We’re looking at the New Testament Book, Philemon, considering the question, “What type of person is able to forgive?” In our second part we start by asking, “what did Paul want for Philemon?”
Phm 1:6 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.
When Paul says he prays that Philemon “may be active in sharing his faith”, it was not a prayer that Philemon would be evangelistic … but in sharing his personal resources with the family of God! This would amount to sharing his love for Jesus with the saints in a practical way. He, like all Christians, enjoyed spiritual gifts, plus he had spiritual insight and wisdom, which coupled together needed to result in ministry. Verse 6 is a difficult verse but it does seem as though Paul’s prayer is that Philemon would benefit much more spiritually as the quality of his discipleship and servanthood increased and intensified. In other words, as ministry to the saints grows and benefits the recipients, there is a personal upward spiritual spiral.
This is true of all believers. As your ministry to the Body of Christ increases … and they benefit … so you benefit yourself. Remember the saying, “Giving is receiving”? The more gospel ministry done to bless God’s family, the more you personally benefit spiritually. So … Paul’s prayer is all about spiritual maturity on an ongoing basis! The point Paul is working towards is that as a mature believer … it ought to be easier for Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him back into his household through reconciliation … just as God reconciled him to Himself through Jesus Christ! This is the challenge and the lesson for you and me as well. The more we minister to the Body, the more we will mature spiritually! This is a Gospel principle … the more you give you receive. You give love, emotional support and practical help … and this results in you personally being blessed spiritually. You are God’s agent for good and He rewards you in the spiritual realm.
Don’t think Paul’s request to Philemon came without a challenge. He was asking Philemon to do something that was not easy! You see, forgiveness is demanding. It does not come naturally! Forgiveness is a heart matter. You have for many years being trying to dress yourself with the Fruits of the Spirit … has it been easy?
Gal 5:22 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.
Has this been easy? Not at all … because the Fruits of the Spirit are not natural! They are supernatural. In the same way, forgiveness is not easy, nor natural because forgiveness is supernatural.
Now think of Philemon again … he was a spiritual man; he pursued spiritual excellence; he was godly, humble and very generous … actually, in every area of life he was shaped by the Spirit. He is a man who followed Jesus and sort to dress himself with His Saviour’s attributes … and we need to do this as well! Like him, we need to be shaped by the Spirit in all areas of life … then we are ready for spiritual maturity. Now picture the runaway slave, Onesimus returning to Philemon … there was far more than the healing of a relationship between two men … the one a Christian slave owner and the other a Christian slave. (Remember Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not a Christian … but now the lost is saved). When Onesimus returns, Philemon will sees this Christian slave in action and this would give impetus for him to reflect upon how he treated all his slaves in general! And more … with Onesimus’ return there would be a brotherhood between owner and slave. It was owner and slave … now it is Christian owner and Christian slave and the brotherhood is cemented in the Blood of Jesus. This is the reason the chasm that existed between owner and runaway worker needed to be dealt with and repaired. Healing was required. In Christ this relationship needed reconciliation. No reconciliation would amount to a Gospel contradiction! This is true within the Body of Christ today as well. Relationships must be repaired. Now for Philemon the need was greater in that he would now need to reflect upon his relationship with all his slaves … not just the runaway one who is now Christian!
But digging deeper, there were Christian slaves in the church that Philemon attended as a leader … in his house. He looked after them. He welcomed them. He was generous towards them … and now Onesimus was coming home … how would he treat him? How would a converted slave affect his labour force? Would there be special privileges? Would there be unhappiness amongst the ranks? Naturally … slavery was wrong … but in that age there was no way of abolishing slavery … But if Philemon could just grasp Paul’s Spirit inspired words!
Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus
surely then … some of the terrible features of slavery in his household might be lessened! Just think of it like this … Paul tells Philemon that he is praying for him so that God would enable him to pardon Onesimus! You and I live in a world that is crying out for forgiveness! Here we see the Bible saying that the first stage of forgiving is to pray!
Dear God, thank You for forgiving us so much. Thank You for Your continual pardon. Surely, if You can forgive us so much, then no one’s sins are beyond forgiving. Help us to pray for people who hold grudges and habour un-forgiveness in their hearts for someone or for a group of people that they will open their hearts and easily and freely forgive. Help me to be a forgiving person, especially within the family of God. For Jesus sake. Amen.