After commending Philemon for his “love and faith…toward the Lord Jesus and all saints” Paul began unveiling the ultimate purpose behind his writing this letter. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had stolen some things from him and ran away to Rome. Onesimus’ actions were punishable under Roman law and Philemon had every right to discipline him if he was found. However, in his fleeing to Rome Onesimus providentially met Paul, became a follower of Christ, and became useful in the Lord’s work (v.11). It does appear that Onesimus was honest with Paul and revealed his sinful deeds against his former master, Philemon. Paul knew that this situation must be resolved so he wrote these words and sent them by the hand of Onesimus: “though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you…for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains” (vv.8-10). Paul had every right, as an apostle, to demand that Philemon forgive Onesimus but he wanted it to be because of their mutual love for one another, not out of forcefulness. Onesimus had become a great help to Paul during his imprisonment and desired that Onesimus could continue to minister to his needs during this hardship (vv.12-13). You have to respect Paul because he wanted to make sure that Onesimus had taken care of any unresolved issues before he continued ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe there is a two-fold lesson here. First, those who desire to serve should resolve any sins from the past before representing the name of Christ. Secondly, those who have a tainted past can be forgiven and become useful in God’s work. Paul reminds Philemon that even evil can be turned around for good. In this case, God used Onesimus’ sin to bring him in contact with Paul, who was able to share the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ with him (v.15). Now Paul was asking Philemon to accept Onesimus “no longer as a slave but more than a slave – [as] a beloved brother” (v.16). As a follower of Christ we should be quick to forgive, remembering that God freely forgave us of all our sin (Romans 5:8).
Dear God, may I have an attitude of forgiveness toward all people.