An unpopular word exists among people who have ought one against another. The word is reconciliation – to restore to friendship or harmony.
And while the definition of restoring friendship is true, I would note that reconciliation is a biblical mandate for any relationship no matter the degree of closeness. And any relationship that’s worth its salt has more than likely had to cross this bridge of reconciliation because given enough time with each other we will fail each other. Someone is going to make a blunder; someone is going to cause an offense. Someone is going to wrong someone else.
Consider Onesimus, Philemon, and the Apostle Paul. A relationship between Onesimus and Philemon that was more slave to master than peer to peer. A relationship nonetheless. Philemon was a man of some means. A respected citizen of Colossae who was also esteemed by a local congregation. The Colossae Christians, or at least some of them, met in Philemon’s house where they would enjoy not only his services but also those of his house servants, one of them being Onesimus.
We don’t know how long Philemon had employed the services of Onesimus or even what the status of their relationship was like prior to this letter, but at some point in time Onesimus makes a bad decision. Prior to this letter being written Onesimus sees an opportunity to steal and run from his master. He gives into the lusts of his eyes, sees his window of opportunity, takes that which does not belong to him, and flees from Colossae to Rome.
The Apostle Paul is writing this letter to Philemon from a prison in Rome. This is one of Paul’s prison epistles along with Colossians, Philippians, and Ephesians. Before he was thrown into prison Paul was under house arrest and it was there that he encounters Onesimus, who is now on the run. Paul meets this runaway slave, and through one conversation or several, Paul has the privilege of preaching the Acts 2:38 gospel to him and Onesimus obeys the gospel and is converted in prison.
Onesimus is now a changed man. He’s a new creature with a new Master. Changes take place in his life. He now sees things as black and white, right and wrong. He nonetheless is still a runaway thief. And the apostle realizes this. So a letter is written and Onesimus is to return to his master, letter in hand.
Paul would like for Onesimus to remain in Rome with him but he knows that reconciliation must occur between this new believer and his master before any address change will occur. The apostle also recognizes that Onesimus is facing serious charges upon his return as a slave who stole from his master and then took flight. His crime is punishable by death, and even if he were to keep his life, his reputation with Philemon and the townspeople would be that of a worthless crook. If any chance for reconciliation were to take place, Onesimus would need some outside assistance. And Paul is going to provide that for him by way of his letter. For inside this personal, heart-felt piece of correspondence we note two arguments to substantiate why reconciliation should take place between these two.
Paul’s Argument #1 – It’s The Right Thing For Philemon To Do.
Reference: Phil 1:4-7
We would define Philemon as a mature or maturing believer according to Paul’s letter to him. And Paul is going to stretch this maturing believer by asking him to go through the process of reconciliation with one of his runaway slaves. But before Paul makes the request, he wants Philemon to remember who he is, and what his life has become, and how the community now sees this man, one of faith and love. Because Paul knows that reconciliation, even for a maturing Christian is a tough pill to swallow.
It’s good for us to be reminded of who we are. It’s good for us to remember that we’re not the same person we were before we came to know Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded that our actions do count and others do watch us and take notice of what we do. And we should never forget that the stakes are raised in situations that are difficult.
Paul reasons not from authority but from the love that both he and Philemon both know. He tells Philemon, “Based on my authority as an apostle I could order you to reconcile and forgive, and you would see that I was right, but because of the love I know you have in you, I know you’ll do the right thing.”
Onesimus returns to Philemon and Paul’s first argument to him is, “You’re not free to not reconcile.” Or spun around, “Forgive this guy and love him because you’re a maturing Christian and it’s the right thing to do.” How much easier would life be for all of us if we practiced this every day? “We’re going to forgive each other and be reconciled, not because it’s easy, but because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t have a choice.”
And this is where Philemon is with Onesimus. And this is where you may be with someone you know. If someone comes to you and they’re repentant and seeking forgiveness, you’ve got to reconcile with them because it’s the right thing to do. A second and final argument is offered up by Paul and that we find in the last half of this passage.
Paul’s Argument #2 – Philemon Will Be Blessed
Reference: Phil 1:15-22
Paul makes it clear to his friend that whatever was stolen, it will be made good. If it was something that could not be replaced, charge it to my account, though Paul wants Philemon to remember that the Christian life should never come down to who owes what — after all what price should Paul charge Philemon for leading him to eternal life? And so Philemon will be blessed by having his estate put back in place either by Onesimus bringing back that which he stole, or by Paul covering any finances that were since used.
Paul admonishes, “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.” Onesimus is returning to Philemon a changed man with a new heart. What a blessing he will be to Philemon! To have an employee who knows Jesus, who will work with integrity and honesty, who will work hard and yet have grace towards his fellow co-workers. To be able to call Onesimus aside at any time and fellowship with him, pray with each other, discuss the things of God. To have someone else on the team, fighting the good fight with you. Paul is encouraging reconciliation so that they can get on with carrying out the Great Commission not as one, but now as two.
Do you get uneasy when you hear the word reconciliation? I wish there were an easier way to get through a conflict, one that would involve less emotion, less pain, less vulnerability. But as far as I know, this is the way God wants us to deal with our problems with one another.
We shouldn’t go looking for conflict, but we should know that conflict is unavoidable. The next time someone wrongs you take your cue from Philemon, Paul, and Onesimus. Forgiveness and reconciliation won’t come easy but it’s the right thing to do, and you will be blessed for doing what is right.