How to Make Reconciliation Work in the Church
Pau’s letter to Philemon is the shortest amongst the apostle’s letters having 1 chapter only. This is Paul’s personal note written to a wealthy Christian friend named Philemon, a member of the Colossian church, about a private matter concerning his runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus, apparently has stolen money from his master Philemon. So, Paul writes to reconcile Philemon and Onesimus.
1. Be motivated by Christian love.
“4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknow-ledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. “8 Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you. ”
· The groundwork of reconciliation begins with Christian love.
· Philemon, being wealthy enough to host church gatherings.
· Reports came to Paul from Epaphras (v.23), the founder of the Colossian, about the loving character and faithful service of Philemon. vv. 5,7,9
· The fullness of Philemon’s love was bearing the fruit of faith – the spreading of the gospel. True love for God and the church has helped him endure some of the sacrificed he has to make for the sake of the church and the spread of the gospel.
· In the Old Testament, animals were sacrificed to the Lord and lost its life. Likewise, sacrificial love means dying to selfish desires, and live one’s life for the sake of the Lord’s glory.
· Paul appeals to Philemon to make even more sacrifices to reconcile with Onesimus, for the sake of the Lord.
2. Be honest and confess your sins to the offended.
“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 ownheart, 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.”
· Onesimus have fled from Philemon and providentially met Paul in prison. v. 10.
· Onesimus came to faith in Christ through Paul’s prison ministry. And served the latter so he can write his prison letters to churches. v.11
· Paul wanted Philemon to view Onesimus as like him, being chained in the gospel, meaning a repentant sinner.
· Paul also pointed to Onesimus’ transformation in vv. 11-13 as evidence of true repentance.
· Verse 12 also indicates that by sending Onesimus back to Philemon, would trigger the former to ask forgiveness and the latter to accept.
3. Make restitution for the offense.
“18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides.” NKJV
· Paul demonstrates that reconciliation involves owning up the responsibility.
· Since, Onesimus being a poor slave could not pay what he stole, Paul was willing to pay it Philemon everything Onesimus owes him. But he was hoping that Philemon would dispense grace to Onesimus.
· “not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides” means Paul was transforming worldly perspectives (paying debts) into the reality of grace (voluntary forgiveness and cancelation of Onesimus’ debt account).
4. Restore the offender to fellowship.
“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.”
· Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a slave anymore, but as a brother in the Lord.
· It would be a great joy for Paul, who sacrificed a lot for the sake of Christ and the unity of the church, to see all his spiritual children serving in God’s kingdom.