10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, 11 who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. 12 I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. 15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 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; NKJV)
The good deed that is presented before Philemon is to forgive and there is no good deed without reconciliation. Without reconciliation, the opportunity for a negative attitude is a snare for Philemon. He could have thought “Paul can keep that useless slave” even if it meant financial loss. It would be worth it not to deal with him anymore. That doesn’t sound like a good deed to me…even if it made him feel “better”.
If Philemon forgives and reconciles, then all three men are free to work together and Onesimus can be with Philemon and Paul. Consider our own lives. We have no problem staying away from people that we have problems with…steering clear of those who have wronged us and harmed us. The hard part is to come face to face with that person and do what is good for the other and not for self. This is what Paul is asking Philemon to do and where the value of the deed lies.
Paul can’t reconcile with Onesimus…there is no reason. In fact, Paul is excited about how Onesimus has come into his life and the result through the working of God. Paul offers that just might be the point. Maybe the reason Onesimus didn’t remain with Philemon for a short period of time was so that they could be together forever. Not as a useless or unprofitable slave but a brother and fellow worker in Christ. Paul is offering a heavenly perspective and calling attention to God’s hand in our lives. We see troubles and hardships, but God sees opportunity. Many times, our own hardships must be endured for the benefit of others in a way we can’t see. We can, however, trust God’s hand in all of it if we keep a heavenly perspective.
Here, a relationship that was broken and a trust that was violated could be overcome and give way to a new and different relationship in Christ. How often do our own desires, ambitions, or insecurities in the flesh hold back another? How often do we act on what we think is right rather than consider God’s way? Are we withholding spiritual forgiveness, blessings, and love to the detriment of others? Paul is demonstrating that we can trust God’s hand and to be careful not to hinder His work.
Paul is providing both sides of the case. Yes, Onesimus has wronged Philemon and that needs to be reconciled. Paul also calls Onesimus a beloved brother and that much good has happened since Onesimus left and the potential for so much more if they are all reconciled and working together. Paul has had much joy from Philemon’s love and faith and is encouraged that Philemon will do much more in reconciling with Onesimus.
As you consider this relationship in the context of your life, look to Joseph as well. How did Joseph come to a point that he could forgive and reconcile with his brothers after all the betrayal? Joseph recognized that evil done to him was used by God for good. I am sure this was not an easy thing to come to terms with and it might have been tough for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus. We may have the same challenge facing us today. Can we take a heavenly perspective? Can we trust God’s hand in our lives? Will we not give Satan an opportunity to drive a wedge further into the most important relationships we have with our brethren and with our Father?
The bottom-line is this. We can confidently forgive and reconcile because we know the great power of God in our lives to accomplish good through our hardship. Further, we must forgive and reconcile any chance we get because we have been forgiven and reconciled to God through Jesus every time we needed it and asked for it. Finally, let’s not ever forget that we are all Onesimus in some way. We are not perfect. We all sin. We all hurt others and violate our relationships. We need forgiveness and we need others to be willing to reconcile. Therefore, lets open that door with our own attitude and with our willingness to forgive and reconcile. Have a love and a faith like that. Be confident that this will bring joy and refreshing to your brethren whether you know it or not. Stomp on the devil’s head and forgive. God is doing the heavy lifting…just look up and within and let Him. Let go and let Him reconcile your life. How important is that? It is profoundly and eternally imperative!