Philemon: A Violation of Trust

Here Comes the Sun!

Is there someone who hasn’t forgiven you for something you have done? 


Open your Bible and without looking at the table of contents, try to find the book of Philemon. I must admit, it took me a few minutes.  


Who chooses Philemon for their devotions? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on Philemon, have you???   


Once you find it, read it. It only takes about 5 minutes.  


Why is Philemon in the Bible? 


Here’s the bottom-line up front: the theme of Philemon is forgiveness


Forgiveness is easy to talk about in principle, but very difficult to do in reality. When God forgives, it’s absolute. For us, forgiveness is often relative and with conditions. God has and will forgive the nicest non-Christian in the world. He will also forgive the most heinous, evil person in the world as well. Either type of person is welcomed and forgiven by God when they surrender their lives to Jesus by faith. That’s the way of God’s capacity to forgive. 


We are not like that. We have limits to our forgiveness. We often claim unconditional love as the mode whereby we distribute our love … but the reality is, we usually have conditions. God’s love, on the other hand, not only forgives but then follows it up with giving. He not only forgives but He lavishes us with blessings and gifts.  


To forgive and even reward those who have wronged us (that’s what Jesus has done for us) without conditions and regret? Well, that doesn’t happen much. Why? Many reasons, I suppose, but the stark reality is that we do not like to extend forgiveness. We like to be forgiven, but to forgive is much more difficult.  


Consider this: our eternity is based solely on the concept and reality of being forgiven. Forgiveness is everything to us who believe. Forgiveness is a sacred blessing that we should relish, dwell upon, marvel at and be grateful for. Forgiveness should unleash within us a chorus of praise and worship and humbly draw us to our knees with gratitude. We should love forgiveness with tremendous affection, emotion and respect. 


The life we live, the air we breathe and the beating of our hearts, both now and for eternity, are solely because of forgiveness. What a beautiful and wondrous concept forgiveness is!  


We love the forgiveness we enjoy within the Kingdom of God. However, things are a little different in the world. In the kingdom of this world, in general, and certainly when we are directly wronged, we consider forgiveness as a weakness. We consider that forgiveness messes up the equilibrium of things. In other words, it messes up the way we feel the world should be; the order of things; the rules that we live by and believe others should live by. It’s not right that people get away with doing wrong things to us or toward us or to our loved ones. It’s just not right. 




So, what would Jesus do? We aspire to be like Jesus, right? This is our calling and our joy, to move toward a life that resembles Jesus. But forgiving as Jesus forgives??? That is one of the most difficult and unnatural things in the world that we are called to do. The more we meditate on the extent of God’s forgiveness to us and others, the more we realize just how amazing His capacity is to forgive.  


There is one more important aspect to consider; God’s forgiveness is not blind. He doesn’t throw out justice and forgive blindly. 


We like to say that God’s forgiveness toward us is unconditional. And in a sense, it certainly is. But God’s forgiveness of us is not unconditional to Him. He demanded justice and justice was fulfilled. Just not by us, but by Jesus. We didn’t bear the justice, Jesus did. He bore our sins in His body on the cross. 


My point is, I’m not teaching that people should be free from the consequences of their wrongs and that we should empty the prisons and forgive everyone. Not at all. The issue of forgiveness has to do with our hearts, not the legal system of our society or the disciplinary rules of our homes. I’m speaking of our hearts to forgive those who have wronged us. That’s what we learn about in Philemon. 


In simple terms, if a man did great harm to my loved ones, I would have to deal with my heart to forgive. Hopefully, I could be like Jesus, but I don’t know that I could. God would have to give me a lot of grace to forgive from my heart.  


If I was able to forgive from my heart, that doesn’t take away the fact that the offender should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. God ordained the government to “carry the sword”. That simply means to carry out justice accordingly. God ordained parents to carry out discipline within their home accordingly. When people sin, there are natural consequences and there are judiciary consequences. Those are consequences ordained by God.  


The topic at hand is our personal choice to forgive others who have wronged us. That is the issue we must deal with as Christian. Next time, we’ll dive directly into the Philemon.  


Lord, keep our hearts and minds open to your Word regarding our calling to forgive as You have forgiven. Help us to have the wisdom to know how to deal with people who wronged us. It’s simply not easy and we need Your Word and Your guidance. Amen.