Friday, June 20, 2008

Reasons to Forgive

This Sunday here at Grace we will continue our study on Biblical SUPER MEN from the book of Philemon and the fact that real Biblical Super Men choose to forgive. As Paul prepares to appeal to Philemon to forgive Onesimus, who broke trust and stole from him, he uses the word “therefore” in verse 8 to link his coming request to the character of Philemon previously mentioned. Based on his apostolic authority, Paul could have insisted on Philemon forgiving Onesimus. However, Paul does not appeal to his authority as the main motive for asking Philemon to forgive but rather appeals to the love for all of the Saints that Philemon has shown as a character of his life.

Paul also uses his own example of obeying God in difficult situations as encouragement for Philemon to heed his request. He calls himself the “aged.” Paul was actually only about 60 years old at the time he wrote this letter. This term refers to his accelerated aging due to his suffering more than it does his numerical age. Paul also reminds Philemon that even as he writes these words he is suffering in prison due to his obedience to Christ. It is a powerful thought to keep in mind that Onesimus is probably standing right next to Philemon as he reads this letter. If you skip down to verse 17, you will see Paul’s appeal for Philemon to accept Onesimus back. Though the very word “forgive” is not used in this letter, it is very much implied through this appeal.

In verses 10-16, Paul gives several reasons as to why Philemon should forgive Onesimus. The first of these reasons deals with Onesimus himself. In verse 10, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ regeneration. Philemon should forgive Onesimus due to his being led to Christ by Paul. Though we should do good to all, we should be even more willing and ready to do good to fellow believers (Galatians 6:10). Onesimus now had the same position with Paul as did Philemon…they were both his spiritual sons. In verse 11, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ resources. Though Onesimus proved at one time to be very unprofitable to Philemon, he now was of profit. Here, Paul uses a play on words due to Onesimus’ name meaning “useful.” He literally is saying, “Useful was formerly useless but now is useful again.” This is evidence of the transforming power of Christ.

In verse 12, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ repentance. The very fact that Onesimus stands before Philemon shows his sincere change of heart and mind. He knew that by law, Philemon could have him severely punished or even killed. And in verses 12-14, Paul speaks of Onesimus’ relationship. Onesimus’ relationship with Paul is reason to forgive him. Paul describes this runaway slave as “my very heart.” Onesimus had ministered to Paul much in the same way that Philemon would have had he been there (v13). Paul shares how he could really use Onesimus back with him in Rome (v14).

Paul also speaks of the purpose of Onesimus in verses 15-16 as reason why Philemon should forgive and accept him. Paul shows God’s providence in using Onesimus’ hurting Philemon to bring him to faith in Christ. As a result, now he has a physical benefit to Philemon as a servant and a spiritual benefit to him as a brother in Christ.

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