Friday, June 06, 2008

Super Men = Men Who Forgive

Look, up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Super Man!” Of all the many past and present super heroes, perhaps none stands head and shoulders above them all then does Super Man. Wouldn’t it be great if we could slap a big red letter “S” on our chest and tie a red tablecloth around a neck and become a man of spiritual steel? We could look at many characteristics from Scripture describing a Biblical Super Man, but in the book of Philemon we see that spiritual Super Men are men who forgive.

Several individuals are mentioned by name through the book of Philemon. First, there is the author of this little postcard, the Apostle Paul who wrote this short letter during his first Roman imprisonment. It is the shortest of all of Paul’s writings and it is the only prison epistle written to an individual rather than a church. Throughout the book there is no main doctrinal teaching…it is more personal in nature. The book is also closely related to the book of Colossians. Both were written about the same time and both were delivered by Tychicus to the same location (see Colossians 4:9).

Paul writes to a man named Philemon (v1) who was led to Christ by Paul (v19). He was a prominent member in the church at Colossae which met in his home (see v2). His name means “loving” and he is called a “fellow-worker” showing that he was very active in serving Christ (v1). The letter is written due to another man named Onesimus (v10) who was a slave owned by Philemon and whose name means “useful.” Paul also addresses a woman named Apphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife (v2), and Archippus who was either Philemon’s son or the pastor of the Colossae church (Colossians 4:17)

The background to this letter centers on Onesimus’ running away from Philemon and fleeing to Rome where he was less likely to be noticed and caught in a city with 1.5 million people (v11). Onesimus apparently had stolen money from Philemon (v18-19) before he left. While in Rome, Onesimus meets up with the Apostle Paul through whom he is converted to faith in Christ (v10) and becomes a profitable part of Paul’s ministry (v11, 13). Paul realizes that Onesimus must make things right with Philemon and writes Philemon asking him to forgive Onesimus.

It has been said that God is never more like Himself then when He forgives and we are never more like God than when we forgive. Forgiveness is not easy. It takes a spiritual Super Man to look beyond the kryptonite of bitterness and offer forgiveness. In this letter, Paul gives three reasons why we should be the hero who forgives. First, no matter how much someone hurts you they still could be profitable to you (v11). Paul makes it clear that this slave named “useful” became “useless” when he stole from Philemon and ran away, but now, due to his faith in Christ, he is “useful” once again. Another reason we should forgive is because the hurt someone may have brought upon us could have been part of God’s plan for their spiritual conversion or growth (v15). Had Onesimus not stole from Philemon and fled to Rome, he never would have met Paul and had his life changed. We should also forgive because forgiveness always refreshes the body of Christ (v20) and boy does the church need some refreshment!

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