Philemon, Philippians 1-2
Onesimus was a runaway slave and Paul was sending him back to his former master. After spending time with Paul, Onesimus had given his heart to the Lord. And Onesimus became like a son to Paul. Paul called him “my very heart”. I am sure Paul would much rather the young man stay with him. But the fact of the matter was Onesimus wasn’t free to do that . Philemon owned him.
As I read this account this morning I was reminded of a terrible time in recent church history when Christians were pressured into standing before congregations and publicly confessing sin. Someone had taken a verse and started a movement that destroyed lives in the name of Jesus.
I was in such a service where a daughter-in-law “confessed” hatred for her husband’s mother. The older woman was a much loved member of the church family in which this service was held. It came as quite a shock to everyone, including the husband and the mother-in-law. The marriage ended in divorce.
In a chapel service in college, a professor “confessed” an affair with a colleague. Many people were hurt by that one, too. As a result of that movement marriages, friendships, and churches were destroyed.
When we accept Christ as our Savior our sins are forgiven and God forgets we ever committed them. But we remember. In this life we often carry the consequences for our sins. Sometimes it is loss of relationships, sometimes guilt. Just because Onesimus was saved, it didn’t mean his slavery was voided. As hard as it was, he had to go back and confess to Philemon and ask for forgiveness.
The daughter-in-law I mentioned probably needed to confess her sin of hatred to her mother-in-law. But privately. And with the intention of letting go of the hate. The professor certainly needed to repent of his sin, too. But dropping that bombshell in the middle of 1,000 students and faculty (including the other person involved in the affair) was just wrong.
Friend, if you are living with hard feelings toward someone or the guilt from some past sin, ask God what he would have you do. He may want you to speak to the person you’ve wronged in order for them to see how Christ has changed you. But I guess I would caution you to check your motives and consider what your confession would do to the other person.
During this time of massive confessions I received a letter from someone I had gone to college with. In the two page letter was a list of reasons why this person (who I had considered a close friend) despised me – her words. At the end of her letter the confession went something like – “God has told me I’ll never have peace until I tell you how I feel. I hope now I’ll be able to sleep at night.”
I hope she slept well. I didn’t for quite some time.
Just remember that if going to someone in order to ask for forgiveness is all about you, think again. Onesimus didn’t go back to Philemon so he could sleep at night. Onesimus went back for Philemon’s sake, not his.
Dearest God, thank you for forgiving us and forgetting out past sins when we allow you to come into our lives. But, God we remember. And sometimes those memories are painful. Lord, if those memories are keeping us from a closer walk with you, if what we have done to someone may me keeping them back from enjoying a close relationship with you, then give us the courage to do the right thing. Give us the courage even if it means keeping quiet. Or if it means humbling ourselves before them. But may all we do have one purpose, and that is your will be done.