I have really enjoyed studying Paul’s letters over the last couple of months. This morning, I looked at another of Paul’s prison letters. Paul’s letter to Philemon is the shortest of his letters. He was writing to Philemon and his church to let them know that his runaway slave, Onesimus, is returning home. Paul was in prison while writing this letter and perhaps that is where he met Onesimus. There are two strong messages in Paul’s letter to Philemon, Onesimus’ master – forgiveness and genuine love.
Paul is sort of writing a letter of recommendation. He is sending Onesimus back to his master to ask for forgiveness and devote himself to him. Paul wants Philemon to see his slave as his brother in Christ and extend forgiveness to him. Paul speaks of Philemon’s faith in the Lord Jesus and his love for all of God’s people. He is trying to help Philemon identify his slave as one of God’s people to be loved in this same way, despite the way in which he has wronged his master.
And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.
That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you…I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus…Onesimus hasn’t been much help to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my heart (Philemon 6-12).
How often do we hold on to hard feelings or grudges out of a sense of justice? We have every right to be angry and the other person has no right to be forgiven, yet God makes it clear that we are to forgive others if we want Him to forgive us.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. – Ephesians 4:32
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. – Colossians 3:13
As the Lord forgave you…My mind goes to Christ’s example of forgiveness He displayed while on the cross. Jesus was between two criminals – one shouting out condemnation and insults to him, one begging for forgiveness and grace. Jesus set the bar high for us. Even while dying for this criminal’s sins, as well as for my sins and your sins, Jesus was willing to forgive this man and offer him eternal life.
Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified – one on his right and one on his left.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:32-34a).
One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself – and us, too, while you’re at it!”
But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Luke 23:39-43
Jesus, thank you for giving your life for me. Thank you for your willingness to die for all of our sins in order that we might experience eternal life. Lord, may your Spirit reveal in me any unforgiveness or unresolved hurt or anger toward anyone. Thank you for forgiving me. Give me the strength to always extend that same forgiveness to others, even if they are not apologetic. May my focus always be on You and not on me or on others. I love you, Jesus! Amen.