“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me.” Philemon 1:10 -11
There are times when forgiveness is the only remedy.
But here’s the thing. Forgiveness is never really deserved or earned. It must always be given as an indication of the hope that you might have for the one that is being forgiven and as a product and mark of who you, the forgiver, are.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is not explicit as to what it was that Onesimus had done. Two things, however are clear. The first is that Onesimus is a fugitive from justice and the second is that the one from whom he has run is Philemon.
If you read between the lines of what Paul does right one strong possibility rises to the surface, that’s been embraced by most Bible commentators, which is that Onesimus was Philemon’s slave and that he had stolen from him so that he could afford to run away.
It’s a long way from Colossae, in what’s now western Turkey, where Philemon lived, to Rome, where Onesimus met Paul. Traveling costs money and one can assume that anything stolen was long ago spent just covering food and travel expenses.
Now Onesimus has met Paul and through him accepted Jesus. He’s a Christian and Christians endeavor to make right, if they can, whatever they’ve done wrong. But there’s no way he can make his debt with Philemon right. He’s stolen and has no way to repay what he stole. What’s more, a slave owes himself and his work to the one who owns him and Onesimus has deprived Philemon of the work that he might have done and you can never pay back time when you already owe all that you’ll ever have.
The only asset Onesimus has is Paul, who writes to his friend to intercede for him; seeking freedom for him, in addition to forgiveness.
There are times when someone, or their intercessor, may come to you seeking forgiveness. Your heart may want to scream back, “They don’t deserve it!”
But listen to me. People never deserve forgiveness. If forgiveness is needed the person already deserves whatever punishment justice allows.
We give forgiveness because love requires it of us. Love, already given by another, usually undeserved and often not from the one who wronged us, pushes us to do the loving thing and forgive.
All the one in need of forgiveness can do is ask. The rest is up to us.