It seems that the slave (Onesimus) ran away and ended up in Rome where the apostle Paul was imprisoned. Somehow Paul and Onesimus came to know each other. Paul led him to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then sent him back to seek forgiveness from Philemon.
That theme of forgiveness runs through the short epistle and can be very instructive to all of us this week. First, consider the basis of forgiving others. It is the fact that Christ has forgiven us. In Colossians, Paul spells it out: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
In the shadow of the cross, while we consider the incredible burden of our own sin and shame, it should be easier to begin the process of forgiving others.
Secondly, it is important to realize that forgiving someone does not mean that we tolerate their sin. But it is possible to stop rehearsing the wrongdoing and cease demanding revenge or some kind of emotional repayment for affronts suffered.
You see, Biblical forgiveness is the process whereby we realize that we are actually the captives in the situation. The hurt that has badgered us for such a long time has made us enslaved to that painful offense. Someone needs to be set free and it is not the perpetrator. We need to be set free.
We need to recognize that God is the judge who will make all things right. Truthfully, we are letting someone off our “hook” while we set him or her firmly on God’s “hook.” We are not pardoning them. We are not necessarily seeking reconciliation or restitution (although that might be a by-product of the process.)
We are just trying to see the situation from a larger frame of reference and allow God to do a work in our hearts. Regardless of how they respond.
This week, if a painful set of circumstances haunt you. May I suggest that you “let it go”? Regardless of the struggle, forgive them, not because they deserve it, but because you refuse to remain in their grasp any longer. Your freedom from the past is not dependent on the offender, it is dependent on your willingness to forgive and move on.
Believers in Jesus Christ are not victims of their past. We are primarily children of the living God and forgiveness sets us free to live like one.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)