The Art of Connecting: Burying the hatchet - Part 4

Philemon 12–16

“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!

Practical pointers:

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!

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

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