Summary: Sermon 3 of 3: How do we forgive those who hurt us?

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Philemon 15-25

Do Me This Favor

Woodlawn Baptist Church

October 9, 2005


God works in mysterious ways doesn’t He? Many times in our lives we are left to wonder why He does a thing or why He might allow a thing to happen. A young man is sold into slavery by his family and 30 years later that event has him in a position to become the prime minister of a nation. As I thought about the mysteries of how God works, I was reminded of a story I heard a few years ago. The story begins with a poor Scottish farmer by the name of Fleming.

One day, while trying to scratch out a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved. "I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son’s life."

"No, I can’t accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer’s own son came to the door of the family hovel.

"Is that your son?" the nobleman asked.

"Yes," the farmer replied proudly.

"I’ll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to a man you can be proud of." And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming’s son graduated from St. Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the nobleman’s son was stricken with pneumonia. It was penicillin that saved the nobleman’s son. The name of that nobleman was Lord Randolph Churchill. The son who was saved? Sir Winston Churchill.

We could spend a lifetime trying to figure out how and why God does what He does, but a better use of our time and energy would be to trust that the God who sees the future just as plainly as He sees the past knows better than we do what is good for us. We must trust Him and be obedient, even when we grow uncomfortable or unsure.

In our passage in Philemon tonight, the apostle Paul brings God’s providence into the equation. Think about it. Paul travels to Ephesus and leads a man to the Lord. Paul then moves on until years later he is placed in a Roman prison hundreds of miles away. Meanwhile, the man he has led to the Lord has a slave to run away. Of all the places in the world that slave could have gone, he ends up in Rome, where he too hears the gospel of Christ from Paul and experiences a wonderful change of life.

We can’t script those sort of events, and yet they happen in our lives all the time. That’s one of the reasons Paul was able to write what he did in Philemon 15.

“For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;”

Onesimus had run away, most likely had even stolen either money or property from Philemon and was guilty. He was clearly in the wrong, was clearly a criminal who had violated his master’s trust, and now Paul says, “Maybe that’s the way God wanted it all to work out.” You see, Paul knows that Philemon has a clear case against Onesimus, but that’s not the issue. Now that he has become a believer and now that he has experienced a change of heart and character and conduct, Paul wants Philemon to consider that maybe, just maybe that he had to endure some grief and loss in order to experience the greater gain.

Perhaps he therefore departed for a what? For a season. Why? So you could receive him forever! Your temporary loss can now become an eternal gain!

Now, think about the tactics Paul has used to bring Philemon to a place where he is ready to restore Onesimus back into his home. He began by appealing to Philemon’s personal character. He told him what a great man of faith he was, how much he loved the Lord and other people and how encouraging that love and faith was to believers everywhere. Then he appealed to Philemon on the basis of Onesimus’ salvation. He had been led to Christ, had become a profitable worker, desired restitution and was valuable to those he served. Now he’s going to make a final appeal in this last section for Philemon to receive this guilty slave with mercy and forgiveness.

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