Summary: What do we do when someone has wronged us? We know that we must forgive, but when is restoration necessary? Paul’s letter to Philemon gives us some insights into when it is appropriate to restore someone who has wronged us.
How to Treat One who has Wronged You
Over the next four weeks we will be taking a look at how to treat what we often ignore. These messages will come from four of the smallest books in the Bible, all one-chapter books. Today we’re going to walk through the book of Philemon and then next week 2nd John, then 3rd John the week after that and then the week prior to Mother’s day we’ll conclude our series with the book of Jude. So if you want to do some preparation each week you can use these one chapter books in the New Testament for your devotional time each day.
Philemon is simply a brief account of a run away servant called Onesimus and his owner Philemon. The letter is written by the Apostle Paul and he intervenes trying to reconcile the relationship of the former owner with the runaway.
For many of you, reconciliation is painful. You start to get a picture in your head of something that you do not want to do, but you are afraid that God is going to make you do it. It might be making amends with a former spouse as you learn to treat them respectfully. Or it might bring to mind the picture of restoring a relationship with someone who treated you unfairly.
Thinking of those things, and how it might scare you, made us talk about the difference between reconciliation and forgiveness in our preparation this week. You are always required to forgive, it is not optional. If you have been wronged you must forgive. “Forgive us as we forgive others.” The same measure I use to forgive, God you use that measure to forgive me. That’s kind of uncomfortable isn’t it?
Forgiveness also doesn’t take any action at all by the other person. Even if they stick their nose in the air and blow you off, you are still required to forgive. You forgive regardless of what they do. Even if they never ask for forgiveness we forgive…we do not hold their actions against them any longer…that is the basis of forgiveness.
But reconciliation isn’t that way. For instance, if someone has molested a child, you are required to forgive them, but you are not required to let them baby-sit your children.
Or if someone has stolen money from your company, you are required to forgive them, but you are not required to put them back into their position of treasurer, or let them handle the cash and deposits.
Forgiveness or reconciliation does not give open doors to those who have wronged you…it does not release them from the consequences of their actions.
If Philemon was a letter about forgiveness, it would be easy. We could just mention possible situations when you have been wronged and tell you to forgive. Philemon you forgive Onesimus…it doesn’t matter if he returns to you or not, you forgive him. But restoration doesn’t work that way. How do we know when restoration is necessary and how far are we to go in this reconciliation process? Let’s see if Paul’s letter to Philemon will help us sort that out.
Philemon was a man of some means. The Christians at Colossae, or at least some of them, met in Philemon’s house. Onesimus would have been there as a slave. We don’t know how long Philemon had employed the services of Onesimus or even what the status of their relationship was like prior to this letter, but at some point in time Onesimus decides he can’t take any more. Prior to this letter being written Onesimus sees an opportunity to run from his master.
So I think it is safe to say that there are some problems and probably some hard feelings in this relationship.
To put it in today’s terms, Onesimus quit work, but he didn’t call in or give a notice. He just didn’t show up. So not only was Philemon put out, but also others that had to take up the slack of whatever Onesimus was doing were put out too.
But if you think about it, running is nothing new. It started with Adam and Eve, “I was ashamed and so I hid.” They had just become slaves to sin.
Or how about Elijah – “I am the only one left and so I ran.” He became a slave to fear.
Or how about Jonah - “I knew the people would repent and you would have mercy on them, so I ran.” He became a slave to jealousy.
Peter, in a sense, ran away from his identity, “I do not know the man.”
Onesimus found himself in good company with many of the Bible’s key figures. The only problem, his story is very short. He wronged his master and ran away.