbed. Gale Sayers stood to receive his award and with tears filling his eyes and running down his cheeks said, “You flatter me by giving me this award. But I tell you here and now that I accept it for Brian Piccolo. Brian Piccolo is the man of courage who should receive the George Halas Award. I love Brian Piccolo and I want you to love him. Tonight when you hit your knees please ask God to love him too.” Did you read that? “I love Brian Piccolo.” Seldom do we acho men express our love and admiration for one another. The greatest motivational book of all time, the Bible, reminds us that “love never fails!” We all need someone to love.
Is there anyone in your circle of friends whose love has given you great joy and encouragement? Why don’t you go ahead and tell them? Sit down, like Paul did, and write them a note of admiration. Give them a pat on the back. You might be surprised what it will do for you and not just them. A pat on the back is the key that opens the door to positive, productive, interpersonal relationships.
Paul completes this pat on Philemon’s back by affirming the fact that he has “refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philem. 7). This is just another way of letting his friend know he enjoys his presence and finds it, in his own words, “refreshing”. He uses a Greek word here that carries with it the connotation of being relieved from pain. Have you ever had a toothache, gone to your dentist and had the problem solved? Talk about a refreshing feeling. Have you ever climbed a mountain and just before the summit thought you could not make it another step. But you did. Then you pulled out your bottle of water, gulped it down and laid down in the grass with an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. All that is in the word Paul used to describe the effect Philemon had on himself and others. He “refreshed the hearts of his friends.” I have known people in my own experience who have been the embodiment of this phrase. Being in their very presence is a refreshing and beautiful experience. My late friend, Gene Whiddon, had this effect on everyone who touched him. And when he died a premature death literally thousands of people filed by his casket to pay their respects. They covered the gamut from United States Senators to common laborers and they each had a story to tell about how this man had “refreshed” their lives through affirmation and encouragement.
How would you feel if someone wrote you today and said, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints”? How would that word of affirmation feel if it were directed at you? Conversely, how would you feel if you received a letter that was unjustly caustic and critical? Which one would motivate you to be a better and more productive person? During the writing of this volume there came a day when I received eight or ten letters in the mail. I opened the first one and it blistered me and it did so extremely unjustly. It wounded me greatly. I continued through my daily mail and by the time I concluded I had read over a half dozen other letters that were filled with affirmation. One letter writer indicated she had gained the encouragement she needed to seek to mend the relationship with her estranged husband from a recent sermon I had given. And she had done so! Others told of “miracles” that had taken place in their relationships when they put the principle of a pat on the back into practice. I cannot tell you what those letters did for me. Words of affirmation have a positive and a powerful effect. Mark Twain, who left us volumes of quotes and quips, was never more on target than when he said, “I can live for two months on one good compliment!” A pat on the back will lighten the load and brighten the road. The lack of affirmation is the single reason for the breakdown in many relationships. Give someone a pat on the back before you pillow your head tonight.
As I presently sit at my computer thinking about the power of positive affirmation, my mind is racing back to an experience of my boyhood days in Fort Worth, Texas which I haven’t thought about in over forty years! I played Little League baseball as a kid and my first two seasons our manager was a big and husky, rough and tough man, and we were all scared of him. He demanded the kind of perfection that a lot of ten-year olds could not deliver. I was a very average ball player those first two years. But my third and last year a new manager took over our team. I remember well the team meeting Mr. Huffman called on the afternoon after our first game of the season. He called me to his side in front of all the other guys, patted me on the back, and said, “Did you see what Hawkins did last night? Instead of throwing home where we had little chance to get the runner out, he faked the throw and then threw to second, caught the base runner off guard and got us out of the inning. Now, that is what I want us all to do. THINK! Anticipate the play.” And then, with another pat on the back, he looked at me and said, “Great job!” He affirmed me. The coach believed in me! I can’t tell you what that word of affirmation, that simple pat on the back, did for me. I played above my head that year and won the league batting title. Oh, that is not a big deal to anyone else, but it surely was a big deal for a twelve-year old kid on the east side of Fort Worth. Never underestimate the power of positive affirmation in your relationships.
The greatest affirmer who ever lived was Jesus of Nazareth. That is why so many people flocked to Him. The religious phonies of His day felt uncomfortable around Him. But everyone else was refreshed in His presence. When we think about it, He simply walked around affirming others and giving them a word of encouragement and a pat on the back. One day in the village of Bethany a woman came to Him and anointed His feet with very expensive perfume which cost the equivalent of a year’s salary in the first century world. Several people began to rebuke her at what they considered to be a waste. How do you think that woman felt when Jesus looked into her eyes and said, “You have done a beautiful thing to me”? He reached down and gave her a pat on the back. Talk about refreshing someone’s heart. This is the reason she was later one of the women who followed Him all the way to His cross even when His own disciples had forsaken Him and fled.
And what about the woman taken in the very act of adultery? The legalists of the day had their fingers pointed at her in accusation and were preparing to execute their judgment upon her. How do you think she felt when Jesus stopped them, drove them away, then looked into her eyes, saw her repentant heart, and said, “I don’t condemn you. But go and sin no more.” How do you think she felt when, most probably, for the first time in her life someone gave her a word of affirmation and a pat on the back. I will tell you how she felt. It changed her life. She, too, was one of the women faithful to the very end.
And, what about the big fisherman, Simon Peter. He blew it for sure. He had been so self-confident and braggadocios. But when the chips were down he wimped out and failed miserably. How do you think he felt when some days later Jesus met him on the shore with a pat on the back and let him know that one failure doesn’t make a flop. Peter was never the same again and went from that encounter to become the undisputed leader of first generational Christianity.
There is incredible power in a pat on the back. It should be of no surprise that Paul begins his letter on interpersonal relationships with this significant note of affirmation. There is something about our very make-up that calls out for affirmation. From time to time we all need a pat on the back. It is the single greatest motivating factor around. Athletes need it. When they know the coach believes in them they perform better. Musicians need affirmation. When they know the maestro believes in them they perform better. Students need affirmation. When they know the teacher believes in them they study more. Employees need it. When they know the boss believes in them they work harder. Children need affirmation. When they know mom and dad believe in them they seek to be more obedient. Husbands and wives need affirmation. When they know their spouse believes in them they love better. It is true in any kind of interpersonal relationship on earth. A pat on the back has a supernatural motivating power about it.
Look around you. There are people in your world who have lived months and perhaps years without anyone, anywhere, anytime affirming them. They are looking for it and longing for it. Go ahead…make someone’s day! Try it this week. Think about it. You know someone with a broken heart or a broken dream or, even, a broken life. Someone in crisis. Someone who is desperate. Someone who is hanging by a thread with hope almost gone. It may be that if you do not affirm them in some way no one else in the entire world ever will.
I know what some of my readers are thinking right now. “I wish someone would pat me on the back like that.” But, you are missing the whole point. Why don’t you begin to say, “I am going to find someone to affirm, to pat on the back.” You might be surprised how quickly you might be reciprocated and begin to reap what you sow. The problem with many of us in our interpersonal relationships is that we are “reactive” and not “proactive”. We sit around waiting for others to take the initiative so that we can react to them. And guess what? They are waiting for us! Be proactive. Do something. Make it happen. Reach out and touch someone with a pat on the back.
The absolute master at this art of affirmation was Jesus of Nazareth. He went about His world lifting people up, affirming them early on in the relationship and He continued by patting them on the back along the way. Once in the middle of a hot day He met a woman at a well who had not heard a word of affirmation in years. Everyone criticized her. But He reached out to her, told her about living water and it changed her life. His simple pat on her back was the catalyst that brought her entire village to faith in Him. One day on a Roman cross of execution outside the city walls of Jerusalem He met a man hanging on a cross next to His. That man had not heard a word of affirmation nor had a pat on his back in years. Jesus reached out in His own darkest hour with a word of affirmation spoken slowly through dry parched lips… “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!” And a few moments later He took that man by his nail-pierced hand and walked him into heaven. And, incidentally, those same hands are ready to affirm you today. He believes in you!
Can you imagine Philemon as he begins to read this letter? The opening paragraph is filled with affirmation. There was appreciation. Paul was not ashamed to let his friend know he was appreciated. There was authentication. This was not a manipulative maneuver. It was from the heart. There was aspiration. Paul was challenging his friend to aspire to become proactive. There was the element of anticipation. It enabled Philemon to get into the proper mind set to anticipate good things ahead. There was admiration. Paul let Philemon know he genuinely admired his love and it was, in fact, his own source of joy and encouragement. Finally, there was affirmation, a positive pat on the back. I think as he read the letter Philemon must have sat up straight in his chair, thrown his head back, stuck his chest out and began to feel a little better about himself with each passing sentence. And, I am confident we would feel the same way if someone said this about us.
Everything has a beginning and beginnings are vitally important. A lot of relationships that “might have been” crashed and burned due to poor beginnings. In the art of connecting, the best place to begin to build positive, productive, interpersonal relationships is with…a pat on the back!
Now it is time to make a conscious decision to put this chapter into practice. I would rather my readers “do” one chapter than to simply read a hundred. What can you do about it? A good place to begin is to write your wife a letter and tell her the things about her that particularly please you. Give her a pat on the back. Perhaps you need to affirm your husband by writing him an encouraging note to let him know he is loved and appreciated. Out in the traffic patterns of life why not give an extra tip to the kind waitress who serves you breakfast each morning? And, at the office, stop a moment at someone’s desk and give them a pat on the back. Remember to be honest. Affirmation must be authentic. To be effective, a pat on the back must comply with the following principles:
- Make it personal…Paul did. He did not send his word of appreciation to Philemon through a third party. He did so in a personal letter. Affirmations lose their positive effectiveness if we ask someone to tell someone else something we want them to know. In short, do it yourself. A pat on the back must be personal.
- Make it positive…An affirmation is not an affirmation unless it is given in a positive vein. The best attempt some can make at a pat on the back is to say something to the effect, “Well, you have done your best and I suppose it is better than average.” What kind of an affirmation is that? To be effective it must be not only personal, but positive as well.
- Make it present…Paul wrote his letter in the present tense. He said, “I hear about you.” Affirmation must be up to date and in the present. It rings a bit hollow and doesn’t mean much to affirm someone now for something they did twenty or thirty years ago. Make it present and up-to-date.
- Make it pointed…Paul was specific and pointed in his praise to Philemon. General affirmations which say something like, “You are O.K.”, do not go very far. We must be pointed. We must let the other party know specifically why it is we are giving them a pat on the back. When you pat someone on the back this week spell it out for him. Make it pointed.
- Make it plain…Philemon could understand Paul’s letter. It was not garbled nor couched in any type of linguistic gymnastics. We often hear others excuse themselves by saying, “Oh, he knows I appreciate him.” Does he? Tell him so with a personal, positive, present, pointed and plain word of affirmation.
- Make it passionate…That is, it must issue out of the heart. Paul patted Philemon on the back for “refreshing the hearts” of others. Phony affirmations are quickly exposed and do not mean much at all. When you pat someone on the back this week, make it passionate and let it come from the heart.
- The Art of Connecting: Accountability: Don't leave home without it! - Part 6
- The Art of Connecting: Crossing the Rubicon of relationships - Part 5
- The Art of Connecting: Burying the hatchet - Part 4
- The Art of Connecting: Win-win...the only way to play - Part 3
- The Art of Connecting: A pat on the back - Part 2
- The Art of Connecting: Part 1
In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, the apostle Peter models the preaching experience for all posterity. Through studying this model, we learn that proclamation of the gospel must be:
Prophetic — This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel. v. 16
He took a text from Joel, illustrated it with two Psalms and established a Biblical basis for the happening of Pentecost. The prophetic element in preaching issues from the exposition of scripture.
Plain — Let this be known to you. v. 14
Peter did not make it difficult; he simply laid out the plain truth of Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection.
Positive — This Jesus God has raised up. v. 32
Peter preached the Good News; our Lord is not dead, He is alive! The resurrection is where we find our positive note in preaching.
Personal — You have taken by lawless hands. v. 23
Apostolic preaching was in second person. So much of our preaching today is in first or third person plural; i.e., “we, they.” Peter calls upon the hearers to take personal responsibility for their actions.
Penetrating — Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart. v. 37
What happened next? Their hearts were cut. We have a word for that—
conviction. Conviction seems to be one of the lost words in our modern Christian vocabulary.
Persuasive — What shall we do? v. 37
Peter’s preaching caused men and women to ask how they might be saved. Preaching that is personal and penetrating leads people to ask, What does this mean? (v.12) and then, What should we do? (v. 37)
Pointed — Repent. v. 38
Peter clearly instructed his hearers that they must repent! His pointed proclamation was in a word — repent!
Pious — As many as the Lord our God will call. v. 39
By pious, we mean "God fearing.” Here is the realization that only God can do the convicting and the converting.
Persistent — With many other words, he testified and exhorted them. v. 40
Peter gave a gospel invitation, he pleaded for souls that day, …with many other words.
Productive — Then those who gladly received his word were baptized.. v. 41
Peter’s preaching was fruitful; about three thousand souls were saved that day.
And the result? Praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. v. 47
For a complete treatment of this passage, see O. S. Hawkins’ book, GuideStones: Ancient Landmarks of Authenticity for the 21st Century Church.
Thanksgiving is one of America’s favorite holidays. Unfortunately, in our modern culture it has come to be more identified with the Macy’s Day Parade or Dallas Cowboy football or turkey dinners. It seems fewer and fewer Americans set aside the day to give thanks to God for His blessings upon us.
Thanksgiving Day meant something far different to our forefathers. Our history reveals that our nation was settled by those who were followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Don’t believe the revisionists who are rewriting our American History books. Ours is a Christian heritage. The first permanent settlement in America was at Plymouth. It was settled by the Pilgrims who were a group of Christian separatists that broke with the Church of England. On September 16, 1620 they sailed from Plymouth, England to America on the Mayflower. Before they landed they penned and signed what has come to be known as the Mayflower Compact. While still on board the ship they set forth the fact that they wanted to establish a colony that was based on biblical principles. Their signatures acknowledged God’s sovereignty in their lives and their need to obey Him. They signed a document that declared they were establishing a new colony in the New World “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Out of the 103 who landed, 51 died the first winter. After the harvest of that first year, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving and prayer. The custom prevailed until Abraham Lincoln made it an official American holiday during the days of the Civil War.
Much of the secularization of America has done away with the original meaning of Thanksgiving. No longer do most Americans see their existence on this soil “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” If anyone on earth should be giving thanks to God it is those of us who are living in the United States of America.
Someone has noted that if you reduce the world population to 1,000 and put them all in one city it would have quite a distinctive look. Only 46 of that 1,000 would be Americans. Nine hundred and fifty-four would represent the rest of the world. Yet, these 46 would receive half of the income from the entire city. These 46 people’s life expectancies would be 75 years of age while the rest would be 40 years of age. These 46 people would eat 70% above the daily food requirement while 80% of the rest of the city would never get a balanced meal. In fact, the kitchen disposals of the 46 people would eat better than 80% of the city.
We are a blessed people. However, I fear we’re not a thankful people. Even within the American church, such things as pluralism, humanism, and secularism have seen to that. And yet, the giving of thanks is a powerful phenomenon with a liberating effect.
There is an encounter near the end of Christ’s earthly life that has been recorded for all posterity which gives a formula for putting thanksgiving into our lives in such a way that it brings wholeness and purpose. We find our Lord en route to Jerusalem. As He passed through the regions of Samaria and Galilee, as He enters a certain village, He encountered 10 men who are lepers who lifted up their voices calling out for mercy. Jesus spoke healing to them and sent them to show themselves to the priests. Only one of them returned to give thanks to God. Jesus asked a penetrating question, “Where are the nine?” The response to these ten lepers is revealing. The Lord Jesus is showing us there are three actions we should take to live life to its fullest. We should get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t, we might miss the Master. We should get out. This has to do with attitude. If we don’t, we might miss the miracle. Finally, we should get back. This has to do with gratitude. If we don’t, we might miss the moment.
Get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t we may miss the Master.
Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. And they lifted up their voices and said, “ Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Luke 17:11-13).
Do you get the picture? Jesus passes through a certain village and is met by 10 lepers. They had heard the reports, strange rumors, how He had touched lepers and made them pure. They “stood afar off” because they could not get close. Mosaic law isolated lepers from social contact. They were forbidden to come within six feet of a whole person. If the wind was blowing they couldn’t come within 50 yards. If someone inadvertently approached them they were commanded to shout, “unclean, unclean.”
So what did these lepers do when Jesus was passing by? They got up. This showed a great amount of fortitude. They began to shout, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” They could have sat there in their hopelessness but they didn’t. Look at them. They’re all alike. They’re all lepers. They all suffer from the same hideous disease. It slowly eats away at the body erasing facial features first. Then the fingers; the hands are frozen into claws before they simply fall off. The feet are filled with sores and become bandaged stumps before they’re left behind. The odor was nauseating. The appearance was ghastly. The leper had no competitor. He suffered the fate of a long, slow, agonizing death lived out in some leper colony isolated from friends and family. The leper was an outcast. He was shut off. A leper in the first century was always simply an abandoned bit of human wreckage living in hopelessness.
All of these 10 men had a desperate determination to live. Though the future seemed futile, these particular men refused to give up. When they hear that Jesus is passing by they all go out to see Him. They all appeal to Him for help. It is interesting that they did not appeal for justice. They appealed for mercy. They did not ask Christ to bless them on the basis of what they deserved. They cried out for mercy.
Some of us live in constant defeat because we’re holding out for justice. Perhaps someone has wronged us and we harbor resentment for years. We want justice. Some of us have been abused. We want justice. However, justice belongs to God. Give it over to Him. Truth will always win in the end. Our plea should be one for mercy.
The Lord Jesus was passing by and here were ten men who got up with fortitude and did not miss the Master. Is there anyone sitting beside this road this morning? Time and again Jesus has passed by but you never called out to Him. Or, maybe you sought comfort in those around you but found generally just misery. On Thanksgiving Day it is time to get up. This has to do with fortitude. If we don’t we might miss the Master.
Get out. This has to do with attitude. If we don’t we may miss the miracle.
So when he saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed (Luke 17:14).
Do you have a mental picture? Not only do these men get up but they got out. They obey the Lord which is evidence of the fact that they believe. What an attitude we see here. They were not healed at this particular point. They were still lepers. A leper was to show himself to the priest after he had been healed. It took faith for these men to act in obedience to God’s word and go show themselves to the priests while they were still lepers. And thus the Bible says, “So it was as they went, they were cleansed!”
Jesus said, “Go show yourself to the priest.” This immediately presented a bit of a problem for these 10 men. Only cleansed lepers were to do this according to Leviticus chapters 13 and 14. To hear this command is one thing but to get up and get out with nothing but faith in Christ’s word is another thing. Implicit in this command was if they went, they would be healed. At this point they are still lepers. Thus, it all boils down to one simple fact. The only way to test the value of Christ’s words is to obey them!
And so they take him at his word and get out. What an attitude of faith. They start to walk. Many of us know little of this journey to the priests. They got up and got out by faith at the word of Christ when they had not seen it yet. Many of us live here in these verses. We have the word from God but we’ve not seen it yet. But we’re walking. We’re not going to stop at simply getting up, we’re going to get out. Too many lepers never start walking until they can see it. And thus they spend their days with hope lost and gone.
I like the way B. B. McKinney said it back in 1934.
Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the ways you have trod.
Never alone are the least of his children.
Have faith in God, have faith in God.
Have faith in God when your prayers are unanswered.
Your earnest plea He will never forget.
Wait on the Lord, trust His word and be patient.
Have faith in God, He’ll answer yet.
Have faith in God though all else fail around you.
Have faith in God, He provides for His own.
He cannot fail though all kingdoms shall perish.
He rules, He reigns upon His throne.
Have faith in God He’s on the throne.
He cannot fail, He must prevail,
have faith in God, have faith in God.
The Bible simply says, “As they went, they were cleansed.” The language of the New Testament, the passive voice here, leaves no doubt that it was God who performed the miracle! All of them, on the way, as they went, were cleansed! Think about it. All they had was the word of Christ. All they had was the promise of God. They walked in faith and obedience.
Get back. This has to do with gratitude. If we don’t we may miss the moment.
And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-19)
Look at these 10 men. They were all lepers. They all called on the Lord Jesus. They all stepped out in faith. They all were healed. They all got up. They all got out. But here the likeness ends.
Stand with them there on that road for a moment. They look at themselves and all of a sudden they realize they are clean. They’re amazed. They begin to hug one another. Then one of them says, “I haven’t held my wife in months.” A moment later we look and he’s running down the road to toward his home. Another says, “I have never seen my newborn son.” And he too is gone. Another quickly exclaims, “I haven’t been to my shop in almost a year.” And he is off and running. One by one they’re all gone. But no. There is one left standing in the road alone. The other nine are never heard from again. Oh, they got up and they got out, but they never got back.
Look at the one solitary man who stands in the road. He too is looking down the road toward his home. He too has a family. He too has a business. He too has friends. But something is more pressing. He has to get back. This has to do with gratitude. If he doesn’t, he may miss the moment. Is there anyone on that road today? Once you were in a crisis. Once you’ve gotten up and called for mercy. Once you too got out and walked in faith, but when the blessing came you forgot to get back with gratitude and in so doing you missed a moment, a very important moment.
Note the Bible says, “And one of them” (Luke 17:15). I’m sorry to say we do not know his name. He is simply referred to as “one of them.” His name is never left for us. He belongs to that vast company of people who live their beautiful lives and do their worthwhile deeds without ever telling us who they are. We do not know his name but he is shouting to us today to “get back.” It has to do with gratitude. If we don’t we might miss the moment.”
Look at him. He returned and “with a loud voice glorified God” (Luke 17:15). Why was he so demonstrative? I tried to put myself by his side on that road as I read this text. You know what I would have found myself doing? I think I might have been standing there alongside of him, putting my arm around his shoulder and trying to calm him. Some of us are not comfortable with loud doxologies and loud hallelujahs. Well, that is our loss, not His. For some of us it’s been too long since we’ve felt the touch of the Master’s hand.
Why is it that so many of us are like the 10 who call on the Lord Jesus when we’re in times of need and so few of us know much about praise and thanksgiving? This man went back and “fell down on his face at His feet giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:16). Do you see any difference here? In verse 12 they “stood afar off.” But now we find this man at Jesus’ feet. That is what cleansing will do for you. The Bible says, “And he was a Samaritan.” The “he” is emphatic. That is, HE was a Samaritan! Here was a man distant to the covenant promises. He was like the woman in Samaria and the man on the Jericho road. Here we see the missionary heart of our Lord.
Jesus then asks three rhetorical questions designed to cause us to be reflective upon this encounter. “Were not 10 cleansed?” Yes! “Where are the nine?” The question in Greek is emphatic and reads, “the nine …where?” He was not asking for an answer. He was making an observation. They had missed the moment. Then he asks , “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” I’m afraid too many of us in America find ourselves in the company of the nine. Once we got up and got out but then we went on our own way when the blessings came.
Why didn’t they return? Did they feel they deserved this miracle? Human nature has a way of always claiming our own rights. I put myself on this road recently. When I see so many heartbroken kids without mothers to nurture them, I ask myself did I deserve to have a mother who sacrificed so much for me? When I see so many kids with dads who have no time, did I deserve to have had a dad who always encouraged me and never missed an event in which I participated? When I visit folks in the hospital who are sick and now know I’ve had over a half a century of excellent health, I sense the blessing of God. When I see parents whose kids have broken their hearts and my wife and I have had two daughters who brought us nothing but joy and honor, do I really deserve this? When I know men whose wives have been unfaithful, do I deserve the good and godly one that Christ has given me? When I hear pastor friends whose church has caused them consternation and heartache and pain, do I deserve to have pastored the wonderful churches I was blessed to serve over the pastoral ministry I received from Him? When I hear men and women who talk of having no real lifelong friends, do I deserve the faithful friends I’ve enjoyed over the decades? When I see the heartbreak today in Third World countries around the world, do I deserve to have been born in the state of Texas with all the privileges it affords? When I see men and women who live their lives in sin and shame with guilt and defeat written across their faces, do I deserve to have been forgiven by the grace of God? The answer is a simple one. I deserved none of this. It is all unmerited favor and grace, marvelous grace.
I hope Thanksgiving is more to all of us than simply parties and football games and parades. The Lord Jesus is still asking, “Where are the nine?” Are any of the nine reading this volume?
Then Jesus said to this one, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well” (Luke 17:19). The important fact here is that the Lord of this universe wants to be thanked. Hebrews 13:15-16 says, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Grace works in surprising places. Only the Samaritan heard the Lord Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.” He became whole on the inside as well as the outside. The other nine hurried on to the priest to be declared clean. But this one was declared whole, well, by the Lord Jesus Christ himself!
Are we really that far removed from this scene? The disease of sin is far more dangerous than leprosy. One destroys the body but sin destroys the body and the soul. Desperation may bring you to Christ but only gratitude can keep you there. Where are the nine?
Thanksgiving Day. What will it be for you? Will you get up? Will you get out? The real question is, will you get back? May we begin to lead America back to our place at Christ’s feet and renew the pledge of the Mayflower Compact that we’re here, “for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith.” Jesus is passing by. Where are the nine?
SOS: Solving our setbacks
I. Acknowledge the source of our setbacks (vv. 1-3).
A. Self-reliance (vv.1-2a).
B. Self-confidence (v. 3).
C. Self-centeredness (v. 1).
II. Ascertain the side effects of our setbacks (vv. 4-9).
A. Brings defeat (vv. 4-5a).
B. Brings discouragement (v. 7).
C. Brings doubt (vv. 8-9a).
D. Brings dishonor (v. 9b).
III. Apply the solution to our setbacks (vv. 10-21).
A. Conviction (vv. 10a, lla, 12b).
B. Consecration (v. 13).
C. Compliance (v. 16).
D. Confession (vv. 20-21).
Money consumes many of us in our current culture. Our churches are full of bankers, financial planners, stockbrokers, money managers, venture capitalists, CPAs, lawyers, and all kinds of men and women who are constantly giving financial advice. How would you like the free counsel of a man who has been recognized the world over as one of the richest, most successful, and wisest men who ever lived? This particular man “wrote the book” on international commerce. His name? Solomon. Listen to his counsel to you and me on money management—Honor the Lord with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine (Proverbs 3:9-10).
There are a lot of questions regarding stewardship today. How much should I give? How can we possibly afford to return one/tenth of our income back to God? However, there are four formidable questions every believer should ask about his or her own stewardship.
I. What is the purpose of my stewardship?
Honor the Lord.
II. What is the product of my stewardship?
With your possessions.
III. What is the priority of my stewardship?
With the first fruits of all your increase.
IV. What is the promise of my stewardship?
So that your barns will be filled...
The greatest stewardship verse in all the Bible is found in John 3:16. For God so loved the world that He gave… The Lord Jesus was the product of the Father’s stewardship to you and me. He was His only Son, the firstfruit of all of us who would be born again after Him. What a privilege is ours to honor God with our own lives and with the first fruits of our possessions. He said, Those who honor Me, I will honor.
“Legal personhood does not exist prenatally”…so declared the United States Supreme Court in the now infamous Roe v. Wade decision handed down on January 22, 1973. Since that day, millions of babies have been legally aborted in our nation. In its aftermath has not only come the elimination of millions of lives, but tragic trauma to millions of mothers. “Legal personhood does not exist prenatally.” Tell that to the lady who wrote me these words:
“Nearing forty years of age and after four children, I found myself pregnant. My husband suggested abortion. I knew in my heart it was wrong I have suffered supreme remorse ever since. Our home has one empty bedroom — a constant reminder! The doctors could control my problem, but nobody can control my hurt and loss of a very precious life that God Himself created. I carry this around now and for the rest of my life this awful memory, the hurt is all mine. You can tell young women who may be considering abortion that a woman never forgets her baby. The memory lives on and on.”
On July 1, 1976, the week of our National Bicentennial Celebration, the Supreme Court expanded its 1973 decision by declaring that abortions may be performed on minor daughters without the knowledge of their parents. It is a strange nation in which we are living where an adolescent cannot get an aspirin in a school infirmary without parental permission, but can have an abortion without such! The 1976 decision also expanded the 1973 decision to allow women to obtain an abortion without the knowledge or consent of the baby’s father. While a father must pay child support in other cases (and rightly so), he is often left with no say as to whether his own child comes into the world or not.
Perhaps no other moral or social issue is as many faceted as is the abortion debate. Any serious discussion of the matter will eventually come down to one central issue — when does life begin? This is “the big question.” Some say life begins at birth. They contend that until the baby is out of the womb it is not to be considered a human being, simply a “fetus.” Others say life begins when the fetus has grown and developed enough to live outside the womb if need be. Consequently, this particular school of thought would say life begins at five to six months. Others say life begins when the baby has a measured brain wave. The argument here is that the secession of a brain wave marks the end of human life, and thus it naturally stands to reason that the beginning of the brain wave would be the beginning of human life. A brain wave can be measured at approximately six weeks after conception. Still others claim that life begins when the baby develops a measured heartbeat. Such advocates thus place the beginning of life at approximately three to four weeks after conception. And, others would say that life begins at conception. That is, when the male cell and the female cell unite, thus beginning the life process.
When does life begin? Consider for a moment the argument from science. The nucleus of a human cell is composed of 46 chromosomes. Twenty-three are furnished by the father, and 23 are furnished by the mother. The abortionists argue that during the embryonic stage of development and in the early stages of fetal development, the baby could not survive apart from the mother’s body. Thus, their argument is that it is moral to eliminate the fetus if so desired. But the truth is, the same baby could not survive apart from the mother’s care after it is born at nine months either. To follow this erroneous concept to its conclusion would be to go ahead and eliminate the baby even after birth.
It is a fact of biological science that the only cell that the mother contributes to the baby is the first one (23 chromosomes) when it meets the father’s cell and they combine. At this point conception takes place, and a new person is formed. In the cell structure, the baby is as much a part of the father as the mother. Obviously, during gestation the baby is nourished through the umbilical cord by the mother. But it should be noted that only the baby is nourished. The same baby, after birth, is also dependent upon being nourished by the mother outside the womb. After conception, the child receives no new or additional life from the mother. It is not a part of her body that can be removed like a wart or a tumor. It is an individual person.
It is amazing how abortion activists refrain from using the term “baby” for the unborn and instead cling to the less intimate word, “fetus.” It is as though this gives more of an appearance that the baby is simply a part of the mother’s anatomy like a gall bladder or an appendix. It sounds so much better to say the fetus was extracted than to say the baby was killed. The pro-abortion activist might be interested to know that the word “fetus” is a Latin word. What does it mean in Latin? It is the word for “child.” Life is a continual process, and each of us is a part of it. Some of us are newly conceived. Others are developing in the womb. Some are just born. Others are toddlers in the nursery. Some have completed the first day of school. Others are adolescents. Some are adults. Others are elderly. But we are all in a stage of gradual development. Man is no more or less a person at any stage of this development.
When does life begin? Consider for a moment the argument of Scripture. Just because many influenced by New Age persuasions have placed the Bible on the shelf as a worn out book of antiquity, does not mean it is. Millions of people still hold its truths near and dear to their hearts. Its words and laws have been the foundation blocks for every decent democracy and republic in world history. We believe it is revealed truth and our ultimate standard. Jesus stepped into manhood, not at His birth at Bethlehem, but at His conception at Nazareth. The Scripture records, “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Do not be afraid to take to you Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit’” (Matt. 1:20). To Mary, the angel announced, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a son, and shall call His name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
As many are aware, the New Testament was written in the Greek language. It was the universal written language of the first-century world.
The Greeks have more than one word for our English word, “child.” The most common word, found over 98 times in the Greek New Testament is the word “teknon.” The word speaks of a child as viewed in relation to a parent. However, there is an interesting word that is found only eight times in the Greek New Testament which throws much light upon what the Bible teaches regarding the unborn. It is the Greek word, “brephos.” Note its usage in the following verses:
This man dealt treacherously with our people, and oppressed our forefathers, making them expose their babies (brephos), so that they might not live (Acts 7:19).
Then they also brought infants (brephos) to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them (Luke 18:15).
And that from childhood (brephos) you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus (II Tim. 3:15).
As newborn babes (brephos), desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby (I Pet. 2:2).
And this will be the sign to you:You will find a Babe (brephos) wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).
And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe (brephos) lying in a manger (Luke 2:16).
In all the above verses the word brephos describes a baby who has already been born. One who is outside the womb! That is, a real live human being. But there are two other verses in Scripture in which the same Greek word (brephos) is used. One is in Luke 1:41 where Scripture records, “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe (brephos) leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” The other is found in Luke 1:44, “For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe (brephos) leaped in my womb, for joy.” Note in each of these cases, the brephos (baby) is still in the womb. It is blatantly clear that God considers an unborn baby more than simply a wad of tissue. He considers the brephos as much a human being as the child who is already born and playing, running up and down the street. In God’s vocabulary, the little package of love in the uterus is a brephos just as much as the toddler in the playpen! He uses the same word to identify them both.
There is even a sense in which the issue of life goes back beyond science and Scripture. Yes, back even before conception into the Eternal Councils of Creator God. God deals with us not only after our birth for all eternity, but before our birth and conception and all eternity past. To Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations” (Jer. l: 4-5). “My mother might have been my grave” (Jer. 20:17). If an abortion had been performed upon the fetus in Jeremiah’s mother’s womb, he still would have been Jeremiah. Although his mother may not have known his name, God did! Yes, life begins even before conception in the eternal councils of God. The great apostle Paul put it like this, “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love” (Eph. 1:4).
Thus, if life is present at conception, as both science and Scripture certainly reveal, then as a Christian there is no such thing as neutrality. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said, “Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Surely we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?” (Prov. 24:11-12).
The main reason convenience abortions on demand are the law of the land is not because of the militant minority of the women liberationists and politicians, but primarily because moral people do nothing and say little as we walk by on the other side of the street ignoring this national blight. Perhaps the thing that is most amazing is the silence of the grand old flagship churches in the hearts of cities across America. Where are all the voices from all the First Baptist churches of our land? Where are the voices from the First Presbyterian churches and the First Methodist churches? Some denominations have even taken pro-abortion platforms and stands. Perhaps Joel asked the question best 2,500 years ago when he cried out, “Where are all the prophets and preachers weeping between the porch and altar over the sins of the people?”
The church is virtually silent today when a child who by state law is too young to drink alcohol, too young to vote, and too young to drive a car, is at the same time legally permitted to destroy an unborn life and never even notify her parents. What kind of a nation have we become? By and large, the church and synagogue remain silent on the sanctity of life and surrender the truth of the Torah and the good news of the Gospel to the lies of the abortionists. Moses’ call comes thundering down through the centuries, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19).
What is the bottom line for you? What do you believe? Is that a human life in the womb? You would not pass by on the other side of the street while men and women were taking two- and three-year-old children and scalding them to death in hot water and simply keep silent. As Solomon said, how we need to “rescue those being led away to death.”
Dr. James Dobson has astutely observed that “all the abortion arguments descend to whether one believes an unborn baby is a live human being. If you believe the unborn is a person, then all the peripheral exclusions like rape and incest become folly.” Would you kill a one-month-old baby in a crib because he was a victim of rape? Of course not! Then the same baby shouldn’t be killed just because he is a few weeks behind in his development still in the womb! Yes, God has “set before us life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life so that you and your children may live.”
When I was a pastor in Florida, a few abortion rights activists rallied at the Federal Court House Building across the street from our First Baptist Church in downtown Fort Lauderdale. I walked across the street to watch their demonstration and listen to their arguments. What amazed me most were the signs they carried. They bore on them the most paradoxical and hypocritical statements imaginable. In fact, our very arguments for choosing life are found in the placards and themes which they promote. They carried such signs as: “Don’t impose your morality on me,” “Keep abortion legal,” “Keep your laws off my body,” and “Keep abortions safe.” As I watched them and thought about these signs, several thoughts rushed through my mind. Let’s think about their slogans for a moment.
At the abortion rally, one lady, attractive and in horn-rimmed glasses, with the obvious appearance of a lawyer or professional woman, was carrying around a sign on a wooden stick which said, “Don’t impose your morality on me!” Now, think about that sign for just a moment. If indeed life begins at conception, the fact is plain — abortion is a moral issue! For centuries when medical doctors have obtained their medical degrees they have taken an oath called the Oath of Hippocrates. Many doctors have it displayed on their office wall, framed beautifully and written in flowing script letters. A portion of this Hippocratic Oath states: “I will give no deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest such council, and in like manner, I will not give to a woman a pessary (instrument) to produce abortion.” In listing the things which God hates, Solomon says one of the things is, “hands that shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:16-17). As I looked at that sign, I pictured the bloody hands of a physician who took the Hippocratic Oath promising to never knowingly administer any drug that would injure life. For some medical doctors today it is no longer the Hippocratic Oath but the Hypocritic Oath!
At the rally as I looked at the lady’s sign, I also pictured the blood of the innocent victim who never had a chance to “pursue life, liberty and justice” as guaranteed by our Constitution. How long will God continue to bless a nation which is so blatantly oblivious to His Word? Joel, the ancient Jewish prophet said, “Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom a desolate wilderness, because of violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood in their land” (Joel 3:19). Why did they become desolate? Because they “shed innocent blood in their land.” And the woman continues to carry her sign — “Don’t impose your morality on me!”
Choice! That is the password for the pro-choice advocates. Their cry is loud and long — “You people who are prolife are trying to take away my power of choice. Don’t impose your morality on me!” Now think about that. We are taking her power of choice? Think about the many choices that are made which lead up to so many convenience abortions on demand. Consider the choices a particular lady has already made. Should I go to the singles bar after hours? And she makes a choice — yes! Should I flirt with that man at the bar or not? And she makes a choice — yes! Should I go out with him or not? And she makes yet another choice — yes! Should I have sex with him or not? And she makes a choice — yes! Should I have sex without any preparation or birth control? And she makes another choice — yes! And then she becomes pregnant! And then she begins to scream that we are trying to take away her freedom to choose. She chose all right, and what is now in her is a live human being, and two wrongs never make a right. She should have the character and integrity to stop saying someone is taking away her choice. She chose. It is not a question of us imposing our morality on her, but her imposing her immorality on us…and the unborn, and often asking us to pay for a federally funded abortion at the same time.
The moral principles of the past have given way in our day to situation ethics. From the movie and music industries, and from the public media we hear the selfish cries of a thousand voices calling our children to lifestyles of sexual promiscuity and premarital sex. In our classrooms, modern sex education is perpetrated upon our children, and so often without the basis of a moral standard of restraint. And the woman continues to carry her sign, “Don’t impose your morality on me.” It ought to have a subtitle, “I’m too busy (with government help and approval) imposing my immorality on you and your children.” The same long and legal tradition that acknowledges my right to control my own body, also acknowledges the illegality of harming another person’s body.
“Don’t impose your morality on me.” Do pro-abortionists really mean this? Are they then saying, “I am personally opposed to sex discrimination; however, if others want to discriminate on the basis of sex, that is their right. Don’t impose your morality on me. I am personally opposed to racial discrimination. However, if others want to discriminate on the basis of race, that is their right. I don’t want to impose my morals on them.” How hypocritical can these men and women be who carry around signs saying — “Don’t impose your morality on me!”
Morality is the strength of any nation. If America falls, it will not be the result of a weakened military, but the result of a weakened morality. Of course we need military strength, but more than that we need moral strength and fiber. America’s hope is in a genuine repentance. God said, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sins and heal their land” (II Chr. 7:14).
In many ways, America has become schizophrenic on the issues of life. What an irony that so often the same ones who hold their signs outside our state and federal prisons promoting life for those guilty of murder and on death row, are the same ones who hold signs at abortion rallies promoting the continual slaughter of millions of innocent unborn babies in abortion clinics. Any society which allows the continual murder of its unborn will not survive indefinitely. Yes, the sign caught my attention… “Don’t impose your morality on me.” Can anything be more hypocritical or paradoxical? What we are seeing in our nation is that good and godly people are at last fed up with others imposing their immorality on them!
Another lady carried a sign which said, “Keep abortion legal!” Now let’s think about that sign for a moment. There are many who say, “abortion is all right because it is legal.” But just because something is legal does not mean it is moral or right. It is interesting what the pro-abortion people are saying about the unborn. They say that the fetus is a nonperson. They say the fetus possesses no soul. They say the fetus possesses no legal rights. The fetus, in their opinion, is simply a piece of property belonging to the mother and can be disposed of at will. And, it is all legal!
Now, that sounds very familiar, doesn’t it? It should certainly sound familiar to every black American. Our American history books are replete with the smudge and shame of slavery upon our nation’s character. What did slave owners insist about their black slaves? They called them non-persons. They possessed no legal rights. Some even went so far in their stupidity and blindness to say they had no souls. They were simply a piece of property belonging to the master and could be disposed of at will. And, it was all legal! Does that sound familiar?
Abortion advocates are no different from slave owners in the sense that they are fighting for their rights and are ignoring what should be the legal rights of others. Thank God that good and moral people took a stand against slavery! It brought about a civil war, but they stood for what was right. Thank God today that good and moral people are once again making a stand against abortion. Not since the days of the abolitionists and of Abraham Lincoln has the conscience of America raised its voice so loud and long over such a disgraceful national practice.
Once it was legal in this country to own slaves. But that did not make it right! Thank God we came to our senses and righted this dastardly wrong. Today, it is legal to kill babies in the womb, but that doesn’t make it right any more than slave laws made slavery right. We went to war in this country to right the wrongs of slavery, and political war clouds are gathering over the abortion question. It is not going to go away! Men and women of conscience are raising their voices over this shameful disgrace.
Chuck Colson reminds us of another historical example which offers much hope. “The Christian politician William Wilberforce stood against the deeply entrenched political and economic interest in England’s slave trade. He stood as well against the courts that held that slaves were nothing more than property. Despite the overwhelming opposition, Wilberforce and a small band of like-minded Christians persisted. They prayed for three hours a day, circulated antislavery literature, mobilized churches and citizens groups, and in the end they triumphed with a glorious victory that stamped out the slave trade. But what was not so glorious was the fact that their campaign took twenty years. They were defeated time and time again in the House of Commons. They were lampooned in political cartoons, and snubbed by society’s elite. But they persisted and righted the tremendous wrong.”
If abortion continues to remain legal in America, what will be the next class of humanity to be legally and systematically destroyed? Will it be the mentally retarded? Perhaps the handicapped? Certainly, we are already seeing signs that the elderly are next in line. Euthanasia is the Siamese twin of abortion. If the pro-choice advocates argue against bringing “unwanted children” into the world, how long do you think it will be before they begin pushing “unwanted elderly” out of the world?
The next time you see a pro-abortion rally think about the sign that says, “Keep abortion legal.” Remember, just because something is legal does not mean that it is right. Our laws must be changed! One woman who has lived through years of the trauma of an abortion wrote, “If abortion had not been legal, I would not have had to live through those dark years of depression.”
At the abortion rally I attended, one particular vocal and vindictive protester wore a sandwich board type of sign which read, “Keep your laws off my body!” Now, that sign sounds right. And, it is. I agree with it! I don’t want the government making laws regarding my rights or health care. There are many medical decisions that ought to be personal. Some have had plastic surgery. That is your personal decision. Some have desired to donate organs. That is a personal decision. Some have undergone different types of cancer treatment. That is a personal decision. There is nothing wrong with the desire to be free of government intervention upon our bodies. I agree with the sign that says, “Keep your laws off my body.” However, for the one who is pregnant, there is no longer one body to think about — there are two!
Those who are influenced by abortion and follow the Judeo-Christian ethic have a dilemma in the fact that in the womb is a person whether they want to believe it or not. Consider these words of the Psalmist:
“For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:13-16).
These words teach, without question, that which is developing in the womb is not a blob of tissue, but an expression of God’s greatest creation, man!
It is God himself at work through the creative processes in a woman’s body when she is pregnant. What other explanation can one give for two tiny specks of protoplasm coming together and developing into all the intricacies of the nervous system, a circulatory system, a respiratory system, a digestive system, etc. Yes, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13).
A human being exists at conception and not at some later point when he or she begins to look like a newborn. David said, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). Yes, God’s “eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:16).
Most abortion advocates describe the unborn as only a blob of tissue. They call the fetus a “conception product.” No wonder the lady carried the sign which said, “Keep your laws off my body.” But the Creator doesn’t see a blob of tissue in the womb, He sees a person. When Rebecca was pregnant with her twins, Jacob and Esau, in distress she called on God and He said, “Two nations are in your womb, two peoples shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23).
The abortionists tell us that removing the fetus is no different than removing a blood clot. But God did not see a blood clot in Rebecca’s womb. He saw two male children. He doesn’t look upon the unborn child as a body part of a mother like her spleen or appendix. In the womb God sees life, individual life. A nurse in our church tells of a turning point in her own experience. When she was working the late night shift at one of our local hospitals, a young girl was admitted with lower abdominal pain. Two days previously she had had a saline abortion. She requested to be placed on a bed pan. The nurse when removing the pan, among the clots of blood and tissue, saw a fetus of about two months. In her words, “the little heart was beating and the cord was attached as the baby was still alive. I cannot tell you how terrible I felt. I began to cry. That was not just a blob of tissue, but a human life. If only women who are pro-choice could witness an abortion, things might be so different.”
Convenience abortions are on the rise today. Consider the following from nationally syndicated columnist George Will, and see what you would decide. Here is the case. “The father has syphilis, the mother tuberculosis. They have had four children. The first one was blind. The second one died. The third one was deaf and dumb. The fourth one had tuberculosis. The mother is now pregnant with her fifth child, but is willing to have an abortion. If you determine she should, she will do it. What would you decide for her? If you choose abortion, congratulations! You have just murdered Beethoven!”
Tragically, for so many unborn, the haunting words of Jeremiah 20:17 have become their epitaph, “My mother, my grave” as millions of mothers’ wombs have become millions of babies’ tombs. If it is right to fight for equality and civil rights for ourselves, it is hypocrisy not to do so for those who cannot speak for themselves. If it is right to regulate the way animals in our society can be killed, and to ban by law certain kinds of traps, it is sheer hypocrisy not to speak out for those who cannot speak out for themselves. If cattle cannot be slaughtered in ways deemed careless about pain, and if stray dogs and cats must be killed by law in humane ways, it is sheer hypocrisy for those who cannot speak for themselves to be totally ignored by people who call themselves humane.
Until a child is born, a baby is obviously unseen by the human eye. I am convinced that if the womb were transparent, there would be far fewer abortions. If the young pregnant girls who are having abortions could see inside and see the baby being formed, they would seldom abort. One lady wrote of an abortion she had ten years earlier at the age of eighteen. Afraid her parents would be disgraced and disown her, she sought out a doctor to perform the procedure for three hundred dollars. She said, “As I entered the clinic doors, the nurse at the desk took my name and age. She said I was eight weeks pregnant and that it was just a mass of tissue not yet formed. As I lay on the table where the procedure was about to take place, I saw a covered jar on the table close to my feet. Terror ran through me and I asked why this jar was covered up if this thing they say is inside me is just a blob of white tissue? After seeing the jar I knew deep down inside something was not told to me. I felt betrayed and sick. It wasn’t until years later when I saw the fetal growth chart, that I realized why they covered the jar. The one thing I lacked was the visual knowledge of what was really happening after conception in my body. The biggest thing I had to get over was to forgive myself for what I had done. The memory will always be there.” No wonder the abortionists’ clinics do not want to show fetal charts as to what this “blob of tissue” looks like a few weeks after conception.
Children were visible on the steps of the courthouse at the pro-abortion rally that day. One little girl holding her mother by one hand held a sign in the other hand which said, “Keep abortions safe.” Now, think about that one. Safe for whom? Certainly not for the baby! Just how is the baby extracted from the womb? There are several methods that are used, and if one carrying the picket sign reading “Keep abortions safe” ever witnessed the trauma and tragedy of the unborn, they would never carry that sign again. Abortion is certainly not safe for the baby. One method of abortion is commonly referred to as “D&C” (dilation and curettage). The procedure is performed by the physician inserting a spoon-shaped instrument with sharp edges into the uterus. The baby is then cut into pieces and scraped from the uterine wall. And all the while the prochoice advocates carry the popular sign which reads, “Keep abortions safe.” For whom?
Another method is the suction type of abortion. A tube is inserted in the uterus and attached to a strong suction apparatus. This creates a powerful vacuum which tears the fetus from the womb in a mass of blood and tissue. The baby is torn to pieces and sucked into a jar. And all the while the pro-choice advocates carry their sign reading, “Keep abortions safe.” For whom?
The third method is used for those farther along in their pregnancy. It is commonly referred to as the saline injection. A long needle is inserted into the mother’s abdomen and into the baby’s sac. Most of the fluids are removed and a strong salt solution is injected therein. The helpless baby is poisoned by the solution and kicks and jerks violently. He is literally being burned alive! Generally within twenty-four hours, labor sets in and the mother gives birth to a dead baby. However, the abortionist’s greatest horror comes true, when this aborted, burned baby sometimes comes forth, still alive and then must be left to die of starvation and neglect rather quietly. A registered nurse in Jacksonville, Florida, describes one such live birth. “There was a baby in this bassinet, a crying perfectly formed baby, but there was a difference in this child. She had been scalded. She was the child of saline abortion. This little girl looked as if she had been in a pot of boiling water. No doctor, no nurse, no parent to comfort the burned child. She was left alone to die in pain.” And all the while the pro-choice abortion advocates carry their signs, “Keep abortion safe.” For whom?
Another method is the cesarean section which is generally performed the final three months of pregnancy. Here the physician enters the womb by surgery through the wall of the mother’s abdomen and then removes the baby. The baby whose lungs are often not yet adequately developed is left alone to die of neglect. And all the while the pro-choice advocate carries her sign reading, “Keep abortions safe.” For whom? Recent debates in Congress include the issue of partial birth abortions for those in their final trimester of pregnancy.
Not only is it not safe for the baby, but what about the mother? Remember, we have more than one facet of our being. We are not simply talking about the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual. The truth is, abortion is never 100% safe, whether it is legal or illegal. The constant cry of the pro-choice advocate is, “Don’t send us back to back alley abortions.” I have watched them at their rallies carrying coat hangers wrapped in women’s bras and undergarments as protest symbols. How degrading to a woman! These women must not think very much of a lady’s ability to make a wise choice so as to insinuate that they are going to retreat to some back alley, take some rusty coat hanger and insert it in their body to abort their baby.
The sign reads, “Keep abortion safe.” For whom? As a pastor I have dealt with the aftermath of abortion in many lives. One lady in our congregation had an abortion at the age of twenty as a result of premarital sex with her boyfriend who is now her husband. She says, “It has been over ten years and I still feel the pain and loss of it as if it were yesterday. It was a decision we reached together, one based mostly on preventing embarrassment and shame to our parents and the local church. We simply wanted to get rid of an untimely problem. The college clinic and local planning council simply set up an appointment to have a suction vacuum procedure done. Not once did anyone tell me just how my ten-week-old baby looked, or how it was growing. If only there had been someone informative with the truth from the pro-life perspective.
‘If only’ those words I have said a hundred times! When I had my first baby, there was both joy and sadness in my heart. Joy because of the tremendous miracle God had given, and sadness because I fully realized that there really was a baby which I destroyed earlier. It was especially difficult when I began to think how old my child would be and wondered what he or she might have looked like and been like. Time has a way of healing so many emotional scars, but abortion is a scar that is carved on my heart. And I don’t think time will ever change it completely!”
Another lady wrote to say, “I became pregnant when I was sixteen. I did not want to have an abortion, but I felt I had no choice. The abortion clinic told me to lie about my age so I wouldn’t have to get permission from my parents. As I was in the abortion clinic, I could hear my baby being sucked away during the procedure. I immediately felt the loss and cried. Terrible nightmares started — every night! I became obsessed with wondering what my baby would have looked like and whether it was a boy or girl. I had that abortion in 1975, and until I accepted the Lord Jesus as my Savior, my life and self-worth continued to decline. But after I came to know Christ, I had a hard time forgiving myself. For me, I realized abortion does kill, not only my baby, but in a very real sense a part of me too! I honestly could say, I don’t think I would be alive today if not for the Lord’s forgiveness and healing.” As I read that letter I thought about the lady who carried her sign that says, “Keep abortions safe.” For whom?
Long ago Moses brought his people to decision with these words: “This day I called heaven and earth as witnesses against you. That I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses, now choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30:19).
To the many who have had abortions, please read the following: abortion is not the unpardonable sin! Many live with the haunting, longing that if only that moment could be lived over again. The grief you feel is normal. You should thank God that your conscience is not seared. The good news is that Jesus Christ died on the cross to make a way for you to be free of your failure and saved from your sin. Along with our sins he also bore our sorrows and grief, our mistakes and failures. How beautiful are the words of Paul in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” God is not mad or angry at you. He hates sin, but He loves you! He stands with open arms to forgive you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). If you have aborted a child, God will forgive you right now if you ask him. Through His forgiveness you can know the true freedom which comes in placing Him as Lord of your life. You can purpose to follow Him, accept His cleansing, and then not call unclean what He has cleansed. You can forgive yourself! Rejoice in the fact that your child is present with the Lord and join.
Karen Sullivan Ables who put it like this:
In a far away place and a different time
I killed my first child, a most heinous crime.
The state didn’t come, and I didn’t stand trial.
Judge Blackmun was calm when he said with a smile,
“Killing is legal, say we the High Court.
But don’t call it murder. Just call it ‘abort.’”
The judge in my heart would not let the case rest.
I had no defense when once put to the test.
Found guilty I was by my heart’s Supreme Court.
“You murdered your baby!” they screamed in retort.
With tears on my cheeks it was too late, I knew
To bring back the life of the child I once slew.
The gavel slammed down, and it rang in my head,
“You are guilty as charged, and deserve to be dead.”
“We now give you torment to pay for your sin,”
Was the sentence passed down from my own court within.
“You will never escape. You’re branded. Don’t hide.
Your just due is death. You should try suicide.”
I was beaten in prison by daily attacks.
I was paying a debt, so I never fought back.
No hope of escaping, and this I knew well.
I cried out to God from my own self-made hell.
That day I met Jesus; He smiled in my face.
He said, “I forgive you. Come walk in my grace.”
“Lord, I believe you forgive me and yet,
Blameless you are. Can you pay for my debt?”
“And, Lord, please don’t touch me for I am unclean.
I’m filthy with murder; a most wretched being.”
I poured out my story. He showed no surprise.
I gazed up with awe at the love in His eyes.
He said, “I paid for your crime, yes, was nailed to a tree.
There’s no condemnation if you’ll trust in Me.
I took on your blame and your curse on My soul
So you may be free without judgment and whole.”
I sputtered, “Dear Lord, where’s the justice in this?
I killed my first son, and you offer me bliss?”
Tears blurred my vision, yet there in His face
Were eyes of compassion, blue oceans of grace.
I thought to myself, “Now the past has been buried?
I’m free of the guilt that for years I have carried?”
He said to accept. It’s a gift that is free.
This is atonement, not justice for me!
My judge was dismissed, my accusers, and jury.
The truth of His love made them leave in a fury.
He smiled, “Walk with Me and come learn My way,”
And grasping His hand I began a new day.
There is also a word to the physicians who have performed abortions. God’s word says, “Cleanse your hands,” (James 4:8). Over 2,500 years ago King David, a murderer, prayed, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness” (Ps. 51:14). If you repent, God will forgive you and say to you what He has said to another in Scripture, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
Finally, there is also a word to anyone contemplating an abortion. Could you murder your child on its first birthday? Of course not! That would be the farthest thing from your mind, and so should aborting the child while he or she is in the womb. There is a human being inside you. God has already named that child and he is in the process of perfecting him or her. Don’t buy the argument that the child is an “unwanted child.” There are many couples right now trying to adopt. Please do not do something you will regret the rest of your life. Do not destroy something that is not yours. The child in your body belongs to God, even though it may be in your womb at the present time. One lady who had had an abortion said, “I actually admire the young women in our church, who are very visible, and have had children out of wedlock. They could have taken the coward’s way out to avoid the shame of a ‘visible sin.’ Praise God for their example to other girls that these out-of-wedlock children can be loved and accepted. I cannot look today at an 11-year-old child without the pain of realizing my child would be that age today. But when I see my baby, I realize how deeply God must love me to once again trust me with one of his little ones.” Please do not take an innocent life for your own convenience sake! Regardless of what you may hear at the abortion clinic — abortion is not safe!
And to the silent majority who call abortion murder, it is time to begin acting like it! Solomon warned, “If you say, surely we did not know this, does not He who weighs the hearts consider it?” (Prov. 24:11-12). We must remember that our enemies are not people, but the Satanic system and deception behind their practices. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Abortion is simply the outward manifestation of the inward problem of the heart. “For from within, out of man’s heart come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man unclean” (Mark 7:21-23).
Isaiah said it best 700 years before the coming of Christ when he said, “Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins” (Is. 58:1). Isaiah was saying, get involved! Write your Congressmen. Sign petitions. Warn others that voting for abortion defiles our nation’s hands with innocent blood. The real battlefield is the place of prayer. Pray for support organizations which stand for the life of the unborn. Yes, “God has set before us today life and death, blessings and curses. Now, choose life so that you and your children may live!”
Recession! The word sends chills up the businessman's back. A recession consists of two consecutive down quarters in the gross national product. James, in his epistle, is less interested in an economic recession than he is in a spiritual recession which is plaguing many homes and hearts today.
A recession can be defined as “a withdrawal, a period of reduced activity.” The roots of spiritual recession are the same as the roots of economic recession. According to James 4:13-17, these roots are threefold.
I. Foolish presumptions (13,16)
The man described here lives as if tomorrow will never come. He is motivated by money and greed.
II. Forgotten perspectives (14)
Life has its uncertainties. James asks, “What is your life?” Life has its certainties. “It appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
III. Forsaken priorities (15-17)
James calls upon us to get our priorities in order. Some have forsaken the priority of God’s will (15) and God’s way (17).
Economic or spiritual recession is rooted in three areas. We should use a telescope to look at length upon foolish presumptions. We use a periscope to come into closer range to examine forgotten perspectives. And if we look closer with a microscope we will see that recessions of the heart are rooted in forsaken priorities.
Take James’ advice and do not make foolish presumptions about tomorrow. And to avoid spiritual recession maintain a proper perspective upon life and keep your priorities in order. Guard against the arrogance of our age.