Part 5 – Three Pleas for Onesimus


June 26, 2016 ()

Bible Text: Philemon 1:8-11 |


Last week in verses four through seven we saw that Paul spoke of the godly behavior or Christlike characteristics of Philemon's life that would naturally lead him to forgive Onesimus (and Onesimus' name hasn't even been mentioned as of yet). Now in this week's verses – verses eight through eleven – Paul is going to give three appeals on behalf of Onesimus as to why it is a good thing – or three reasons why Philemon should naturally consider forgiving Onesimus (other than Philemon's godly character).

The first thing Paul does is remind Philemon that although he could command or order Philemon to forgive Onesimus (because Paul is an apostle) Paul knows that this would not be the Christian attitude. The true appeal or principle is the principle of love. Because Philemon now possesses the agape – love of God – within him – then it is because for the sake of that love – or by the power and motivation of that love – that Philemon is now capable and will be willing to forgive Onesimus. Paul doesn't need to order Philemon – Philemon, Paul and Onesimus are no longer under law, but under grace.

The second appeal is to relationship. Paul led Philemon to the Lord. Paul led Onesimus to the Lord. That makes Paul the spiritual 'father' to both Philemon and Onesimus. That makes Philemon and Onesimus spiritual brothers. Of course, we are to forgive all people, but how much more are we to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ?! And what an example this will be to the local congregation?!

The third appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus concerns the beautiful truth that Onesimus is a changed person. Philemon is getting a different slave/servant/bond-servant back. Onesimus' name means 'useful' but before his conversion he really wasn't 'useful' to Philemon (since he robbed Philemon and ran away from him), but now that he is a believer Onesimus really IS useful! For these reasons (and others), Paul makes a very convincing appeal to Philemon as to why it is a good thing for him, his church, and for the kingdom of God to not only forgive Onesimus, but welcome him as a brother, and as a member of the family of God in the local church that meets in Philemon's home. And of course, these words are all relevant to our own life and the numerous opportunities we will have to forgive those that sin against us.