Summary: Forgiveness in Philemon

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Last week we were introduced to the Philemon and the situation he found himself in. His slave, Onesimus had stolen from him and ran away to the city of Rome. While there Onesimus came across the apostle Paul was led to salvation in Christ Jesus. Paul has now returned Onesimus to Philemon. Along with him is sent a letter asking Philemon to receive Onesimus back, and forgive him.

We need to give note to the fact that Onesimus had done his part … he could have run away again on the return trip home … but he was a new creation in Christ. He was seeking to be forgiven by the one he had hurt.

How would you handle this? Would you forgive or withhold forgiveness based upon the facts and the hurt done to you?

"We live obviously in a society that knows little about forgiveness. We live in a society that cares little about forgiveness. In fact I would think that one of the major contributors if not the major contributor to the destruction of relationships in our culture is the absence of forgiveness." - John MacArthur

3 Principles of Forgiveness

Principle 1: Forgive those who sin against us.

Principle 2: Forgive and be forgiven.

Principle 3: Don’t forgive and you won’t be forgiven.

Paul in house arrest writes this letter of forgiveness to Philemon. Paul had already written much about forgiveness in his prison letters to the Ephesians and Colossians.

§ In Christ we have the forgiveness of sins … Eph 1:7, Col 1:14

§ Forgive one another just as God in Christ forgave us … Eph 4:32

§ Made alive in Christ through the forgiveness of trespasses … Col 2:13

§ Bear with one another and forgive one another … Col 3:13

Take note of the pattern Paul uses. He reminds us our forgiveness in Christ Jesus and then asks that we forgive. To understand we have been forgiven and then to seek to forgive speaks of the character of forgiveness.

1. The Character of Forgiveness Labors (1-3)

Philemon 1-3 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul identifies himself as a "prisoner" of Christ Jesus. Paul was not living life on his own … he had a Master, Christ Jesus. His life was not his own … but Christ’s.

The first character of forgiveness is it "labors" … to do the work of God.

He reminds Philemon of the laboring character that was visible in him. Philemon was a "co-laborer" who was working the same work as Paul. Their lives were to be entwined with the business of the Father.

Jesus at a young age announced … "I must be about my Father’s business."(Luke 2:49)

Jesus on the cross announced … "Father forgive them …" (Luke 23:34)

A man in conversation with John Wesley once made the comment, "I never forgive." Wesley wisely replied, "Then, sir, I hope that you never sin."

Those who learn to forgive are those who have experienced God’s grace and peace. God’s grace toward us forgives us and His peace allows us to know we are forgiven.

We … who have the character of God born in us … need to be laboring in the Father’s business of forgiveness.

2. The Character of Forgiveness Loves (4-5)

Philemon 4-5 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints,

Paul states that thanks God for the good and positive things he is hearing about Philemon. A testimony is not just something we say … but what others have to say about us.

Paul identifies the second character of forgiveness as "love." Philemon was a man who loved God and others by faith.

We forgive in the degree we love.

Hearing … testimony … Philemon had become a living testimony of love and faith.

Love = agape … selfless, self-sacrificing love … God’s love toward us.

Philemon’s love was bi-directional … toward God and toward man.

Philemon had a real concern about people … when you do it is easier to forgive.

3. The Character of Forgiveness Shares (6)

Philemon 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

The third character of forgiveness is its willingness to share.

Philemon had a real faith in the Lord.

He desired fellowship with others.

The Church met in Philemon’s home. It would not be uncommon for strangers to come to their services to which they were received with an open heart and hand. Paul identified Philemon’s sincere desire to share and fellowship with others …therefore the message of the Gospel needed to be real at all points … toward Onesimus.

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