Summary: All interpersonal conflicts can be resolved if we follow the method Paul used with Philemon and Onesimus
Introduction: "I hate you for what you have done to my life." These words have been thought many times in American culture. We know little or care little about forgiveness. We don’t get mad; we get even! THE major cause of destruction in all relationships (friendships, marriage, family, etc.) In our culture is the absence of forgiveness. We are pushed to be unforgiving. We celebrate and honor people who are tough and unforgiving. Movies are made about the Dirty Harry’s and Rambo’s who murder people out of vengeance. Because of the excessive sinfulness and wickedness in modern America, & the lack of Christian social restraint in culture----we have a society filled with anger, bitterness, vengeance, hatred & hostility for one another. You can see its effect in almost every aspect of life: a coach yelling at a player is attacked and choked by him; an employee thinks that his boss has slighted him in some way, so he takes a gun to work killing him, 2 others, before finally pulling the trigger on his own self; lawsuits for legitimate wrongs and for trivial offences clog our courts (It’s frightening to think that there are more people in law schools today than in all other professional graduate schools combined). If you buy into what our culture preaches/practices about forgiveness---that you don’t have to forgive, that you can have your pound of flesh, that you can sue anybody and everybody for anything, that you are a victim and can blame somebody else for your responsibility & make sure they pay painfully for what they’ve done to you---if you buy into that mentality, here’s what it will produce: 1) you will become a prisoner to the past and your pain will never heal, 2) you will become a bitter person and this bitterness will poison every relationship you have. Your bitterness will infect others with your sarcasm. You will cut off affection and kindness. 3) You will allow Satan to gain a foothold in your life. Ephesians 4:26-27 In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry & do not give the devil a foothold." The Devil moves into an unforgiving heart. 4) You will lose your fellowship with God. If we forgive men when they sin against us, then God will forgive us. But if we withhold forgiveness from others, God will withhold forgiveness from us and He will treat us like a Pagan.
I. The Background & The Problem
A. He is a runaway slave in the Roman Empire. There are more than 60 million slaves in the empire and there is a constant worry that they might revolt. If he is caught, his master has the legal right to torture him and then kill him. At the very least, he can be branded on his forehead with a letter F for "Fugitivus, denoting him as a runaway slave, so that for the rest of his life, this prominent letter F is noticeable. The last thing he wants is for anyone, especially a Roman citizen to know who he is.
B. Of the 13 NT letters which Paul wrote, 4 of them were personal letters: 1-2 Timothy, Titus, & Philemon. This last one, Philemon was written when Paul was imprisoned the first time in Rome. It was during this time that Paul, in addition to Philemon also wrote Ephesians, Philippians, & Colossians. Acts 28 closes with Paul being under house arrest for 2 yrs. while he waited for Caesar to hear his appeal. Paul was not left alone in prison. Aristarchus is mentioned as a fellow prisoner in Col. 4:10 along with Epaphras, also a prisoner (Philemon 23). Mark, Demas, Luke, Jesus Justus (Col. 4:11). Onesimus is also mentioned in Col. 4:9 as a faithful & beloved brother. His name means "Useful." Somewhere the fact emerged that Onesimus was a runaway slave. Did someone from Colosse recognize him or did his guilty conscience cause him to confess to Paul about what he had done? He was also a thief, stealing from his master perhaps to finance his trip to freedom. In the Providence of God, Onesimus met Paul who was chained to a Roman soldier. How did this happen? Perhaps Onesimus was also captured and wound up in the same prison which Paul where Paul was. Whatever the case, Paul knew that he had no legal right to keep Onesimus the runaway slave. To do so was to violate Roman Law.
II. The Solution
A. Paul wrote the owner of Onesimus in an attempt to mediate a broken relationship. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus who had endeared himself to Paul. But Paul knew that it was not right to do so. So he convinced Onesimus to return home to his master. Returning was the right thing to do. Onesimus was taking a risk. The fact that Onesimus was willing to return home shows that he had repented. Part of repentance is a willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.