A Case Study in Forgiveness

There’s a one chapter book in the New Testament, and no, it’s not written by John or Jude, but by Paul.

It’s a rather interesting book in that instead of Paul writing to a church, as is his custom, he’s writing to an individual with a heartfelt plea.

Philemon runs a home church, but in this letter, he’s writing to Philemon personally. Verses 1-7:

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.

Some would call what Paul is doing as “buttering up” Philemon, and in a way, he is. Let’s set the scene:

Paul’s in prison, along with Timothy and along comes this guy named Onesimus which we learn in subsequent verses, is a runaway slave.

Runaway slaves was no easy matter to deal with. In most cases, these slaves were put to death. Onesimus took quite a chance escaping his enslavement, but we find that he was a believer, and wanted to help Paul in his service to Christ. Verses 8-11:

Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.

We see in these verses, that Paul was ready to press him into service, that as a runaway slave, he was no longer useful to Philemon, that he could be killed at Philemon’s order, however Paul could use him.

We also see that Paul invokes the name of Christ for Philemon to do what’s right.

Next, we see what Paul does, and his plea. Verses 12-14:

I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.

Paul’s going to send Onesimus back to Philemon. He also tells Philemon to accept him back as he would accept Paul, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother.

Again, Paul tells him that he could have kept Onesimus and pressed him into service, but in effect, that would be stealing from Philemon, and he wouldn’t keep Onesimus without Philemon’s consent.

He also wanted Philemon to accept Onesimus back voluntarily. Again, Paul emphasizes his stance in verses 15-16:

For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Paul states that maybe Onesimus ran away for this very purpose, that no longer wanted to viewed as a slave, but as a brother in Christ, ready to do Christ’s business.

And to put a final period on his request, verses 17-20:

If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord.

Again, Paul reiterates that Philemon should accept Onesimus back, to treat him as Philemon would treat Paul. As to put it all on the line, Paul says that if Onesimus owes Philemon anything – anything at all, that Paul would make restitution.

Paul also tells Philemon that he owes Paul, we don’t know what that is, but based on what’s written, it could be his very salvation, and the establishment of his home church.

This entire book sounds very much like the parable of the Prodigal Son, doesn’t it? The parallels are certainly there. The rebellious son wanting it all and the rebellious slave; the father accepting the son back as a son instead of a worker, and Philemon accepting back the slave as a brother.

How many times have we become rebellious children, and God accepts us back, because of Jesus’ shed blood? I can say with certainty that I have, and you have as well. Romans 3:23 says that we’ve all sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory.

Every single one of us is like Onesimus the escaped slave, we deserve death. Without salvation through repentance, surrender and belief under the blood of Christ, that’s what’s in store. Those who are truly saved, were saved from eternal torment and death.

If anything, the book of Philemon is a roadmap of forgiveness and salvation.

Philemon learned a valuable lesson in forgiveness, and Onesimus learned what forgiveness actually meant.

Where do you stand when it comes to forgiveness?

Are you ready to kill off your offender, or take them back?

Remember, you owe your very soul to the One who forgave you.

Think about that.

Shabbat Shalom.

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