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“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” (Philemon 1:15-16 NIV)
Separated for now so you will be together forever.
Breaks in relationships are complicated. When a conflict happens that separates friends; we don’t always know why. But in some cases, temporary separation is necessary to have them back forever.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is his shortest. Philemon is a church leader, Onesimus, his slave who wronged him. Paul meets Onesimus in prison. After Onesimus becomes a Christ-follower, Paul sends him back to Philemon. The letter is paving the way for Philemon to forgive Onesimus and embrace him as part of the family. Culturally, Philemon had the right to exact penance from his former slave. What he did, we don’t know. But what Paul did was exemplify what Jesus would do.
Actions speak louder than words.
Paul’s letter to Philemon is the only one he doesn’t talk about Jesus’s death and resurrection. He doesn’t have to because Philemon already understands the meaning of what Jesus did. And because Paul is acting like Jesus, he expects Philemon to do the same. Paul has forgiven and embraced Onesimus. He met him when he was in prison, at one of the lowest points of both of their lives. Paul loves Onesimus right where he is. When we love people amid their bondage, we are showing them God’s grace and mercy. Lives change when we love like Jesus.
Forgiving someone who hurt you isn’t a one-time occurrence. Each time the offense comes to mind, we must forgive again. Philemon could only forgive Onesimus with the help of Jesus. We have the same need if we’re to forgive those who hurt us. When we decide to let go of the offense, we take a step towards reconciliation. God’s forgiveness of us reconciled us to Him. Our forgiveness of others shines Jesus light into a dark world, drawing people to Him.
But the separation was necessary for Philemon and Onesimus to have eternal friendship. If Onesimus hadn’t wronged Philemon and run away, he would never have met Paul. If he didn’t meet Paul, he would never have met Jesus. For whatever reason, Onesimus had to go through what he went through to see Jesus’s truth finally. We are the same as Onesimus.
God uses the circumstances in our lives to draw us to Him. Whatever heartache you’re facing, God won’t waste. He works all things to the good for those who believe and trust in Him (Romans 8:28 NIV).
Today’s separation is tomorrow’s reconciliation.
Question of the Day:
Who do you need to forgive in your life to start the process of reconciliation?
Further Reading:Lamentations 1:1-2:22 NIV, Philemon 1 NIV, Psalm 101 NIV, Proverbs 26:20 NIV