Associate Pastor of Student Ministries
Princeton Evangelical Free Church
As October hits us, we are approaching the start of the holiday season, with Thanksgiving coming around the corner and Christmas on its way. For me personally, one of the best parts of the holiday season is spending time with loved ones. If you’re hosting the festivities at your place this year, not only are you most likely extremely stressed, but you are also expecting to see people that you haven’t been with in awhile. Whether it be your parents, stepparents, children, stepchildren, friends, or siblings, there will be a variety of people who will be showing up at your door. Hopefully, you will be overjoyed to see them, but, if you were honest, there may be someone who will be at your door whom you’re not looking forward to being with.
A similar situation to the one above is found in the short-yet-compelling book of Philemon. The author of this letter, the Apostle Paul, is writing to a wealthy Colossian Christian named Philemon. We don’t know a whole lot about him, but from what we see in the letter he is a really good guy – to the point that he has “refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people” (v. 7b). Needless to say, Paul thought he was a rock star in the faith.
However, what Paul is going to ask of him will be difficult, even for someone as righteous as Philemon. The letter is written on behalf of a man named Onesimus, who is the one delivering the letter. It just so happens that Onesimus is Philemon’s runaway slave, who very likely stole from his master before he took off (see vv. 18,19). Despite all this, Paul is advocating for Philemon to forgive Onesimus, and to even go as far as releasing him from slavery so that he can continue serving with Paul in Rome. By all societal standards, Philemon has no reason to forgive his slave, let alone send him back to Paul a free man!
Imagine you’re in Philemon’s shoes. Let’s say you’re sitting at home eating dinner with your family, when all of a sudden you hear a knock on the front door. Confused by who could possibly be knocking at this time of day, you get up and slowly creak the door open.
There, standing in front of you is Onesimus. The man who has failed to fulfill his promise of service. The man who has cheated you, stolen from you and has run away. The man who you have been extremely bitter with for the past months, if not years.
With disgust, you look at him and ask, “What are you doing here?” With his head bowed, Onesimus’ shaking hand gives you a letter addressed to your name. You sit down to read it, not even inviting Onesimus in.
He stands at your door, waiting.
Who’s at your door? Who is it in your life that you have refused to forgive, but is waiting for you to set them free? Who in your past or present has hurt you and wronged you, but would be willing to embrace restoration if you were to reach out in forgiveness? There are obviously situations (such as abuse) where this person cannot and should not be brought back into your life, but have you dealt with the hurt in your heart and have you forgiven them for what they have done, no matter how terrible it may have been?
Who is the Onesimus in your life?
Whoever is at your door this holiday season, I encourage you to address any kind of bitterness or resentment that you may have stored up in your heart. Christians, like Philemon, are called by God to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). No matter how difficult it is. No matter how undeserving the person may be. Open the door and let them back in.