A young boy was in the middle of doing what young boys do. He picked up a rock and attempted to throw it between his parents’ cars that were parked in the driveway.
His aim was off and the rock ended up in the backseat of one of the cars surrounded by pieces of broken glass.
The boy went to his father to tell him what had happened.
Daddy, he cried, I’m a terrible son. I never meant to do this. I’ll never do this again. You can keep my allowance to pay for it.
At first, his father was angry. But, those words from his son were ringing in his ears.
The father was moved to tears and dropped to his knees in front of his son. He held him close and said, “It’s OK buddy. I forgive you and I’m going to pay for this for you. You don’t owe anything.”
True forgiveness is overwhelming and it a combination of grace (getting a gift you do not earn or deserve) and mercy (not receiving what you do deserve). For this young child, the grace was having his father cover the cost. The mercy was being let off the hook for something that happened.
That’s where we find ourselves in this journey through Philemon with Paul. Read the following verses and see whether you can see this theme of forgiveness:
17 So, if you really consider me a partner, welcome Onesimus as if you were welcoming me. 18 If he has harmed you in any way or owes you money, charge it to my account. 19 I, Paul, will pay it back to you (I’m writing this with my own hand). Of course, I won’t mention that you owe me your life. – Philemon 1:17-19
Has someone ever forgiven a debt on your behalf? It’s an incredible statement of love when it happens. In this letter to Philemon, Paul is intervening into a dispute between Philemon (the master) and Onesimus (the runaway slave). Paul takes the extraordinary step of offer to take on a debt that is not his to bear in order to repair the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.
In this we find an image of Jesus and atonement. “At-one-ment” (try saying it that way to get the image!) means that Jesus has made us one with God. We find it in such statements as “welcome Onesimus as if you were welcoming me” and if he owes you anything “charge it to my account.” Paul personally intends to make things right in the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus.
These verses end with a statement that can be read a couple of ways. Maybe we could see this as Paul trying to twist Philemon’s arm to respond – “you owe me your life.” However, this truly seems to be a reminder of the love that Philemon has already experienced.
Paul introduced Philemon to faith and he sees their relationship like that of brothers. He’s simply reminding Philemon that he has also been forgiven of much. When one is forgiven, one’s best course of action is, in love, to forgive another.
Forgiven people forgive. Maybe what Paul shows us is that the greatest response to the way Christ has forgiven us and covered our debt is to forgive and cover the debt of another.
Why is Paul so intent on reminding Philemon that he has been forgiven? Forgiveness is one of those things that we experience that has the power to change our lives. Forgiveness forces us to let go of the things we hold onto. Forgivness combats grudges and ill will. Forgivness ultimately changes us from the inside out.
Forgiveness can come in many forms. It is the forgiveness that we seek from God for the sin in our own lives. It is the forgiveness we seek and need from others in our relationships. Sometimes, it is the forgiveness we need to experience ourselves.
Whereever you find yourself in that journey today, how could forgiveness change your life or the life of another?
For more from this series on the Book of Philemon, try these links:
- Biblical Approach to Conflict Resolution
- More appeals to the heart and less commands
- Seeing the value in others
- Seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing
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