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Forgiveness Is Rooted In Christ

Philemon  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  41:32
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Philemon 1–14 NKJV
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.
I heard an illustration this week that I want to share with you.
Life is a car.
If you are a Christian, then Jesus is in your car.
What’s vitally important is this. What position does Jesus have in your car?
Is Jesus in your trunk? Do you pull Him out once a week and bring Him to church? After the service do stuff Him back in there?
Is Jesus in the backseat? Are you simply bringing Jesus along for the ride? Are you expecting Him to just bless you as you do whatever you want with your life?
Is Jesus in the passenger seat? He’s close enough to grab the wheel if we get off course, but otherwise we just want Him to provide good music and occasional direction.
Is Jesus in the drivers seat? Is He in charge of where you are going?
If Jesus is in the drivers seat, where are you? Are you a side seat driver? Are your hands hovering over the wheel to stop Him if He goes where you don’t want to go?
You come to a fork in the road and Jesus turns. “Where are we going Jesus?” “On the road of generosity.” “I don’t want to go down that road!”
Jesus takes another turn, “Now where are we going?” “Down the road of forgiveness.” “But Jesus, I don’t want to forgive!”
Either we follow Jesus wherever He takes us, or we are not really following Him at all.
That means He is going to take us places that scare us, places that we may not want to go.
We have to believe that Jesus will steer our car exactly where it needs to go.
That requires faith.
Today we are going to talk about forgiveness.
We are going to learn that forgiveness is rooted in Christ.
We are going to learn that forgiveness is necessary, even though it is hard.
Forgiveness is letting go of an offense or slight not because it is okay, but because of what Christ has done.
Here is the interesting thing about forgiveness.
Forgiveness doesn’t change circumstances; forgiveness changes hearts.
This week and next we are going to do a big picture overview of Philemon.
As we begin allow me to share a little bit of background on the book.
Paul wrote this letter to Philemon while he was under house arrest in Rome.
Other than what we learn from the letter itself, we don’t know a whole lot about the people Paul mentions here.
Philemon is a man well off enough to own at least one slave.
He is a part of the Colossian church probably led to the Lord by Paul during his 3rd missionary journey.
It is believed that the two others addressed in verse 2 are Philemon’s wife and son.
Philemon’s slave Onesimus ran away and from v. 18 it seems he stole from Philemon as well.
In that day and age a slave owner was within his rights to kill the slave for running away.
But there’s a plot twist, this runaway slave Onesimus, coincidentally met Paul while he was in Rome!
He came to know Christ and now Paul is sending him back to Philemon.
Because of these circumstances it would have been dangerous for Onesimus to travel alone so Paul sends him with Tychicus who is carrying a letter to the Colossian church (Col.4:7-9).
The overall theme of this book is one of forgiveness.
This letter reveals that forgiveness is rooted in Christ and what He has done.
When this truth is grasped it will create in us a desire and ability to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Paul begins by demonstrating the need to…

1. Forgive Because Of What Christ Has Given You vv. 1-7

To fully understand this letter we must understand that Paul has a desired, anticipated, and expected response in mind.
Everything that Paul writes is geared toward getting Philemon to realize that the right thing to do and the thing most consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ would be to forgive and release Onesimus.
Paul begins subtly teaching Philemon this even in his greeting.
Paul’s focus in the first 7 verses is what we have been given in Christ.
He begins by stating how…

a. We are given grace and peace vv. 1-3

READ vv. 1-3
Paul begins this letter much as he does all of his others. One major difference is that this letter is addressed to an individual and his family as well as a church.
The first thing we are told is that Paul is a prisoner of Jesus Christ.
Now technically speaking Paul is a prisoner of the Roman government.
Why then does he call himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ?
This is a recognition that God is ultimately in control of all things!
Like Joseph said to his brothers, you meant it for evil but God meant it for good!
The Roman government thought that it was silencing a trouble maker when in reality they were giving Paul a platform to preach the gospel in Rome!
Philippians tells us that some within Caesars own house came to Christ!
Paul is the prisoner of Jesus Christ because Christ allowed Paul to be imprisoned so that Paul could share the gospel and bring glory, honor, and praise to God!
Paul states that Timothy is with him and then greats Philemon.
We learn 2 things about Philemon right off the bat.
1 - He is dearly beloved.
2 - He is a fellow laborer.
This is interesting because in Colossians 4:9 Paul uses the same term “beloved” to refer to Onesimus (S).
Colossians 4:9
Colossians 4:9 NKJV
with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.
Now remember, Onesimus and Tychicus are delivering that letter.
Philemon is someone who has labored with Paul and Timothy.
He has been involved in preaching the gospel with them.
This is an important point because Onesimus is now a believer and fellow laborer as well.
Paul is letting Philemon know that he and Onesimus are the same!
In verse 2 Paul sends greeting to Apphia and Archippus.
This is believed to be Philemon’s wife and son.
We have no other Biblical reference to Apphia. But Archippus is mentioned in Colossians 4:17 (S).
Colossians 4:17
Colossians 4:17 NKJV
And say to Archippus, “Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.”
It is believed by some that Archippus became the leader of the Colossian church.
Here Archippus is referred to as a fellow soldier.
He is one who has fought for the cause of Christ.
Paul also addresses this letter to the church in Philemon’s house.
This tells us that Paul wanted the letter to be read before the whole congregation in Colossae.
Again, Paul’s goal is the forgiveness of Onesimus.
With Paul’s description of Philemon in this letter how could he fail to forgive and release Onesimus?
In verse 3 Paul wishes them grace and peace.
This is Paul’s customary greeting.
However, in this letter it also serves to remind Philemon of what the grace and peace of God have accomplished in his life through the Lord Jesus Christ.
All through Scripture we find that salvation is made possible by the grace of God.
This is true of the OT as well as the NT.
When God’s gracious gift of salvation is received it brings peace with God!
Paul is reminding Philemon and his household of the grace and peace they have received from the Lord.
As this letter unfolds we discover that the grace and peace extended to us should cause us to treat others with that same grace.
Though Philemon has experienced physical and financial loss, he has gained a spiritual brother in Christ!
All of us who have received Jesus Christ as savior are recipients of God’s grace.
And we are to extend that same grace to others.
Ephesians 4:32 says this (S).
Ephesians 4:32
Ephesians 4:32 NKJV
And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Don’t hold a grudge!
You have been forgiven much so forgive in return!
We forgive because we have been forgiven.
We have been given grace and peace. That grace and peace inspires us to be gracious and live at peace with others.
It is also true that…

b. We are given blessings in Christ vv. 4-7

READ vv. 4-7
Paul expresses his thanks in verse 4, tells why he is thankful in verse 5, and then continues explaining what he prays for in verse 6, and what he is thankful for in verse 7.
There are a couple things that pop out at you in verse 4.
First of all Paul’s thankfulness.
He expresses his thankfulness in almost every letter he writes.
Paul’s thankfulness here comes because he has heard of the love and faith of Philemon.
Paul most likely heard about Philemon’s love and faith from Tychicus and Onesimus.
This love and faith is directed first of all toward Christ and then towards all the saints.
If we want our relationship with fellow believers to be right, we must first be right with God.
This verse gives us some insight into the character of Philemon.
He’s the kind of man who shows love to all saints.
Keep in mind that Paul is going to exhort him to show love to his runaway slave who is now a saint.
Paul goes on in verse 6 to describe what he has been seeking the Lord in prayer about.
Paul has been praying on Philemon’s behalf for his effectual sharing of his faith through recognizing all the good things he has in Christ.
Why bring up the good things that Philemon has in Christ?
Paul has already mentioned grace and peace.
He has testified that Philemon is bearing fruit; faith and love are produced by the spirit.
Paul wants him to realize more and more all that Christ has done!
Realizing even a small part of what Christ has done in our lives motivates us to serve!
Acknowledgement – ἐπίγνωσις (epignōsis) knowledge; recognition. personal recognition n. — coming to understand something clearly and distinctly or as true and valid.
Acknowledgement – ἐπίγνωσις (epignōsis)
You could say it refers to a precise and correct knowledge.
The more we learn about Christ the more we should have a burning passion to share Him with others!
The more we learn about Christ the more it should change how we live.
Paul’s hope is that as Philemon has grown in Christ and been conformed to Christ’s image; he will treat Onesimus as Christ would.
Paul’s thankfulness mentioned in verse 4 is explained in verse 7.
Paul is thankful because Philemon has refreshed the saints.
This word refreshed is the same one Jesus uses in Matthew 11:28 where He says (S)…
Matthew 11:28
Matthew 11:28 NKJV
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Philemon had given them emotional and spiritual rest.
He had refreshed them!
What a man this is!
Others see clear evidence that he loves the Lord because he loves others.
Love demands forgiveness.
When we love someone, we forgive them.
1 Peter 2:17 commands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we are following this command, we will also forgive.
He refreshes the saints and seems to minister to all who come in contact with him!
Paul reminds him to keep seeking to know Christ better, to keep growing and serving.
This growth and maturity will be tested with Paul’s request.
Paul is building a case.
He is leading Philemon to the conclusion that the only right and Christ like thing to do is forgive Onesimus.
He bases this off of the grace, peace and blessings that we have in Christ.
That is what Christ has given us!
Because of all we have received we are to forgive others!
Think about what Christ has given you.
Is there someone you need to forgive this morning?
It is not worth holding on to!
Forgive as you have been forgiven!
Secondly this morning Paul shows how we must…

2. Forgive Because Of What Christ Has Made You vv. 8-14

In this next section Paul gets to the heart of his request for the forgiveness and release of Onesimus.
Paul uses some words to describe Onesimus that I believe could describe us all.
There is a transformation that takes place when we come to Christ and Paul emphasizes how this transformation has changed Onesimus.
When we receive salvation by grace through faith many things happen. Paul mentions two.
Through salvation…

a. We are made profitable in Christ vv. 8-11

READ vv. 8-11
Verse 8 is very significant.
Paul could have pulled rank and demanded as an apostle that Philemon forgive and release Onesimus.
Paul states that he could be bold “in Christ”!
If Paul were to demand Philemon release Onesimus he would have the authority of Christ behind him.
Paul chose not to.
He tells us in verse 9.
For loves sake.
This is an interesting statement.
Out of love for Philemon Paul refuses to demand.
Love does not demand forgiveness from others. It asks for it.
Earlier we stated that my love for others demands that I forgive them.
My love for others also forbids me to demand that they forgive me.
Instead Paul appeals to or begs Philemon as an aged man and prisoner.
What does Paul’s age and circumstances have to do with anything?
Verse 13 tells us that Onesimus was ministering to Paul.
Paul needed help while in prison and Onesimus was helping him.
He needed Onesimus both as a prisoner and as an aged man.
Notice in verse 10. Paul doesn’t plead for himself.
He pleads for Onesimus.
Paul refers to Onesimus as his son in the faith.
There are only two other men Paul calls sons. Timothy and Titus.
Timothy, a half Greek young man who became Paul’s right hand man, Titus a Greek who became a leader of churches, and Onesimus a runaway slave.
These are the men Paul called his sons.
Paul. Formerly Saul the Pharisee. What a sense of irony our God has!
God brings transformation into our lives!
Paul says he gave birth to Onesimus in his bonds.
Here again we have testimony to how God is using Paul’s imprisonment to bring glory to himself!
God is using Paul’s imprisonment to bring people to Jesus Christ!
God uses difficult circumstances for His purposes and glory.
Some in Caesar’s house, and a runaway slave from Colossae come to Christ through Paul’s imprisonment.
We serve an almighty, sovereign, God.
God places Paul in a Roman prison.
Onesimus steals from his employer and travels to Rome likely expecting to hide out among the slaves.
But you cannot hide from God!
Even though 1/3 of the Roman population at that time were slaves, God directs Onesimus to run into Paul!
He comes to know Christ!
His life is changed because of Christ!
Look at verse 11.
Onesimus used to be unprofitable!
This is the only place this particular Greek word is used in the NT.
Unprofitable – ἄχρηστος (achrēstos) useless; worthless. Having no beneficial use or incapable of functioning usefully.
Unprofitable – ἄχρηστος (achrēstos)
All of us could put our names here.
Apart from Jesus Christ we are useless!
Apart from Jesus Christ we are unprofitable!
Enemies, alienated from God, without strength, hopeless and helplessly lost!
But then Christ comes in, and the unprofitable, the useless are made profitable!
Profitable – εὔχρηστος (euchrēstos) useful. Being of use or service.
Profitable – εὔχρηστος euchrēstos
God takes what is unprofitable and makes it profitable. He takes what is useless and worthless and He makes it useful and of infinite value!
2 Corinthians 4:7 says (S).
2 Corinthians 4:7
2 Corinthians 4:7 NKJV
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.
He changes us and uses us for His glory so that it is obvious we had nothing to do with it!
Turn over to 1Corinthians 1:26-29.
1Corinthians 1:26-29
God uses foolish, weak, broken vessels.
We know that because we are foolish and weak.
But He has forgiven us and changed us.
Put this back in the context of the book.
Paul is reminding Philemon that God transformed him.
God gave him a second chance and because of that we should forgive and give others another chance.
Friends we are commanded to bring glory to God.
We are His representatives to this lost world.
If we refuse to forgive, what are we telling people about the God we serve?
My unforgiveness damages the reputation of Christ.
We must forgive as we have been forgiven
Because Christ has made the unprofitable profitable, forgive.
Not only are we made profitable in Christ; this passage also teaches that…

b. We are made ministers vv. 12-14

READ vv. 12-14
Verse 11 clearly stated that Onesimus is now profitable to Paul.
Wouldn’t it be tempting to just keep Onesimus and not tell Philemon about it?
I mean Paul is older and he needs help and Philemon is getting along fine without him.
Paul wants to keep the law and act in a manner befitting the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Therefore, Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon in hopes that Philemon will receive him.
Paul is hoping that forgiveness and reconciliation will be the result.
Consider the change that has taken place in Onesimus in order for him to be willing to go back.
This is a slave who ran away and going back could mean his death!
Yet Onesimus willingly returns to his master.
2 Corinthians 5:17 says… (S)
2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
In Corinthians Paul is speaking about our position.
Positionally we are new.
As believers we strive for our position and practice to match.
Onesimus is giving evidence to his changed life.
Paul refers to Onesimus as his own heart.
The imagery is of an intimate friend; someone who is almost one with yourself.
Paul wants Philemon to receive his runaway slave like he would Paul himself!
What care and concern Paul has for this slave.
How do you think Paul would have responded to this slave when he was still Saul the Pharisee?
God has changed Paul as completely as he changed his name!
In verse 13 Paul says that he would have retained Onesimus with him.
The tone of this verse seems to indicate that Paul would have preferred to keep Onesimus with him but in order to be above reproach he chose not to.
The wording of verse 13 is interesting.
Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus has essentially been doing what Philemon would have had he been there.
Onesimus is taking Philemon’s place.
Paul is viewing Onesimus as Philemon’s representative.
Paul is subtly altering Philemon’s view of his runaway slave.
Onesimus is useful, a fellow believer, a minister caring for Paul how Philemon would.
Paul is virtually shouting that Onesimus is a changed man!
The gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed the useless servant into a profitable minister!
That is the kind of God we serve!
Paul mentions in verse 13 his chains for the gospel.
He is in prison because Christ wants him there.
He is there because of the gospel and he is there to preach the gospel.
What an attitude!
Verse 14 is awesome.
Paul won’t do anything with Onesimus without Philemon’s consent.
Why? Not for the reasons we might think!
Paul wants Philemon to be included so that Philemon can grow!
Compulsion is the idea of being forced, required, or pressured.
What is Paul saying here?
There will be benefit for Philemon from Onesimus’ conversion and service.
There is greater benefit from the willing forgiveness and restoration of Onesimus.
Paul wants Philemon to willingly do the right thing instead of being forced to.
Why? The answer is growth.
Paul wants Philemon to grow through this whole situation.
How many were ever forced to say I forgive you when you didn’t really?
That is what Paul wants to avoid here!
Everything that Paul has said is to get Philemon to forgive!
I believe the biggest reason in these verses is because God has changed Onesimus!
God has made him a faithful minister rather than a useless slave!
When a member of the body of Christ hurts you keep in mind that they are a work in progress just like you!
I forgive because I need forgiveness.
I am a work in progress!
So are you.
I say and do things I later need to ask forgiveness for.
I want to be forgiven when I need it, so I forgive others.
God is making us ministers!
We have rough edges that He is smoothing!
So forgive as you have been forgiven!


As we wrap it up this morning I want us to really consider what Paul is asking Philemon to do.
He is asking him to forgive a runaway slave who stole from him.
Not because the slave deserves it; but because the gospel of Jesus Christ demands it.
Christ has given His former enemies (us) grace, peace, and blessing.
Scripture calls us to do the same.
In Matthew 5:43-44 Jesus said this (S).
Matthew 5:43-44
Matthew 5:43–44 NKJV
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,
Our standing and position before God has been changed and our lives must reflect that!
One of the best ways for us to show the love of Christ is to demonstrate the forgiveness of Christ.
Matthew 18:21-35 records Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. Turn there please.
Matthew 18:21-35
According to Jesus, our forgiveness should be unlimited.
He then tells the parable of the servant who was forgiven but didn’t forgive.
Ultimately this servant is delivered to the tormentors.
Look at how Jesus ends the parable.
If we don’t forgive, we will not be forgiven!
That’s pretty heavy!
Forgiveness is that important!
Let’s be people known for forgiveness.
Don’t hold grudges, they hurt you and they hurt the name of Christ!
Let it go!
Forgive because we have been given grace, peace, and blessing.
Forgive because Christ has made us profitable ministers.
Forgive because Jesus Christ has forgiven you.
Forgive because the gospel demands it.
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