Series: Best Book In the BibleEvery Christian knows the importance of reading their Bible, but many are overwhelmed with the task of devouring such a monstrous book! Often times, when Christians lose steam in their yearly reading plans, they can become frustrated and feel defeated. It is for this reason that individual book studies can be a lifesaver. In the Best Book in the Bible series, we will provide entry points into faithful study through “selling” you on why you should fall in love with the various books of the Bible.
One of the essential elements of Christianity is forgiveness. In order to be saved, we need forgiveness from God for our sin. In order to have fellowship with others, we need to give and receive forgiveness when transgression has taken place. However, for so many Christians, this is difficult, as we wrestle with this humbling practice. The letter to Philemon, the most personal of all of Paul’s letters, deals with Christian forgiveness, and just might be the best book in the Bible.
Main Themes: Christian forgiveness
“I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love, and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints.” (Philemon 4-5)
Paul was imprisoned in Rome, where he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. However, in writing to the churches, he is moved to pen a letter to his good friend, Philemon. Since being in prison, Paul came to know a runaway slave named Onesimus, who had formerly belonged to Philemon, but had stolen from him and betrayed him. It seems clear, though, that Onesimus had become a Christian, but didn’t know how to make amends with his former master. This letter is Paul’s attempt at facilitating reconciliation through forgiveness.
Paul begins his letter with a standard greeting (vv. 1-3), making mention of his companion Timothy. In verses 4-7, we see Paul’s method of praising Philemon for his faithfulness in the Lord. It is clear that Philemon is a godly man, having “faith… toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all the saints” (v. 5). Paul’s love and appreciation for Philemon is evident.
Having reminded Philemon of their close relationship, Paul appeals to him on behalf of Onesimus, “who was formerly useless” to Philemon, “but now is useful” (v. 11). Paul pleads with his friend, telling him of Onesimus’ conversion. And Paul, in sending Onesimus back to Philemon with the letter in hand, tells him that he is “sending my very heart” (v. 12). He asks that Onesimus would be received back “no longer as a slave, but… as a beloved brother” (v. 16).
Paul is so adamant to foster their reconciliation, he even offers to cover whatever losses suffered at the hands of Onesimus (v. 18), but reminds Philemon of even his own debt to Paul (v. 19). Paul is confident that Philemon will do the right thing and accept Onesimus back (v. 21). He then closes the letter with a warm greeting to their mutual friends (vv. 22-25).
What Makes This Book So Great:
According to tradition, Paul’s venture was successful, and Philemon accepted Onesimus back as a brother; he even became a pastor with a long ministry! In his letter, Paul demonstrates tact and precision in encouraging forgiveness and restoration. While we certainly cannot boil Paul’s practice down to a series of “steps”, there is certainly a method to appealing to believers in meekness and love. In the end, we are taught to love and forgive because the Lord Jesus has first loved and forgiven us. This is the basis of the gospel and salvation.
This book is very short and can be read repeatedly without too much work. Challenge yourself to learn Paul’s approach to reconciliation. As you study this letter for yourself, are there Christian relationships that are strained and need reconciliation? Perhaps you need to ask forgiveness, or forgive someone else. Rehearse the forgiveness of God in your own life and pray that your heart might be softened to pursue unity and fellowship.
- John MacArthur, Colossians and Philemon. MNTC. Chicago: Moody, 1992.
- David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon. ZECNT. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
Note: Find the rest of the Best Book in the Bible series here: EntreatingFavor.com/BestBookSeries