“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. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Philemon 10-16)
Paul’s short letter to Philemon is about repentance and second chances. Onesimus had run from Philemon in the past, but now he is a Christian, has changed his life, and is seeking to make things right. Paul wants Onesimus to stay and help him while he is in prison in Rome, but he cannot do so without Philemon’s approval and forgiveness of this man who has wronged him. Paul is pleading with Philemon to do the right thing when Onesimus returns.
There is so much that needs to be learned from this little letter. We need to learn that repentance doesn’t mean our bad decisions just go away: we turn and face them by doing what is right. We need to learn, if we are to have the love of Jesus, that forgiveness is a part of life that must be readily utilized. It is easy to hold grudges, allow anger and hurt to control reactions, and seek vengeance on others just because we can. It is far more difficult to swallow ill feelings and forgive when someone has repented and is seeking to do right.
We need to learn the lessons of Philemon and Onesimus. For there will be times in our lives where we are Onesimus seeking Philemon; and other times we are Philemon receiving Onesimus.