Forgiveness – Restoring Relationships! Philemon 1-4

Complete sermon series on Philemon

Points Covered: Forgiveness of God. Examples of forgiveness from the Bible. Introduction to Philemon, a letter on forgiveness.

Are you dealing with hatred and bitterness in your life? We have a society filled with bitterness, vengeance, anger, and hatred toward others. This can be seen in the retaliatory kind of crimes that takes place in our day. One of the major contributors to hatred and the destruction of relationships is the absence of forgiveness. Our culture pushes us to be unforgiving. It celebrates and exalts people who are not willing to forgive.

Of all of the human qualities, forgiveness is the virtue that makes men in any sense like God.

I. God is a God of forgiveness.

Exodus 34:6-7 6And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

We are to forgive as the Lord forgives us.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Colossians 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

God forgives to us is based on our capacity to forgive other.

When we are born again we are forgiven by God. But then in our day-to-day life we come across situations where we are hurt by others and God’s forgiveness to us is measure on our ability to forgive. Remember how Jesus taught us to pray. Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. God’s forgiveness of us is based on our forgiveness of others. James 2:13 Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful.

See the beatitudes: Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. You want mercy? Give it. You want forgiveness? Give it and forgive like God forgive you. 

II. What does Unforgiveness do?

1. Unforgiveness imprisons you in your past.

Proverbs 19:11 A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.

When you fail to forgive someone who hurt you, you are chained to the past. Unforgiveness keeps that pain alive, it keeps the sore open. Unforgiveness never lets that wound heal and you go through life reminding yourself of what was done to you. Unforgiveness imprisons you to your past. On the other hand, forgiveness opens the door and lets the prisoner out. Forgiveness sets you free from your past. As soon as you forgive it, it’s gone, you’re free.

2. Unforgiveness produces bitterness.

The longer you remember the offense, the more bitter you are to that person. Bitterness is not just a sin. Your bitterness it is a cancer and it will infect your whole life. Anger begins to rage in you and it can easily get out of control. You entertain continuing thoughts of revenge. And what happens? Even casual conversation becomes a forum for slander and you lose control.

Unforgivness is the main reason for marital problems. Two Christians married to one another should never be separated or divorced. They should enjoy a happy relationship. That’s God’s design. Now, when I got married I married a sinner, so did my wife. So in marriage, it is impossible for us not to offend each other. It happens quite regularly. But where forgiveness operates, an offense is one moment in time, come and gone. Where there is no forgiveness, there is the accumulated bitterness that begins to turn you against your own partner. Forgiveness, on the other hand, dispels bitterness and replaces it with love.

3. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door.

Unforgiveness throws the welcome mat out and invites the demons in.

Ephesians 4:26-27 26“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11 10Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

4. Unforgiveness hinders your fellowship with God.

Matthew 6:14-15 14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

In the ongoing relationship with God, if we don’t forgive others, He doesn’t forgive us. So if I’m not right with you, then God is not right with me.

You see the idiocy of an unforgiving attitude? It makes us a prisoner of our past, gives us a cancer of bitterness, opens the door for demons, and alienates us from our fellowship with God. 

III. Parables of forgiveness in the Bible.

1. The prodigal son. Luke 15.

A father had two sons and the younger one took all of his inheritance and left the house. That son spent the money on fast living with those who exploited him and left him when his money ran out. Then he reached the low point of life where he was dying of hunger in a pig sty. Then he came to his senses and wanted to go back as servant in his father’s house.

This young man did not expect forgiveness. All he wanted was to say to his father, “I’m not worthy to be your son any longer, but could you just make me a slave?” And so he started on the road back. And it is then that Jesus teaches us how to forgive.

The father didn’t even wait when he saw his son. He ran to him, kissed him and accepted him as a son. Jesus taught us what the heart of forgiveness is like. When someone who has wronged comes back you just embrace him, love him, put on him your best outfit, put a ring on his finger, get the best meat out, start the music, rejoice with your friends, and proudly invite everybody to come to the celebration of your son that has come back. That’s how God forgives and that’s how He wants us to forgive.

Such forgiveness will be misunderstood and not appreciated by the world. Do you remember that the son who never went anywhere didn’t appreciate this at all and was angry with his father for being so forgiving? From that story we learn how God forgives – eagerly, totally, and lavishly.

2. The unmerciful servant. Matthew 18

Matthew 18:21-35 21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

And there’s that principle. You want mercy from God, you show mercy. You want forgiveness from God, you be forgiving.

Now, the priority of forgiveness is not only given in Scripture in principle and parables, but it is given in Scripture in personal terms. The book of Philemon addresses forgiveness is in a personal case. The prodigal son and the king and the servant are not a true story. Those were simply parables. Here is a true story.

Introduction to Philemon: Philemon 1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother: Ancient letters always started with the name of the one writing, which makes a lot of sense. You get a long letter and you have to fumble through all the pages to find out who it’s from. Usually Paul identify himself as an apostle, but this is a personal letter, so no titles. Paul identifies himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. This is the fourth of the prison epistles.

Philemon 1-3 1To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This letter is written to an individual, Philemon. Paul led Philemon to Christ. Now Philemon is the head of a family in Colossae. He was married to a lady named Apphia. Their son, Archippus son ministered alongside Paul somewhere. Archippus is mentioned again in Colossians 4:17 Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.” Here was a father and a mother with a son who was in the ministry. The church met in his house.

Those days only wealthy men had homes. Most of the people were slaves who worked for wealthy men. So they had a slave whose name was Onesimus. Salves were bought for a high price and were not allowed to leave under any circumstances. Even though Philemon was a good master, Onesimus wanted his freedom, so one day he ran away. Not only that, he stole some things from his master on the run. A serious could which could give him death penalty.

Onesimus ran from the little tiny town of Colossae to the great city of Rome where he could get lost in the massive humanity there. He thought he could hide in the underground of Rome. But it wasn’t long until this runaway slave came face-to-face with Apostle Paul. Paul has the privilege of leading him to Jesus Christ. He becomes a Christian and becomes a big help for Paul in the prison. In the process, Paul finds out that Onesimus is from his friend Philemon that he has run away. So Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter asking forgive Philemon to forgive this runaway slave.

Paul is asking Philemon to forgive a man who is repentant. Onesimus is coming back asking for forgiveness. God has done the right work in his heart and now it is the turn of Philemon.

Philemon 1:4-7 4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Here, as Paul gives this wonderful, warm kind of exposure to the Christian character of Philemon. In the process Paul is telling, now that you have these true Christian character, it is easy for you to forgive. Here we find the spiritual character of one who forgives. We will look more at it next week.


Forgive as the Lord forgave you. God you want God to forgive you. Do you want to be a blessing and know the goodness of God in you, do you love your family and church, do you love your Lord then forgive others who have hurt you. Let’s pray.