Philemon: A Violation of TrustPart 2

Should a sinner who has personally wronged a Christian, get a free pass of forgiveness because they later became a Christian???

Allow me to introduce the characters of the story: 


  • Philemon was a convert to Christ under the ministry of Paul and now a leader in the church of Colossae.  
  • Onesimus was a servant and slave of Philemon. Onesimus ran away from Philemon, and apparently wronged or even stole from Philemon and escaped to Rome.  
  • In one of those small world scenarios, Onesimus encounters Paul in Rome and converts to Christ under the ministry of Paul. 


The estranged master and slave have now both been converted to Christ under the ministry of Paul.


Isn’t it ironic? 


Yes, it is a strange turn of events but the story raises several questions: 


  • Was Philemon cruel or unfair to the slave? Was the escape of Onesimus justified? 
  • Or did the slave take advantage of the trust and kindness of the master? 
  • Adding insult to injury, did the slave steal from the master when he escaped? 
  • Does the fact that the slave is now a Christian make a difference in the master/slave relationship? 


The answers to these questions are not directly given. But careful attention to the story provides inferences to the answers that we can learn from. 


Back to the story … 


Philemon is a personal letter from the apostle Paul written toward the end of his life while in prison in Rome. It was delivered by a co-worker of Paul, Tychicus, to the city of Colossae, along with the book of Colossians. Philemon was a prominent member of the church Paul had established in Colosse.  


The epistle of Colossians was written to the church and is filled with rich and deep doctrinal truth. Philemon, on the other hand, was an open letter written to an individual about a personal issue. 


Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker … and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1-3 


From a quick reading of Philemon, the theme appears to be forgiveness and restoration. More specifically, the text speaks to the amazing impact of saving grace upon fractured relationships.  Therefore, we are approaching our study asking this question; how does salvation affect personal relationships? Specifically, does it bring about restoration and forgiveness?  


This personal letter was written to Philemon, his wife, and son. But also, it was an open letter that was to be read by the church as well. This is quite different from churches in America today. In today’s world, churches tend to keep challenging issues related to their leaders quiet and hidden. Instead, Paul wanted the Colossian church to read this letter to Philemon and be open about the issue. 


Note: Perhaps we could use a bit more of this transparency today in our churches. Paul is using a real-life situation with actual individuals to teach lessons of Christian truth and practice. The lesson of forgiveness could be understood as an actual case study occurring in their midst. The Situation could be absolutely transformative for this small church.   


Also, Philemon as a leader will be under a microscope as to how he responds to the sensitive situation. This seems a little harsh to put Philemon and his family under the microscope, but on the other hand, leaders are held to a higher standard of conduct and behavior. Let not many of you be teachers, my brothers, knowing that you will receive heavier judgment. James 3.1. 


Philemon was a prominent member of the church that met in his home. It seems he was a wealthy and prominent member of the community as well. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea to shine a light on Church leaders. They carry a lot of responsibility and consequently, have a lot of influence. After all, their behavior should be above approach. 


How Then Should I Live? 


As we consider the application of our devotional study today, let’s ask ourselves about the state of our personal accountability before God and with other Christians. We know that before God, nothing is hidden. Our lives are laid bare before Him. The Psalmist David wrote, examine me, O Lord, and try me; test my mind and my heart. 26:2. 


One of the defining characteristics of our new life in Christ is that we relinquish the self-determined control of our lives and surrender it all to Him; to His ways, to His will, to His guidance. We are to no longer lean on our own understanding, but instead, trust in Him with all of your heart … in all your ways acknowledge Him. Proverbs 3:5-7. 


We are to surrender ourselves vertically to God, but what about our earthly relationships with Christian brothers and sisters? Paul teaches us to Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ, Ephesians 5:20. 


Do you have an individual or small, trusted group to meet with regularly to share, pray and encourage each other?  If not, please begin a group. You will transform your life plus the others that you invite to join you. 


Allow this passage in Romans 12 to guide your time spent with these special friends: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer … verses 10-12. 


Be devoted to each other, be honest with each other, listen to each other, challenge each other but always extend grace to each other. Pray for each other and check in with each other throughout the week. 


Father, we are not to be islands. You created us for community, intimacy and transparency. Guide us to reevaluate the state of our personal accountability before you as well as with close, trusted friends in Christ.