Philemon: A Violation of TrustPart 4

Let’s find the good!

Where do we find the capacity to forgive? 


This is an intense but brief personal letter from Paul while in prison in Rome. Philemon is a dear friend who was led to Christ under Paul’s ministry many years earlier. Paul is going to ask, not command, Philemon to forgive and restore Onesimus, who had previously worked closely with him and who had betrayed him.


It seems Philemon became a Christian while Onesimus was his slave. When Christ entered Philemon’s heart, everything changed. Philemon saw the world and all of life in a new way. Among many changes, Philemon’s view of all his relationships changed. Philemon had a new and strange love and affection for all the people in his life. One of those individuals was his slave, Onesimus. He previously viewed him as only a tool and asset for his business. After all, he was a slave. But now, he sees him in a different light. The Light of Jesus has changed Philemon and the way he views Onesimus. 


As Philemon grows in his knowledge and love for Christ, he begins to pray for Onesimus and even share the gospel of Christ with him. Onesimus witnesses the changes in his owner and the new and different way that he was being treated.  He considers it strange. Onesimus is baffled by this change and rather than embrace it, he rebelled against Philemon (and against Christ) and ran. He not only escaped but he also stole from Philemon. 


The betrayal of someone that you have prayed for is a deep pain.  


The memory and pain of Onesimus’ escape has faded some as the letter from Paul arrives. Philemon, along with the church in his home, listens as the letter from Paul is read. Paul starts out with a personal greeting; 


I thank God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love…, verses 4-7.  


Philemon is a growing disciple of Christ. He is the real deal. Paul loves him and he loves Paul. There is a father/son bond and a comrade in arms union between these two followers of Christ based on their common love for Jesus and for Christians in Colossae. 


In this greeting, Paul reminds, encourages and confirms in Philemon that he is indeed a fully transformed man, for Christ’s sake. The apex of Paul’s encouragement is in this phrase: I pray…your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Chris’s sake. Every good thing in you! As a Christian, we now have much good within us. Not absolute good, which only comes in heaven. But good, nevertheless.  


Contrast this to our former state before Christ outlined in Romans 3:10-12, There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one. Such was Philemon, and such were we…before the miraculous, transforming grace and salvation of Jesus in our lives.  


There is now good within you Philemon. We are not thoroughly good for we carry a body of flesh. But Paul said I pray that you would be aware and have the knowledge of the good that is in you for Christ’s sake. This is not the message that there is good in all mankind. The Romans 3 passage above clearly states otherwise. Only in salvation, when Jesus imparts to us grace upon grace and gift upon gift that He changes us from the inside, is there good within us.  


There is power, love, grace and forgiveness within us now and we should know it, realize it and understand it. And when we do, we begin to live in Christ’s power and humility and become effective in ministering to others, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!  


Betrayal and forgiveness 


As a salesperson at heart and a student of the art of persuasion, I can see that Paul is setting him up for a big request. Paul is going to make a request that tests him to the limit. That is to FORGIVE a person who betrayed him. Paul is going to ask him to tap into one of the good things now that is within him: to forgive as Christ has forgiven. May God teach us to do the same.  


Lord, You have given Your Spirit to live inside of us and therefore, the power of Your love, grace and forgiveness is also inside of us. May we live out our new nature, the nature of Christ, and show forth Your work within us, so that You will be honored and praised for the good works that we do. What a joy to have you dwell richly within our hearts.