original image courtesy of Haagen Dazs
Philemon is an interesting letter to have been kept in the Bible. Most of the letters were written to a community of believers, which makes sense to have for us now to read and benefit from them. The personal letters to Timothy, Titus and even 2 & 3 John have instructions for those individuals about how to live for or serve Christ. The point is each of these letters in the New Testament are easily applicable to our lives, except Philemon.
What is the Book of Philemon About?
Philemon is a letter requesting forgiveness of a slave that ran away. In my circle of friends, I don’t know any who have had this happen to them. It’s like this letter was only added because we knew Paul wrote it. As I read it again this week, I realized that all this time, I have been reading this letter wrong. Paul, as a spiritual father to Philemon, was representing the heart of the Heavenly Father, and it is in that representation that we have clearer glimpse of how this letter relates to us.
1. Why God Gave Us Free Will
Although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do… I appeal to you… – Philemon 1: 8, 10
But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. – Philemon 1:14
There were things that God had given Paul authority to do. As a spiritual authority in Philemon’s life, God had seemingly given Paul permission to make certain demands on those he shepherded. As creator of the universe, God also has the right to make certain demands on us. However, this is not how he treats us. He exhorts, He coaches, He persuades, but He doesn’t force. God wants our service and favors for Him to be gifts we give not taxes He needs to extract.
2. How God Views Sinners
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. – Philemon 1:11
We may see people in sin as useless to us, but we can see this was not how God viewed them. God sees everyone as the potential they have in them. He knows what they are capable of and moves them toward that potential. Having won the sinner’s heart, Paul shares how his own heart was now connected to this man (Philemon 1:12). You can hear the concern our Heavenly Father has sending new believers into the Church. “Will you love them?” “Will you receive them?” This is why forgiveness is so important to God. He desires us to release the burden of these people He loves. God desires us to welcome the sinner as we would welcome Him (Philemon 1:17). His heart is so intimately tied to people that receiving them is like receiving Him.
3. How God Wants Us to Forgive
If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. – Philemon 1:18
Paul could have commanded Philemon to forgive this sinner. Instead he politely asks for the forgiveness, and then He humbles himself even more. Paul acknowledges that forgiveness may cost Philemon something, so to help the forgiveness happen, Paul says Philemon can charge the damages to him.
I have seen many people struggle with forgiveness because of how much that forgiveness would cost them. They know the magnitude of their own forgiveness, they know God wants them to forgive, but the cost of releasing the pain is too much to forgive.
God doesn’t ask you to do this without Him. Paul tells Philemon, “I know you owe me your very life (Philemon 1:19), but I’m willing to help you forgive this person by paying you back for the offenses done to you.” Please hear the heart of God: yes, He wants you to forgive, but He also cares for you. He loves the offender and the offended. He has room enough for both. He asks you to forgive, but He also takes care of the debt they caused. That pain is no longer yours to carry.
4. God Believes the Best in You
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. – Philemon 1:21
God doesn’t treat you differently than how He treats those that have hurt you. He believes the best in them, and He believes the best in you. God risks sending this fragile person He loves back into your hands trusting you will receive them and add to his recovery and growth. He gives you what you need and loves you in the process. He knows you will make the right choice. He knows that within you is the desire to do what is right. He knows you love Him and will cherish His heart.
I can’t believe I missed the beauty of this book for so long. I may have been the only one, but I guess there are others like me. May this book now bring you refreshment and joy in how our Heavenly Father loves us. If you have other things in this book that I missed, please add them in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.