Being like Christ is a difficult task. We often try to imitate Christ under our own strength. However, imitating Christ is easier if we seek first the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33) and not earthly things (Col 3:1-2). If we constantly are seeking after heavenly things and building our foundation on Christ, the attributes of Christ are displayed naturally and the deceptions from Satan are easily snuffed out. In other words, if we become closer to Christ, seek after Him more and desire and worry less about temporary earthly things, then we will display more the attributes of Christ such as love, peace and forgiveness (to name a few) and the more we will naturally avoid sin. Our lives become less of a struggle against ourselves and Satan’s influence and more of a peaceful existence through a relationship with the risen Christ.
Philemon is a book about forgiveness. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, fled Philemon’s household in Colossae. Paul met Onesimus when he arrived in Rome and led him to a personal relationship in Christ.
Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ and not to treat him harshly for his conduct. In the same way, we should forgive those who have wronged us. Peter asked Jesus if we should forgive people seven times and Jesus replied that we should forgive people 490 times when they wrong us (Matt 18:21-22).
Forgiving some people and some actions can be hard. Forgiveness is often hardest when the wrong-doer has no remorse or continues the same hurtful actions. But most psychologists will say that those who do not forgive and hold grudges hurt themselves much more than those that they hold the grudge against.
We will struggle with forgiving others (just as we will struggle in every aspect of being like Christ) if we try to do it in our own strength. When we focus on heavenly things, forgiving those who trespass against us will become much easier.
Like all inspired words from God, the Letter to Philemon is profitable for training in many ways. Other things to think about:
- Paul started the letter with a prayer (as he does every letter). Do we start everything we do with prayer?
- Paul led Onesimus to Christ while he was in prison for being a Christian. What is our excuse if we never tell others about Christ?
- Onesimus was considered useless before his conversion. It is only when we start being used for our purpose in life that we become profitable. Everything else we can do in life is really useless (that’s not to say that working, raising children , etc. is unprofitable – that may be part of God’s purpose for you). We become useful when we begin to fulfill God’s purpose in our life.
- Paul considered Onesimus his “son.” How do we look at fellow believers at Mount Pleasant?
- Philemon refreshed (encouraged) other believers. Do we refresh others? Do you look for refreshment from others?
- Onesimus returned to Philemon to fulfill his obligation as a slave and Paul made restitution for Onesimus’ actions. Do we want forgiveness from others without righting our wrongs and repaying our debts?