Friday, June 27, 2008

Forgiveness and Grace

This Sunday we will complete our SUPER MEN series through the book of Philemon with a final challenge that real Biblical Super Men are men who choose to forgive. In verse 17 of this little New Testament postcard, The Apostle Paul reminds Philemon that they are partners in the faith – they have something in common spiritually. By saying this, Paul is also reminding Philemon that he now has this same partnership with Onesimus, his runaway slave who stole from him but who has since been converted and now is returning. As a result, Paul is communicating that Philemon should accept Onesimus as he would accept Paul, his spiritual father, friend, and partner in ministry.

In verses 18 and 19, Paul encourages Philemon not only to accept Onesimus but to illustrate his forgiveness by not requiring material restitution. According to the Law, Philemon had every legal right to demand this restitution (see Numbers 5:6-8). Paul exhorts Philemon to show grace and give Onesimus what he does not deserve. However, if Philemon were to demand restitution than Paul makes the offer to pay it on behalf of Onesimus. Paul’s own handwriting became his I.O.U. This was unusual as Paul normally dictated his letters due to poor eyesight. Here we see a picture of the Gospel with Philemon being a picture of God; Onesimus a picture of the sinner; and Paul a picture of Christ who willingly paid our debt. No wonder the great reformer, Martin Luther, once said, “We are all the Lord’s Onesimi.” Paul also reminds Philemon that he is also a debtor to Paul for leading him to Christ.

Paul communicates to Philemon in verse 20 that his accepting and forgiving Onesimus would be a spiritual benefit to the Apostle Paul suffering in prison. He uses the word, “refresh,” which describes an intermission from labor or rest as in an army resting after a long march . In verse 21 we find again that Paul has confidence that Philemon will accept and forgive his new brother in Christ. He further asks Philemon to do even more. I would take this to mean that Paul is asking Philemon not only to forgive Onesimus but to give him his freedom so that he could return to Rome and minister to Paul. In verse 22, Paul shares his expectation to be released soon and to visit Philemon. Knowing Paul’s intentions to visit would further encourage Philemon to heed his advice. I think it is safe to assume, based on this letter finding its way into Scripture, that Philemon obeyed Paul’s’ advice. In fact, some feel that this is the same Onesimus mentioned by Ignatius as a later pastor of the Church at Ephesus.

Paul concludes his letter to Philemon in verses 23-25 by sending Greetings to several individuals including Epaphras, a member of the Colossae church who had been with Paul during part of his Roman imprisonment; John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas who deserted Paul in his first journey but later wrote the Gospel of Mark; Aristarchus, a Jewish believer originally from Thessalonica; Demas, a partner of Christ who would later desert Paul during his second Roman imprisonment (see 2 Timothy 4:10); and Luke, a gentile physician and writer of the Gospel of Luke. Paul then ends his by reminding Philemon of the only way he can fulfill these exhortations…through the grace of God

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