“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  I do wish, brother, that I may have 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 ask.” – Philemon 1:17-21. 

Nestled between the books of Titus and Hebrews in the New Testament is the book of Philemon. The book of Philemon is a letter written by Paul while in prison. The key personalities of Philemon are Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. It was written to Philemon as a plea to request forgiveness for his runaway servant Onesimus, who was a new believer in Jesus Christ. The book of Philemon consists of only one chapter and 25 verses.

Onesimus was clearly in the wrong, was clearly a criminal who had violated his master’s trust, and now Paul says, “Maybe that’s the way God wanted it all to work out.” You see, Paul knows that Philemon has a clear case against Onesimus, but that’s not what is important. Onesimus has become a believer and now that he has experienced a change of heart and character and conduct, Paul is making a final appeal for Philemon to receive this guilty slave with mercy and forgiveness.

We all experience times in our lives when it is highly difficult to forgive and be restored to someone who has hurt us.  The question is “how?” How do we forgive someone who has hurt or wronged us? First, consider the providence of God. Paul and Philemon both knew that Onesimus was in the wrong, but what Paul so masterfully pointed out was that God had allowed it for a higher purpose.

During the message on Sunday, I’m sure most of you were thinking about one person or maybe several people that you have had trouble forgiving. What they did is still so fresh in your mind. Or maybe what they did takes them outside the realm of possibility for forgiveness in your mind. 

But have you ever considered that maybe God allowed that thing to happen in your life for a higher purpose? Could God have allowed some bad thing to happen in your life in order that you might experience the greater good?  All you know is what was done to you is still an obstacle. But is it an obstacle? Or is it an opportunity for you to grow and to manifest the love, compassion and mercy of God to an individual that does not deserve it.

Philemon 19-20 says, “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.”

When Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus and forgive him those old debts, he reminded him that he too was once a man with a terrible debt that had also been forgiven. When we can’t forgive someone, we need to pause for a second and remember what God did to forgive you. I understand that forgiveness may cost you something.  It may not be easy. And it may require sacrifice. But whatever it cost you in terms of sacrifice will pale in comparison with what has been done for you by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Tomorrow: How can I forget?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read the book of Philemon. Can you identify with Philemon?
  2. One of the greatest gifts we receive from Christ becomes one of the greatest challenges to following him: forgiveness? Agree or disagree?
  3. Have you ever considered that maybe God allowed that thing to happen in your life for a higher purpose?
  4. What steps can we take to forgive others.