Of the 27 books in the NT, we can safely attribute 12 or 13 of those books as having been written by the Apostle Paul. Many of these books cover deep theological truths dealing with the law, salvation by grace, holy living, etc. However, as we come to the book of Philemon we come across what is essentially a personal letter that Paul wrote to a fellow believer named Philemon. As we learn from this letter, Paul was in prison for his faith and while there he led a man to the Lord named Onesimus. From what we can determine, Onesimus was a runaway-slave of Philemon, who had probably also stolen some things in the process, and had apparently been caught and was awaiting return to his rightful owner Philemon.
Paul writes this letter to Philemon asking him to receive Onesimus back, but not just as a runaway slave who got caught, but instead now as a fellow believer and brother in Christ. You definitely get the sense that Paul and Onesimus had developed a close bond but Paul knew the right thing was for Onesimus to go back and deal with how he had wronged Philemon.
There are several lessons we could learn from this story but the one that stands out to me is the principle of forgiveness. Philemon had every right to be upset with Onesimus and to “teach him a lesson” that he would never forget for his thievery and escape. However, Paul is essentially asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus as Christ had forgiven him. And so too this principle exists for us today. Has a parent, child, friend or spouse wronged you? Maybe in the worse possible way? If so, are you harboring bitterness and an unforgiving spirit towards that person? If so, take a minute to remember all of the sins that God has forgiven you for and ask yourself if you have any right to not forgive someone else. As Ephesians 4:32 reminds us, “forgiving one another, even as God has forgiven you.”