Philemon: A Violation of TrustPart 6

Mercy AND Grace

Has someone ever asked your forgiveness and you just didn’t feel like forgiving them? Awkward! 


Can you think of a time when you ran into someone in a public place that you hadn’t seen in a long time? Sometimes you embrace them and other times, because of the nature of your past relationship, you want to avoid them. 


Philemon woke up one morning expecting another typical day. However, the events of the day were anything but ordinary. Onesimus, the man who stole from him and betrayed him was sitting in front of him. What should he do? 


For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 


If then you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well), Philemon 15-19. 


Mercy: To withhold punishment that is deserved! 


Grace: To give gifts that aren’t deserved! 


Onesimus is sitting before Philemon asking for forgiveness. What would he do? 


Perhaps Philemon’s mind went back to a parable that Jesus taught. We know it as the parable of the Prodigal son. Once the prodigal had squandered a sizable portion of his father’s wealth, he realized that he was destitute and starving. He goes back to his father hoping for simple forgiveness and the chance to work off some of his massive debt as a hired hand. The son realized that this act of forgiveness by the father would exhibit a tremendous effort of mercy toward the foolish and rebellious son.  


As the prodigal approached his father’s home, from a distance the father saw him and ran to him. He smothered his son and kissed him repeatedly. The son tried to give the speech he had rehearsed but was only able to get out, I have sinned and am not worthy to be your son. 


Before the son could spit out his proposal of being a hired hand, the father shouted to his servants, quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.  


This is the nature of God’s forgiveness


With simple repentance, God forgives the past, forgives in the present, forgives what is coming. He forgives with reckless abandon. But he didn’t just stop at mercy and forgiveness. He added a huge amount of grace. He not only forgives but restores and rewards as well.  


Mercy: To withhold punishment that is deserved! 


Grace: To give gifts that aren’t deserved! 


What the father did really makes no sense. I’m sure that the father’s neighbors, friends, his servants and everyone else thought he was crazy. The other son only said what the others were thinking. But to the second son, it was personal. Why should his brother get all this attention when he deserves to be kicked out for good? It wasn’t fair. The second son believed people should receive what they deserve. Justice should be rendered. The level of sin and betrayal should always be paid back accordingly. 


Not only was the second son bewildered at his father’s action but he was very bitter as well. Why should his father forgive his good-for-nothing brother? 


We all appreciate being forgiven but we don’t always like it when others are forgiven and able to skirt their just due. But the nature of God is to forgive, restore and reward. So, it makes sense for Paul to close out this letter to Philemon by saying, having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say, verse 21.  


Will Philemon be like Jesus and forgive, restore and even reward Onesimus?  


Lord, you have given us a gift; the capacity to forgive. It’s a gift in that it allows us to be free of revenge, resentment and bitterness; emotions that cripple us physically, emotionally and spiritually. Help us to embrace this gift you’ve given and be free to forgive. Amen!