Summary: In this lesson we examine the motivation of one who forgives.


Three weeks ago I started a short sermon series called “Forgiveness and Reconciliation” on the letter of Paul to Philemon. I plan to conclude this series today.

Philemon was a wealthy, godly Christian who lived in the city of Colossae. He had a slave named Onesimus. Some conflict arose between them, although we don’t know the nature of the conflict. Onesimus fled from Philemon, perhaps stealing money from him in the process, and went to Rome. While in Rome Onesimus met Paul, who was in prison. Paul shared the gospel with Onesimus, who became a Christian. He served Paul very well, but Paul knew that Onesimus had to return to Philemon. So Paul wrote a personal letter to Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus and to be reconciled to him.

I should make a comment about slavery. Slavery was common in the ancient world. And while slavery meant that a person was property of another person, it was not altogether like slavery in this country more than 150 years ago. Slavery in this country was based on ethnicity. However, in ancient times people became slaves because they were war captives, born into slavery, or debtors. By the time of the New Testament, slaves were often better off than freemen. They were assured of food, clothing, and shelter. They could become doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, and so on. And, slaves could also purchase their freedom.

Interestingly, the New Testament never directly attacks slavery. The institution of slavery was widespread, and a direct attack against it would have caused chaos and immediate social upheaval.

Nevertheless, biblical Christianity sowed the seeds for the destruction of slavery by teaching a message not of institutional change but of changed hearts. Paul’s letter to Philemon does not request him to free Onesimus from slavery but rather to treat him as a brother in Christ. And by doing so, Paul was effectively crushing the abuses of slavery. As Marvin Vincent notes, “The principles of the gospel not only curtailed [slavery’s] abuses, but destroyed the thing itself; for it could not exist without its abuses. To destroy its abuses was to destroy it.” And, of course, eventually slavery was abolished in many places around the world.

Previously, in our study of Philemon, we examined the character and the actions of one who forgives. Today I would like to look at the motivation of one who forgives. Again, I am leaning heavily on John MacArthur and his commentary on Philemon.

Let’s read the entire letter of Paul to Philemon, although my text for today is verses 19-25:

1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 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. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus – 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 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, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

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