Summary: This sermon explores Paul's personal appeal to Philemon to forgive his run-away slave, Onesimus
Philemon vv. 1-21 – The Business of Forgiveness
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith
may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you
for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.
Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
The Business of Forgiveness. Let’s pray…
It’s easy to talk about forgiveness when you don’t have someone you need to forgive. Of all the things Christians are commanded to do, forgiving is probably the most difficult.
We all have wounds from our past that we replay over and over in our minds. Each time we relive them, the deeper our pain and resentment grows. And while we feel entirely justified holding on to those feelings, it is eating away at our spiritual lives like a malignant cancer.
According to the Bible, the effects of unforgiveness are catastrophic – hindering our prayers, stopping our growth, and impacting all our relationships. If there is ONE thing makes revival impossible – it is unforgiveness.
So I ask – do you have someone YOU need to forgive???
Paul was in prison at Rome. Though we don’t know MUCH about his accommodations, we can reasonably assume them unpleasant. The Romans were not known as champions of human rights. Remember, THEY were the ones who made it sport to feed Christians to lions. There were no advocates for prisoners… no appeals to the Geneva Convention for humane treatment. Dark, damp, and dirty… the apostle was left alone with his thoughts.
Maybe there was a barred window that looked up to the street – allowing Paul to view those who passed by. Maybe THAT’S how he met Onesimus.
Onesimus was one of MANY Roman slaves who would walk by Paul’s cell everyday. Evidently Paul got his attention and shared the Gospel with him.
A wonderful testament of the grace of God, don’t you think… that God would use the imprisonment of one of His servants to to set another man free from the bondage of sin?
Like most of us, Onesimus had brought baggage into his relationship with Christ. He had a past. He had stolen something valuable from his master, Philemon, and ran away… hoping for a NEW start in Rome. Two capital crimes in that day… crimes worthy of death.
BUT Philemon was a Christian. He TOO had come to know Christ through the ministry of Paul. So it seems God had orchestrated this whole meeting between Paul and a runaway slave, not only so the slave could be reconciled to the Lord, but so that he could be reconciled to his Christian master, Philemon.
As we read this letter, we are struck at once with the concern Paul has for these two Christian brothers and their need for restoration. Philemon had every right under Roman law to punish his slave. But Paul intervened, reminding Philemon of the impact he had had upon his life – the fact that Jesus had forgiven him and now expected him to forgive this runaway slave.