The scriptures tell us that in Christ Jesus, God the Father was reconciling Himself to lost humanity. (Col 1:19-20) Since He has so generously given us the life of His Son, who died for our sin, that is, died as though guilty of all that we have ever done, the work of reconciliation from God’s standpoint is done. The remainder of it is on us. Once the Holy Spirit convinces us of the truth of the gospel message, we must respond by faith and repent of our sins, accepting by faith the salvation that Christ has won for us! When this happens, we are reconciled to our Father in Heaven. The point here, is that God who was wronged made all the effort necessary to reconcile a rebellious people to Himself. That is a very strong example of biblical grace. One might expect a wronged party to call on the guilty party to do something to make it right. God does not do this. Instead, because we couldn’t even if He asked, He took the initiative to offer grace to us.
In Paul’s letter to a friend named Philemon, we learn about a runaway slave who ended up a fugitive in Rome. I can’t even imagine what a coincidence this must have been! A fugitive runaway slave ends up in Rome, and in Paul’s influence, converted to the faith. Philemon v.10, 16. What is remarkable in this letter is that Paul essentially is doing two things:
He is pleading for the life of this slave who is now subject to the punishment of crucifixion.
He is asking the wronged party (Philemon) to account Onesimus’ wrongs to Paul.
He is literally asking Philemon to accuse and find guilty Paul of Tarsus for all the wrongs that Onesimus has done in running away so that Onesimus will no longer be held accountable for those wrongs.
I wonder where Paul learned that.
We know that Onesimus carried the letter back to Philemon, or there would be no record of this conversation today. So, Philemon had the young runaway back in his grasp. But he also had a plea for the life of the boy that mirrors the plea that the Holy Spirit makes to the Father in Heaven on account of sinful man. He asks that our sins be placed on Christ who died on that cross for our sin and that we would be set free.
Paul clearly wants to leverage his personal relationship with Philemon to bring this man into a right action toward Onesimus, but in the end Paul appeals to the grace of God that Philemon has experienced personally. Essentially, Paul’s argument is that because you have received mercy, show mercy. Jesus said something very much like that, as I recall. (Matt 5:7)
Another interesting point is made here. Paul promises that if Philemon will forgive and wipe Onesimus’ slate clean, that Philemon would not only receive back a servant who was formally of no use to him (since he ran away) but more than that, he would receive a brother! One of the things about the gospel of Christ is that Jesus calls us brothers! (Hebrews 2:11)
So, in this short passage in our New Testament, we find a minister calling a friend to live the gospel, and doing so in a way that parallels the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ! We are called to forgive in several passages of the scriptures, and many people will tell us that we will be free of the burden of unforgiveness (true) and that unforgiveness is very unhealthy (true) but for the life of me, I can’t remember the last time someone reminded us that once we forgive from our hearts in Jesus’ name that the greatest blessing is the loved one who is restored to us!
We who live in right relationship with God in Christ may also live in right relationship with anyone in Christ, if we will capture the opportunity to humble ourselves that the Holy Spirit will no doubt offer! After all, it worked for Philemon and Onesimus!