Three Characters of Forgiveness
Three Characters of Forgiveness
One of the hardest offenses that may have occurred in your life is one that most often comes to your mind when you think about the ones from the past – a childhood experience or encounter that occurred early in life.
Or it may be an offense that seems to occur frequently between your mate, or your children or a close relative or coworker. This offense may have progressed for so long that your relationship with that person may be practically or completely severed. Just a thought of this event stirs up anger or perhaps a headache and all manner of negative emotions within you. You may even avoid or ignore this individual.
The apostle Paul, in one of his letters to an individual, introduces us to a situation with both past and ongoing implications – or harm had been done, trust had been broken, and one man’s action had caused the problem that wasn’t easy to solve. This is a real life story of Philemon. Philemon was apparently wealthy, an influential individual who had come to believe in Jesus Christ at some point during Paul’s missionary efforts. Philemon’s faith as a Christian had grown and was evident in his life. Paul evidently had heard of his faith and his love for his fellow Christians and how he had opened his home as a meeting place for those in the church in his hometown of Colossae, as Paul commends Philemon as a devoted man of God.
Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who run away. Philemon had lost his skill and labor and it seems from the letter that he had also stolen some property. Onesimus had fled to Rome, over a thousand miles away, in hopes of losing himself in the crowd, joining the thousands of other runaway slaves who had taken the same risk. This is where God’s Providence came into existence and brought Onesimus into contact with Paul, who was currently under house arrest while awaiting trial. As Paul talked to Onesimus he taught him the gospel. At some point he surrendered himself to Jesus Christ. He became rather than a shiftless fugitive, a friend and assistant to the apostle Paul. Paul advised Onesimus that he needed to take responsibility for what he had done to Philemon. He advised him to go back, asked for forgiveness, and make reconciliation. As Onesimus returned to Colossae, Paul sent a letter along with him to protect him as well as to explain the situation to Philemon. Hence we have our letter that we call Philemon where we see the whole story unfold.
The three main characters in this account provide insight into three “factors” in the forgiveness equation. As offenses occur in our life we will find ourselves in one or the other of these roles.
Character number one we see Onesimus the offender who through the advice of Paul goes back to make right the wrongs of the past and to seek reconciliation. Then there is Paul, the peacemaker, working to bring two parties together and restore the fellowship, thank God for peacemakers. Matthew 5:9 (ESV) 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The third individual in this account is the one that was offended; Philemon, the one who was being asked to forgive, not only to forgive but to restore a continuing relationship with the one that had caused him such pain and suffering and distress. He had to be willing to absorb the wrongs that had been done to him, to absorb the losses that had occurred. He also had to be willing to look at his runaway slave in a completely new light, as his brother in Christ. Paul asked Philemon to do more than just forgive him. Philemon 16 (ESV) 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
History records an Onesimus was bishop of Ephesus in the second century, and some claim he was the same man. Whether this is true or not we can see God’s Providence working in the life of Onesimus, Philemon, and Paul.
Again we must remind ourselves that forgiveness is a commandment.