How Friends Who’ve Hurt One Another Can Heal Together: Part 1
By Jeff Cranston
Sometimes the friends we’re closest to can cause us the most harm. Betrayal committed by a best friend can be brutal. The good friend who was supposed to be down for you like four flat tires grossly violated your trust, was inconsiderate, slandered your name or wasn’t there for you when you needed him/her most. All you’re left feeling is deserted, rejected and ashamed, realizing that your foolproof friendship isn’t so foolproof after all.
I know it can seem unfathomable to think about reconciling in the midst of recovering from the deep injury of feeling betrayed. But unforgiveness constricts and binds us to the past, and with God’s help, those chains can fall. How can we experience that? How can friends who’ve hurt one another heal together?
Read Philemon 8-16. Philemon was a wealthy man of influence who had come to faith in Christ as a result of apostle Paul’s ministry. While Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he met Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave who also became a follower of Christ. As Onesimus prepared to return to Philemon, Paul wrote this letter to pave the way for his return and to secure a welcome for him. It was Paul’s desire to bring these two people together, but the following principles apply just as readily to our individual lives.
1. Resolution starts with humility (verses 8-9).
It is never right to be rude. It is never right for those who follow Jesus to be arrogant, abrasive or uncouth. Paul makes his appeal for reconciliation with humility and with tact. As he begins this humble appeal, he makes sure to do two things:
Paul will not take advantage of his position as an apostle and pull rank “…though,” he says, “I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper.” Doing that, however, would be coercive—and coerced love is not love. So, we learn to appeal, not command; plead, not demand.
Show some love.
Love is foundational to Christian ethics. So, Paul is clear in his request: “… for love’s sake I appeal to you.” Interestingly, Philemon’s name means “the loving one.” Paul was asking him to live up to his name and show the same loving attitude toward Onesimus that he had shown in the past to others.
2. Reconciliation is supported by sensitivity (verses 10-11).
The gospel of Jesus Christ changes us inwardly and outwardly, giving us a completely new status before God. Once alienated from His love, dead spiritually and slaves to sin, we are now His children, spiritually alive and no longer in bondage! Paul had seen this transformation in his own heart, in the life of Philemon and now in Onesimus. He wants Philemon to hear about it. So how does Paul make a positive, gospel-centered appeal?
“I appeal to you … my child … whom I have fathered … in my imprisonment.” He repeats the word “appeal,” which he just used in verse 9. He’s emphasizing his encouragement that Philemon will take Onesimus back. It’s not a command; it is a full-court press!
Make a straightforward appeal.
Paul is saying, “Onesimus, you have a new brother in Christ; his life, like yours and mine, has been transformed by Jesus.” Certainly, Philemon can give thanks for that. Hopefully that will help him in his reunion with Onesimus.
Learn more about how you can find reconciliation in your friendships in part two of this blog series.
Jeff Cranston is lead pastor of LowCountry Community Church in Bluffton, S.C.