Summary: The story of Philemon is all about forgiveness.
Sour Phi-Lemons and Sweet Forgiveness
INTRODUCTION... Peter J. Larson, New Forgiveness Research Jan 27, 2003
Recently in 2003, a survey was made of 200 married adults in regards to forgiveness. The researchers were wondering how one’s ability to forgive others would affect their marital satisfaction and personal well-being. The results were astounding! This research suggests that there is a huge relationship between marriage satisfaction and forgiveness. In fact, it appears that as much as one third of marriage satisfaction is related to forgiveness. Not only does the ability to forgive impact the marriage relationship, it was significantly related to personal emotional distress. As forgiveness ability went up, individuals reported fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and fatigue! These results are powerful and suggest that all counselors, both secular and faith-based, should be helping people develop the skill of forgiveness.
READ PHILEMON 1-25
I. THE SITUATION: “The Sour Situation”
We have in the letter of Philemon a look at a situation that the Apostle Paul had become involved with. In fact, both Paul and Timothy are sending this letter to this fellow named Philemon. In the beginning of the letter, we learn much about Philemon. The Apostle Paul tells Philemon and us that he prays for Philemon often and calls him in verse 2, a “dear friend and fellow worker.” I would have to day that this is good praise from the Apostle Paul. Paul also makes mention in verse 5 of Philemon’s faith and his love for his fellow believers. Paul reflects that Philemon’s love toward him has been a great joy, encouraging, and refreshing. I would have to say that this fellow Philemon is a leader in his church and is an encouragement to those in the faith around him. He is a good faithful Christian man.
He is a good man in a sour situation: a diamond in the rough, a rose among the thorns, etc etc. Philemon must also be a man of wealth or nobility because the focus of the letter to Philemon focuses upon a man by the name of Onesimus. Who was Onesimus? We learn from verses 8-19 that Onesimus was a slave that had run away from Philemon. Not only that, but he seems to have caused some kind of damage or stolen property from Philemon on his way out the door. Onesimus had broken the trust of Philemon. He had run away and stolen property or money from Philemon, probably to fund his escape. We are not told what position Onesimus had with Philemon’s house; it really does not matter. What matters is the theft and the running away. It is about this thief that Paul is writing to Philemon.
ILLUSTRATION... Ray Stedman. Talking With My Father. ( Grand Rapids; Discovery House, 1997) p. 73
Ray Stedman tells the story of one man’s explanation for his lack of forgiveness. He said, “A man once said to me, ‘I know I’m a Christian, but someone once did an awful thing to me – something I just can’t forget or forgive.’ I replied, ‘Are you sure you can’t forgive him?’ He maintained that he had really tried to forgive this man, but was unable to do so. As we continued talking, I said, ‘I know, I have found that we often use the word can’t what we really mean is won’t. Isn’t possible that what you are saying is not, “I can’t forgive him,’ but ‘I won’t forgive him?’ If it is really true that you cannot forgive this man, then it indicates that you yourself have never been forgiven and you are only kidding yourself about being a Christian.’ This shook him a bit. He thought it through and then, with a rather sheepish grin, he said, ‘I guess you’re right. I guess I won’t.’ It wasn’t long before he came to me and reported with joy that he had finally forgiven the man who had injured him.”
II. THE COMPLICATION: “The Sour Situation Becomes Sour-er”
The situation becomes even more complicated. It seems that in his flight, Onesimus came across the Apostle Paul. I do not know if it was by accident or divine providence. Onesimus must have known who Paul was given the relationship he had with Philemon. Onesimus stopped running and began to travel with Paul. I want you to reflect on verses 10-12: “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. I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you.” And I thought his opinion and praise of Philemon was good! Philemon happened across Paul and became useful to him in prison. This tells me that Philemon ran errands, brought Paul food and medicine, and did all he could to make Paul’s stay in chains bearable. He would have provided perhaps some limited company in Paul’s long days in prison.