Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker… I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him – who is my very heart – back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good – no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 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, 10-21
The Apostle Paul was a prisoner in Rome. Onesimus was a slave who ran away from Colosse to Rome. Philemon was the master of Onesimus who lived in Colosse. The one unifying factor that brought these three men together was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul preached the good news of Jesus throughout the Mediterranean world. On one of his journeys he preached in the city of Colosse where Philemon came to believe in Jesus Christ as his Savior. Onesimus was not a Christian when he ran away from Philemon. He ran to Rome, the city in which Paul was under house arrest, and crossed paths with Paul. He listened to Paul’s message of forgiveness and became a Christian. He became very close with Paul and admitted how he had wronged his master by running away. Paul assured Onesimus that God had forgiven him, but where was Onesimus to go from this point forward? Should he ask Philemon for his release? Should he stay with Paul in Rome? Should he go back home where Philemon would be within his legal right to put him to death?
Paul’s letter to Philemon gives the answer to this question. Paul made an earnest appeal to Philemon: “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” Paul was asking Philemon to have mercy on Onesimus in the same way that Jesus had shown mercy and forgiveness to him.
What a great lesson for us to learn as followers of Jesus! In our lives there are going to be times when people wrong or hurt us. It may be necessary for wrongdoers to bear the forms of punishment that fit their crimes. Yet always, like Paul encouraged Philemon, our attitude toward them will be merciful.
Don’t let sin and a vengeful spirit destroy relationships. Instead, motivated by the forgiveness you have been freely given through Christ, use the message of forgiveness in Jesus to restore and save them.