Philemon and Forgiveness

November 12, 2011 at 9:56 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, God's Love | Leave a comment

Some say the New Testament book called Philemon is about slavery.  It is about a slave who had escaped his master, but more importantly, Philemon is about relationships and reconciliation among Christians.  Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17:3-4 ESV)  Philemon and Onesimus are a great illustration of that point.  Onesimus was the slave of a Christian man named Philemon; he probably stole some money from his owner and escaped from slavery.  In God’s providence, Onesimus came into the company of the apostle Paul and through Paul became a follower of Jesus.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon to deliver this letter and the one called Colossians.

This little epistle is full of references to Christian relationships.  Paul calls Philemon “a beloved fellow worker” (v1); he compliments him on his “love for all the saints” (v5); then he adds “I have derived much joy and comfort from your love my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (v7); he refers to Philemon’s goodness in this matter (v14); and he calls Onesimus “my very heart” (v12).  Finally, the kicker is when he asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a beloved brother!” (v16)  “Receive him,” Paul says, “as you would receive me.” (v17)

What Paul was asking Philemon was not an easy task.  Philemon may have been bitter because his slave stole from him; he may have thought Onesimus didn’t deserve to be a Christian (none of us do); he may have already made plans for punishment if Onesimus returned.  And now Paul has the audacity to ask forgiveness for this horrid run-a-way.  Yet that is the Jesus way.  May I be one who forgives those who sin against me, no matter how horrid it may seem on my economy.  God has forgiven me far more than I could ever be wronged by others.  Philemon must have been faithful to forgive, otherwise this great little book would not have been passed on to us.  May his tribe increase!

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