Summary: We will always be hurt at some stage and need to forgive. In order for this to happen RECOGNITION and RESTORATION needs to take place. The ultimate goal is to welcome all those who are in God’s family in the same way.
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Philemon 8-25 “Forgiveness directs our actions”
Read Philemon 8-25
Just after I finished school I worked for my Dad for a while. I was doing house inspections for houses which were going to be moved from their block, put onto a truck, and moved somewhere else. Dad told me what to do. What to measure. And what to look for. I also took heaps of photos.
That was 22 years ago. I’m 40 now, most people think I look a lot younger than that. So you can imagine how old I looked when I was 18. I can’t really understand it but on one occasion one of the contractors rang Dad after I had been on an inspection – he definitely did not believe that I was old enough to do anything. Let alone do what was required to fulfil the job properly. I was not welcome to take Dad’s place.
Now let’s take that analogy and apply it to the book of Philemon.
Onesimus is a run-away slave.
He should be branded with an “F” on his forehead.
He has cost Philemon time and money.
It seems that he has stolen from Philemon.
Philemon’s attitude to Onesimus is not that favourable.
What’s Paul’s answer to the way forward? It is in verse 17 – and really this is the key verse of the whole book.
If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
Would you do it? Would you accept that Paul and Onesimus are equals? Is Onesimus a partner ... now welcome?
Paul wants Philemon to recognise that a partnership has developed – it is more than just master and slave now. A bond has been formed. That is a significant place to be.
So how did it get to this point?
It starts back in verse 10-11.
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
In our lives we have moved a couple of times. At some point we go back and visit those who we used to be friends with – and we discover that they have changed. We didn’t see the change in the years we lived in the same location. But when we move away the change becomes very obvious. People change ... people change all the time.
That’s why there is now a partnership between Philemon and Onesimus.
Paul wants Philemon to RECOGNISE that Onesimus is different.
Two things have happened since the last time Philemon and Onesimus were together.
Firstly, Onesimus is repentant. I appeal to you for my son, Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Did Paul give birth to a baby while he was in prison? Of course not. Paul was there when Onesimus gave his life to Jesus. Paul saw the Spirit of God at work as Onesimus confessed his sin. That’s repentance. But it goes a step further.
How do you think the letter which Philemon is now reading got to Colossae? It wasn’t emailed. All letters were hand delivered--and Onesimus is with the group who are delivering the letter. Repentance isn’t just a matter of words ... it is a matter of action. Onesimus shows his repentance by going back and facing the man he had wronged, the man who had the right to punish him. Repentance makes such a difference in relationships. But there is more.
Secondly Onesimus is transformed. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. There is a little play on words happening here.
Onesimus means "useful." It was a common name for slaves, it probably started as a nickname. They just nicknamed their slaves useful.
By running away Onesimus became useless – not living up to his name. Paul is basically playing a word game. “Useful became useless but now is useful again, both to you and to me”.
Philemon might not see it but he is getting back much more then he lost. Before Onesimus ran away he may have been a useful slave, but now he is even better. God has changed him. He’s going to serve you in the way that Christian slaves serve.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. (Colossians 3:22-23).
Onesimus is this man. Trustworthy whether you are around or not. He is so different that Paul is grieved at the thought of sending him back. I am sending him, who is my very heart, back to you.