Letters from Prison - Philemon 1:1-25
As we draw this second letter from prison to a close, there are two outstanding questions that remain for our consideration:
First, will Philemon forgive Onesimus, his runaway slave?
Second, whatever happened to Onesimus after returning home?
Will Philemon Forgive? Will You?
Matthew Henry cited 14 arguments, that Paul used in verses 8 through 21, to convince Philemon to receive and forgive Onesimus:
Philemon's love for all the saints (v. 8);
Paul's authority (v. 8);
The basis of Paul's appeal being love, rather than authority (v. 9); Paul's age and his condition as a prisoner (v. 9);
Paul's spiritual relationship to Onesimus (v. 10);
Philemon's own interest (v. 11);
Paul's love for Onesimus (v. 12);
Paul's self-denial in parting with Onesimus (vv. 13-14);
The assurance that Onesimus would not run away again (v. 15);
Onesimus' relationship to Philemon as his spiritual brother (v. 16);
Onesimus' identification with Paul (v. 17);
Paul's promise to pay Onesimus' debt to Philemon (vv. 18-19);
The joy that Paul would receive by Philemon's acquiescence (v. 20);
Paul's good opinion of Philemon (v. 21).
If I could give you 14 reasons to forgive someone, would you do it?
How about if I just gave you one? The primary reason to forgive: Jesus.
To forgive is to turn the key, open the cell door and let the prisoner out. To forgive is to write in large letters across a debt “nothing owed.” To forgive is to bundle up all the garbage and all the trash and dispose of it, leaving the house clean and fresh. To forgive is to relax a strangle hold on a wrestling opponent and give him his life. This matter of forgiveness is very important and it’s right at the very crux of your spiritual health and mine. “Right this minute, I determine, I make a decision, to grant forgiveness, to pay the debt myself inwardly, to refuse to make them pay. I will eat the debt.” If you do, it’ll hurt like crazy, but it’ll make you free.
“Forgiveness is not pretending something wrong didn’t happen to you, nor is it pretending that something you did wrong didn’t happen… Forgiveness involves becoming fully aware of your anger toward someone else or becoming fully aware of your own responsibility and guilt – and then, with full knowledge of the awful truth, choosing not to hold the offense against that person or against yourself, by reason of God’s grace through Jesus Christ (Minirth, Complete Life…, 87).”
Would you join me in creating the great feast of forgiveness this Thanksgiving?
What Happened to Onesimus? What is happening with you?
A church father writing 50 years later in a letter to the Ephesians, addressed their wonderful minister. By now, he was bishop in the church there. Guess what his name was? Pastor Onesimus. This is what happens when aimless fugitives encounter the transforming power of the Cross (Swindoll, Building Blocks, 42). This means at some point, Onesimus was released to go do the work of ministry.
Who knows? Maybe Onesimus was responsible for collecting all of Paul’s letters (F.F. Bruce seems to think so) and this one got included in the Pauline Corpus – a personal letter that he felt the world ought to know about. This letter got preserved and circulated and included in the Biblical canon. The fact that Philemon preserved this epistle and allowed it to circulate among the churches, strongly suggests that he did behave as Paul had requested. (MacArthur, Twelve Unlikely…208-).
So what we see in the book of Philemon is a beautiful picture of the gospel and the mission of the church. Philemon is a ruthless businessman transformed into a beautiful picture of generosity. Onesimus is a pilfering thief transformed into the leader of one of the most important churches in the ancient world.
Will you be a “Philemon” so perhaps an “Onesimus” can be set free? "Onesimus" God has a plan for you! You have received grace. God pursued you to Rome! He has a plan for you. Come home.
 MacArthur, John F., Jr. John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You, 2014. Print.
 Keller, Timothy J. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2013. Print.