Philemon 1-25


I want you to put into your mind perhaps 4 people that you might be dealing with in your life. 

Person 1: The first person we may need to forgive is someone in our extended family.  You have decided to invite all your family over for Thanksgiving.  You have a stack of invitations to send in the mail for all your various family members.  You are going through your family and writing out invitations for them.  Imagine yourself doing that.  Who did you skip?  Who do you not want to invite?

Person 2: The second person we may need to forgive is what I would consider an influencer.  Think of your mother.  Think of your father.  Think of your spouse.  Perhaps that spouse is now an ex-spouse.  Has one of these primary influencers in your life done something or said something or hurt you in a way that is stuck in your heart?

Person 3: The third person we may need to forgive is someone at your job.  Many of us spend 30-50 hours a week with people at a job and there are bound to be conflicts.  Is there someone at your work that you absolutely have issues with and there is bitterness in your heart for them? 

Person 4: Person who has harmed you emotionally.  This is a person, it might be one of your children, a dear friend, a person at work, or maybe even someone who fired off a facebook or twitter post about you.  There are people who have hurt our feelings on accident.  There are people who have hurt our feelings on purpose.


Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker,  2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:  3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,  5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.  6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.  7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.  8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,  9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul– an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus–  10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.  11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  12 I am sending him– who is my very heart– back to you.  13 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.  14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.  15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good–  16 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.  17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back– not to mention that you owe me your very self.  20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.  21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.  22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.  23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings.  24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.  25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

The theme of this little book is forgiveness.  The point of this book is forgiveness.  Interestingly enough the word is never mentioned here in any of the verses.  It is almost as if the Holy Spirit made this a “fill in the blank” epistle of one of the Apostles.  Forgiveness is all over every verse, but yet never stated. 

The appeal for forgiveness is not based on law or principle or theology or biblical texts, but the appeal is on the basis of love.  The Apostle Paul takes the high ground.  Paul knows that Philemon is a godly man.  He knows he is a spiritual man.  He knows he is a man whose heart toward God is right.  Paul loved Philemon.  In fact, in verse 1 he calls him “agapetos,” which means “beloved” or “dear friend.”  In verse 7 he says, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement.”  There was a bond of love and connection between these two men.  There was no need to command because of their connection and friendship.


Forgiveness means to pardon someone because of what they have done or said.

Forgiveness means to release from bondage or imprisonment.

Forgiveness means letting go of an action or word as though it had never been committed.

Forgiveness means giving up the right and ability to exact payment for something.



The first element in forgiveness is taking the person back.  Let them into your life.  Depending on the situation, that is most likely a tall order.  Verse 10, “I appeal to you for my child whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, Onesimus, who formerly was useless to you but now is useful both to you and to me.” Just take him back.  Paul asks Philemon to take him back for three reasons.  He is repentant. He is transformed. And he is proven faithful.  These three unfold in the very simple verses as Paul talks about the runaway.  Close the gap.  Cross the rift.  Heal the wound.  Let Onesimus back into your life.


Second, Paul is asking for restoration.  Paul suggests that not only should Philemon open arms and take Onesimus back, but he also needs to put him back into service.  Verse 15 is very fascinating, “For perhaps Onesimus was for this reason parted from you for a while that you should have him back forever no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother.


Third, Paul also speaks about restitution.  There has been wrong done and that wrong needs to be dealt with.  How will it be dealt with?  Obviously when Onesimus bolted he caused Philemon great distress.  If the price of a good servant was 500 denarii and the normal wage was 1 denarii a day, he would have to work for 500 days to make up for the loss.  Not only that, it seems apparent that when Onesimus left he took some of the possessions and money of Philemon in order to fund his fugitive life. How is the Apostle Paul going to deal with this?  Onesimus has nothing to pay with.  He probably has come back with empty pockets.  So how is he going to deal with restitution?  In verses 17, Paul says, “If then you regard me a partner, a fellow partaker of spiritual life, if you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.”  He says just treat him the way you’d treat me.  Welcome him as you would welcome me. Forgive him as you would forgive me.  Just take him back just the way you’d take me.  Then in verse 18 Paul adds. “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”  Restitution is always an essential component of forgiveness. It would have been right for Philemon to say you’ll pay me back what it cost me to replace you. 


Perhaps you are reading this and you do not understand God, Jesus, or much about forgiveness.  I would like to share with you that the Apostle Paul is playing a very very familiar part in the life of Philemon and Onesimus.  It is the same part that Jesus Christ plays in the relationship between the sinner (us) and God. Philemon is like God in that he has been violated.  He has been cheated.  Onesimus is like the sinner who ran from God, who defrauded God, and in doing so has wasted his life. 

If the sinner is to be reconciled to God, somebody must pay the price, right? 

This is what Jesus Christ did for us! 

We who are believers are never more like God than when we forgive.  Never are we more like Christ than when we carry a debt so that forgiveness can take place in a relationship.  The Apostle Paul is acting like Christ in this situation and following His example.  He says I’ll take the consequence of his sin, you just take him back.


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