“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for what I did to you. I knew it was wrong. I knew it would hurt you. I knew it would hurt others. But…I did it anyway because I wanted what I wanted and it didn’t matter who it hurt or what the consequences were. I did what I did for me. I was wrong. And today, I’m asking you to forgive me for hurting you.”
Have you ever said something like this to someone? It’s hard, really hard. Doing the right thing is very difficult at times. There are times when doing the right thing is easy or requires little sacrifice and risk. Low amounts of fear are attached to these situations. But there are some situations in which doing the right thing could mean terrible consequences. Maybe doing the right thing means confessing to your spouse that you’re emotionally and/or physically attached to another person. This could potentially end your marriage and break apart your family. Maybe doing the right thing means confessing to your boss that you’ve been cheating him by not being at work when you are being paid to or stealing here and there from the company. This could potentially end your employment. Maybe doing the right thing means finally confessing to someone that you betrayed them days, weeks, months, or even years ago and it continues to haunt you to this day. This could mean the end of a precious friendship. Doing the right thing is at times very, very difficult and can seem literally impossible. Doing the right thing seems completely out of the question. The consequences would be too great. The devastation that doing the right thing could bring wouldn’t be worth the confession it seems.
Today we’re going to look at a person who faced the same type of situation. This person did something wrong, committed a crime and ran away. He became a fugitive. He knew the crime was wrong and he knew the consequences he would face if he committed the crime, but he chose to do it anyway. He knew it would hurt others, but he didn’t care. The person I’m talking about is a slave named Onesimus (O-neese-e-mus). Onesimus had a job and was treated quite well. However, he was a useless slave, lazy, unproductive. When you go into a fast food restaurant and you see an employee who is leaning on the register, looks bored, and doesn’t want to do anything more than the bare minimum to make your dining experience merely acceptable, that’s what kind of worker I envision Onesimus to be. Well, Onesimus decides to steal from his boss, Philemon (File-e-mon), who was a loving and generous man. Philemon held church in his home for many in the city in which they lived (Colossae, “ka-lass-ay”). Onesimus steals from Philemon and runs away.
Now, Onesimus knew the legal consequences of running away. The consequences for simply running away was quite severe. According to Roman law, the master (Philemon) could have him tortured, tortured until death, or tortured and have him branded with a hot iron, putting a giant letter “F” on his forehead, standing for fugitivus (we get the word “fugitive” from this term). Onesimus, knowing he would hurt Philemon did not care, but hurt him anyway.
So we have a slave seeking to be his own master, regardless of who it hurts. You know, I understand Onesimus wanting to be free. Who wouldn’t want to be free. And I actually understand choosing to hurt someone so that I can be free. I value freedom don’t you? Maybe I would’ve done the same thing Onesimus did. In fact, knowing my personality (Type-A), I probably would’ve done the same thing. Onesimus probably stole enough money to get him to his destination, but we don’t know that for sure. But I get it don’t you? I think I understand Onesimus’ mindset. But breaking the law wasn’t the right thing to do. Stealing from his boss was not the right thing to do. Onesimus wanting to be free, that’s the right thing to hope for and want. But his reaction to this was not. This particular post isn’t focused on Onesimus’ mistakes or mindset at this point in our story. The focus of this post is on Onesimus’ response after an event that happens to him shortly after he committed his crimes.
While this was happening in Philemon & Onesimus’ world, the Apostle Paul was in prison in the heavily populated city of Rome. It was in this prison term that Paul wrote Colossians, Ephesians, and our focus letter in this story, Philemon. This is the point in the story where we see the sovereignty of God more clearly.
God’s sovereignty is hard to see sometimes, especially when things are rough. “Where is God?!!! Where are You?!!!” we scream. We must have faith that He is here with us and already knows…OK, back on track Jamie. Darn rabbit trails. Anyway, of all the places Onesimus could have run to, he chooses to run to the heavy populated city of Rome, where Paul was located. In fact, it was the largest city in the territory. Onesimus, by the sovereignty of God, comes in contact with the Apostle Paul and get saved! Talking about needle in a haystack! It was God’s hand that brought Philemon to Paul (Paul led Philemon to Christ earlier), Onesimus to Philemon, Paul to prison, and Onesimus to Paul. THIS IS SO AMAZING. Funny how throughout reading this blog you probably weren’t putting that together. I know when I first started studying this story I didn’t. Because it’s not until after it’s all said and done that we, at times, don’t see the big picture. We don’t see what God sees. God is the Master Orchestrator isn’t He? Amen? Amen!
The story ends now that everyone has received Jesus as Lord and Savior and they lived happily ever after.
Although Onesimus, has now surrendered his life to Christ and has become a new creation, made new, forgiven, filled with the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul and he understand there is some unfinished business from Onesimus’ past that must be dealt with. Paul and Onesimus realize that Onesimus must go back to Philemon and do the right thing. Onesimus must make things right with Philemon, or at least attempt to. Why? Why doesn’t Onesimus just enjoy his new life in Christ and work with Paul and just move on? Good question and here’s the answer. Because God is faithful, we must be faithful to Him and have faith that when we do the right thing regardless of the consequences, we are honoring God and bearing witness to what he’s done in our lives. You see, Onesimus is not the same selfish and lazy slave he was before. He has been made new. He has fully surrendered his life to God and that means he is willing to live obediently to the point of torture, branding, and even death for the sake of one simple act of obedience.
Are you willing to commit one simple act of obedience if it means potentially disastrous consequences? What is obedience to God worth to you? What are you willing to experience or lose for the sake of obeying God’s Word? What aren’t you willing to deal with for the sake of obedience? That question will give you a pretty accurate gauge of how much faith you actually operate in.
Take a moment and think about who you have you wronged and have not confessed to them and asked forgiveness?
Why? What’s holding you back? Choose to be faithful today, like Onesimus, and go back to that person, confess, and ask forgiveness.
“Father, thank You for your sovereignty and that we can know that nothing ever happens that You aren’t aware of or haven’t foreseen. Thank You that we can know You are with us always and never, ever leave us. Thank You for forgiving us for our sins and screw-ups. Help us to take action in confessing to those we have wronged in the past and we pray they would forgive us. But even if they don’t, Father, we pray your Holy Spirit would show them Your love through our actions and they would turn to You and be encouraged by our faith. May they see Your love and mercy through our confessions. Thank You Lord. Amen.
Now that you have some context, read Paul’s letter to Philemon, which explains this whole situation, turn in your Bible to the book of Philemon <—-click here (it’s in the New Testament, just before Hebrews). You won’t regret it. Ask God to teach you what He wants you to learn, to give you the spiritual eyes to see what He sees. And most importantly, ask God to help you respond with action. Blessings.