#1 of 2 on Philemon 

Philemon is a book that talks about forgiveness. 

Forgiveness is important – Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13 

We all know that we ought to forgive others.  But all too often we fail to actually follow through and do so. 

In the first 7 verses of this one chapter epistle Paul is appealing to the Christian character of Philemon before he appeals that He forgive. 

Indeed, the best way to be able to forgive is to have a forgiving character.  If you have the right kind of character, you will find it easier to forgive.  So tonight let’s look at just what a Forgiving Character is! 


Vs. 1 – This is the most personal of Paul’s letters, although it was probably intended to be read in the church.  Paul reminds Philemon of exactly what his condition is as he writes!  He is a prisoner. 

A prisoner is someone who is restricted.  He is not free to go and come as he pleases.

Many people today are prisoners as well.

  • They are prisoners to poor health.
  • They are prisoners to unforgiveness.
  • They are prisoners to bitterness.
  • They are prisoners in marriage, family, work, church, or school situations that they can not change. 

I find it interesting that Paul didn’t say he was a prisoner because of the Jews or because of the Romans. Paul saw Himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. 

Paul was in prison for Christ’s sake.  He was willing to be restricted for the cause of Jesus Christ.  In fact, while he was in prison, he was very productive in sharing the Gospel. Philippians 1:12-13 

There are some prisons that we need to break out of for Christ’s sake.  We should not be in the prisons of bad habits, bad attitudes, or bad words.  For Christ’s sake we should submit to being His prisoner and break out! 

There are other prisons that we may never get out of until we leave this life such as physical or family situations. The way to handle these situations is to realize that whatever “prison” that I am in that is not of my own choosing is of His choosing. 

In other words, if it is a situation that I am in that I can not with God’s Help remove myself from it, it is a prison of His choosing.  When I am Christ’s prisoner it means that I accept the situation as from Him and trust Him for the strength to get through it. Romans 8:28 

Also, seeing myself as Christ’s prisoner will help me have a forgiving character.  When I’m Christ’s prisoner, He is responsible for my care.  He is also the one who tells me what to do.  To be a good prisoner of Christ I must be a good forgiver of others. 

Paul’s position was as a prisoner.

Philemon’s position was first of “Dearly Beloved”. 

Because Philemon was a fellow believer he was “beloved” of Paul. He was a Christian brother.  This is to be one of the great characteristics of the church.  We are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. John 13:34-35 

Philemon was assured that he was loved by Paul and others who had the same fellowship in Christ. 

You too are loved by other brothers and sisters in Christ. Often, when you meet someone and find them to be fellow Christians there is instant camaraderie.      

Being loved by Paul would have helped Philemon forgive Onesimus. Philemon would have realized that it was someone who loved him that was asking him to forgive. 

Sometimes it will take an appeal from a third party; who we know loves us in Christ, to encourage us to forgive someone else.  

Philemon was also a “fellow laborer”.  He was not a missionary or a pastor.  He was, however, one who had assisted Paul and others in the great work of the church and getting out the Gospel. 

Each one of us is to be a fellow laborer in the cause of Christ.  There are things that all of us can do to contribute the well being of the church family. 

  • We can pray.
  • We can bring.
  • We can do good things to others.
  • We can share.
  • We can encourage. 

When we see ourselves as fellow laborers, partners in the cause, it will be easier for us to see that bitterness and unforgiveness is going to hurt the cause.  Hopefully, we will not want our attitude, to hurt the cause of Christ. 


By way of a Christian greeting of that day Philemon was reminded of two great privileges he had in Christ. They are grace and peace. 

Philemon had already been saved by grace.

Philemon already knew about the “unmerited favor” that changed his life.

Philemon had already discovered that his own salvation was based on God’s grace. Ephesians 2:8-9 

Philemon also knew about another special blessing, peace.

Before a person is saved God and he are at odds because of the sin in our lives.  Sin causes a barrier between us and God.  There is a war going on. 

The war between God and us ends the minute we trust the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Romans 5:1 

In one sense of the words, we received all the grace and peace needed for salvation the moment we were saved.  We need no more saving grace, and there is no more war between us and God. 

In another sense, however, we never run out of our need for grace and peace.

We need grace from God to handle life’s problems.

We need grace from God to tolerate others.

We need grace from God in order to serve Him well.

We need the peace of God ruling in our hearts when we face trials and tribulations. 

Grace and peace are available as we seek them from God. 2 Peter 3:18, Philippians 4:6-7 

As we enjoy the grace of God working in our lives, we will tend to be more forgiving.

As we enjoy the peace of God ruling in our hearts, we will tend to be more forgiving.     


There were three principles at work in Philemon’s life that would have helped him to be a forgiving person. 

Vs. 5 – The first principal at work in Philemon’s life was love.  Not only was Philemon loved, but he was a lover. 

Philemon had a tremendous love towards the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is not to be the exception among Christians. It is to be the norm.

Every Christian should be tremendously in love with the Lord Jesus Christ, and we should want to love Him more each day. 1 John 4:19   

The more I love the Lord Jesus, the more I should want to obey Him. John 14:15

John 14:15 – If ye love me, keep my commandments. 

One of the things that Jesus encouraged was forgiveness.  Luke 17:3-4

If I truly love Jesus I will tend to forgive others.   

Not only did Philemon love Christ, He loved fellow Christians.  When somebody already loves someone else in Christ, there should be a readiness to forgive. 

The second principle that Philemon lived by was faith.

Philemon, of course, exercised faith when he trusted Christ as his Savior.

But it is evident that he was noted for a living faith, a real faith that took action. 

One of the ways Philemon would have been a person of faith was when it came to the Word of God.  He would have believed God’s Word and then acted on it. 

We know that we are people of faith when we read God’s Word or hear it preached and actually do what it says! 

Because Philemon was a man of faith, when Paul told him to do what was Biblical, that is forgive, he would have had a tendency to do so. 

Often when it comes to forgiveness we find ourselves doing so, not because we want to, but because it is the right thing to do. 

God’s Word tells us to forgive, and by faith we forgive! Ephesians 4:32

 Vs. 7 gives us a third principle at work in Philemon’s life.

Philemon was refreshing.

His love was so real that other people were refreshed by his actions and his words. 

When we are in the habit of being a blessing to others, it is natural to forgive, when we realize that it is the refreshment that another needs. 

Three principles were at work – love, faith, refreshment.    


Paul desired Philemon’s communication or fellowship of faith with others would be stronger.

Philemon had the potential to forgive Onesimus because he had all that he needed in Him to forgive. 

Philemon had every spiritual blessing necessary to forgive. 

All Philemon had to do was use the blessings he had in Christ. 

Remember, when we have the Lord Jesus inside us we have the power of the Holy Spirit inside us. 

As we acknowledge our need to forgive and the power of the Holy Spirit to enable us to forgive we will be able to forgive. 

The potential is there in Christ.  All we need to do is allow God to fulfill our potential!