Have you ever taken the time to read the book of Philemon? It is a beautiful example of Christian forgiveness even though it is only 25 verses long. It is very hard in our human nature to forgive someone, especially if they have hurt us or treated us badly. Philemon attended the church at Colossae. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s servants. He was a deserter of Philemon and also stole from him. Can Christian love and forgiveness work even in times of great difficulty?
Paul is writing this letter to Philemon and says that Onesimus is a changed person. He encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus back into his life. Paul states in verse 11 that Onesimus may have been unprofitable at one point in time, but he is now profitable to the church as a follower of Christ. We also can look to the example of Paul as an encourager for forgiveness. Paul states that Onesimus is no longer a slave, but a “beloved brother”. Philemon is going to have to have a change of heart in order for this forgiveness to happen, he cannot be bitter about this. Paul states to “receive him as you would me” in verse 17 and, he even says that if Onesimus has a debt, he will gladly pay it for him.
Do you think Philemon forgave Onesimus? I think so. It was the right thing to do. If you have never taken the time to read the book of Philemon, it is a refreshing reminder of forgiveness. I believe the greatest example forgiveness is seen in Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know do not know that they do.” Jesus addresses that we are to forgive others in Matthew 6:14-15. I love the encouragement that Paul gives Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Most of the time we will become caught up in gossip of a person’s past. Or maybe we might say, “Well I heard that…” Are we supposed to participate in such conversations as Christians (see I Thessalonians 3:11-12)? Would you be willing to accept someone back into God’s fold who had done you wrong? Perhaps they have repented of past sin as the Word commands us in Luke 13:3. Guess what folks? It is your job to accept them and to forgive them. They, like Oneismus, are trying to change for the better. Perhaps we should be more like Paul in encouraging our friends and neighbors to forgive. Forgiveness through Christ is a powerful thing, and we being followers of Him should reflect that same forgiveness. There is no room for grudge-holding or bitterness in the life of a Christian.
Another example of forgiveness I am reminded of, is in John 8. A woman who has struggled with adultery is faced by her accusers, but what does Jesus say? “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” They all started to file out after that. Everyone has sin, but the sacrifice of Jesus saves us and forgives.
I don’t know about you, but I want to forgive. I don’t want to have a life full of grudge-holding and bitterness. “Life is but a vapor. It only appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 5:14). Life is to short. So let’s spend this life teaching the world the gospel, forgive when we need to, and help bring those people back to Christ.