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Grace and Forgiveness

Philemon 6 (ESV) … “and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.”

Back in the 1950s and early 1960s a police drama known as Dragnet aired on television. Captain Joe Friday and Sergeant Bill Gannon tracked down criminals in methodical, deadpan precision, sticking to “just the facts.” Of course, justice always triumphed, and the lawbreakers were put behind bars. Since then, crime stories have remained a popular television genre. Now we take rides in police cars and witness live-action arrests via video camera. We have nationwide criminal searches for the country’s most: wanted. The goal is always to catch the thug, the delinquent, and put him in prison. Back around a.d. 62, a crime occurred in Colosse, an unimportant corner of the Roman Empire. It probably would have remained unsolved and historically unknown, except that the fugitive went to Rome, eventually meeting the apostle Paul.

As a runaway slave, Onesimus could have been executed, tortured, or sold again. Whether he sought out Paul for refuge or met him through other acquaintances is unknown. Though Paul was under house arrest at the time, the two men became friends. Through continued fellowship, Onesimus became a Christian, helping Paul in his ministry. Somewhere along the line, Onesimus must have confessed his background, his relationship to his former master, Philemon, and his flight to freedom. Despite Onesimus’s new-found life in Christ, Paul knew his past actions needed resolution so his present life could be lived honorably before his Savior.

Paul, therefore, wrote to Philemon. This little book is a very personal letter, surrounded by a true story of crime, faith, confession, grace, and forgiveness. These people lived out a picture of redemption, as Onesimus, guilty of a crime, sought reconciliation with Philemon. It must be assumed that Philemon responded as Paul had hoped, extending forgiveness and, perhaps, freedom to his slave.

Like Onesimus, we stand guilty of crimes before God. Typically, we run away, seeking freedom in all the wrong places, unable to contend with our past or find true freedom in the present. Yet through Christ we can find true release from slavery to sin and imprisonment to our past. As we confess our inability to save ourselves and seek the forgiveness of God, we receive the joyous liberty of reconciliation.[1]

[1] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 399). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

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