Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.
1 Timothy 6:2 (ESV)
As I reflect on Paul’s plea to Philemon, I find it touching how Paul is willing to ask Philemon to forgive Onesimus’ wrongdoings. Paul had helped Onesimus find his faith while they were imprisoned together in Rome. Paul knew Onesimus had repented and felt guilt over his actions when he was a non-believer. With his change of heart, he had become a brother in Christ, and Paul felt he deserved to be released from prison and encouraged Philemon to think of Onesimus as a brother rather than a slave.
As a sinner, I ponder how Onesimus felt. Enslaved, he ran away from Philemon, a crime punishable by death. Would he have felt worthy of such a letter? Was he hopeful that Philemon would forgive him? I can’t fully understand Onesimus’ position, but I do know that I have wronged fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and questioned if I deserved forgiveness.
Many years ago, a dear friend pointed out unfavorable characteristics of mine to my sister. My sister came to let me know what she had said and offered comfort. Hearing her words hurt, and what hurt most is that my friend didn’t come to me directly with her criticisms.
When I confronted my friend, she explained where she was coming from and apologized for not coming to me directly. It hadn’t occurred to her to discuss it with me because she didn’t want to hurt me, and she asked for forgiveness. I said I had to think about it. I knew forgiving her was the right thing to do, but I felt betrayed, angry, and hurt. I wanted her to feel the same.
As a Christian, I knew I was being unfair. Jesus died for our sins, relieved us of our wrongdoings, making us all equal in His eyes. She was a fellow sister in Christ. I ruminated on and empathized with her position. I had been there before. I had made mistakes and had been forgiven. How could I not offer her the same? Although it was difficult, I put my faith and trust in Jesus and forgave her, taking comfort that He is in control and will allow us to rebuild what was broken.
Reflect on Timothy 4:2. When have you had to ask for forgiveness, and when have you had to forgive? How did you pray in those situations? Spend time in prayer, including reciting the Lord’s prayer.