Grace Expresses Forgiveness

Bible Book: Philemon 
Subject: Forgiveness; Mercy; Love; Friendship

In introductions one must use brevity and clarity.  Here, Paul has 25 verses, which serve as the shortest of Paul’s inspired writings.  It is the only one of the prison epistles addressed to an individual.  The Lord is about to speak through the aged apostle and in doing so, he will deal with a very important, yet practical, issue.  Paul is going to take one of the most important truths of the Bible and apply it in an individual’s life.

Ephesians 4:32: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13: “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Forgiveness is a theme that runs throughout our entire Bible.  It is that which is born out of grace.  Chuck Swindoll, in his book, Grace Awakening, emphasizes this amazing truth about grace:

“It is absolutely and totally free. You will never be asked to pay it back.  You couldn’t even if you tried. Most of us have trouble with the thought, because we work for everything we get. As the old saying goes, ‘There ain’t no free lunch.’ But in this case, grace comes to us free and clear, no strings attached. We should not even try to repay it; to do so is insulting.”

Grace and forgiveness is so beautifully illustrated in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).  One of the two sons decides to leave home and requests his inheritance. After living a very ungodly life and spending all of his wealth, he comes to his senses and decides he wishes to go home.

Luke 15:17-20: "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants. And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”

He decides that there is no way he could expect forgiveness, maybe toleration. Yet, when the father saw him coming he ran to meet him, embraced him, and threw a party.

This story illustrates how the Father forgives:  eagerly, totally, and lavishly.

“God is never more like Himself than when He forgives.”

If God is never more like Himself than when He forgives, man is never more like God than when he forgives.

This is the theme that runs through these 25 verses.

Philemon had come to Christ years earlier under Paul’s ministry, probably in Ephesus (3 years).  He was now a member of the church in Colosse.  Church met in his home.  He had a slave by the name of Onesimus that had run away to Rome.  Somehow he met Paul and was converted.  Paul is now about to send him back, but he is now a different man.

Paul takes the truth that Christians are to forgive each other, first taught in the New Testament by our Lord Himself in the gospel of Matthew and applies it to a specific situation.

The Bible clearly teaches the glorious truth that God is a forgiving God.

Exodus 34:6-7: “And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed,” "’The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,  keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation.’"

At the close of the Lord’s Prayer (Disciple’s Prayer) note Christ’s teaching:

Matthew 6:12

“And forgive us our debts,

As we forgive our debtors.”

Matthew 6:14-15: "’For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’”

This does not speak of the forgiveness you received at salvation, that is done. Rather, God’s relational, continual forgiveness that accompanies the process of sanctification of believers.  Believers need on-going forgiveness (1 John 1:9).

The scriptures are clear that believers can forfeit God’s blessing and invite His chastening if they fail to forgive others.  We are to forgive each other, as God has forgiven us.

Hebrews 12:15: “looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;”

Lack of forgiveness is perhaps the leading cause of the break ups in family relationships.

Unforgiveness is an act of open disobedience to God.

4 Results Of Unforgiveness:

1. It imprisons believers in their past.

It keeps the pain alive

Keeps the sore open; it never allows the wound to heal.

Dwelling on the wrong done feeds anger and resentment and robs one of the joy of living.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, opens the prison doors and sets the believer free from the past.

2. Unforgiveness produces Bitterness.

Bitterness is not just a sin; it is an infection. (Note Hebrews 12:15).

It can cause your speech to become cutting, sarcastic, even slanderous.

Forgiveness, on the other hand, replaces bitterness with love, joy, peace and the other fruits of the Spirit.

3. Unforgiveness gives Satan an open door.

Ephesians 4:26-27: "’Be angry, and do not sin’": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.”

Satan wants to gain ground in our lives.

2 Corinthians 2:10-11: “Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.”

Forgiveness bars that avenue of demonic attack.

4. Unforgiveness hinders fellowship with God.

One cannot be right with God if he/she is unforgiving of others.

Theologians tell us that there are 75 different word pictures about forgiveness in the Bible.

Note the lesson we learn in this letter:


“Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ”

Apostle’s Authority

Prisoner Compassion

He does not say a prisoner of Rome or Nero.  They were only a part in the drama.  In actuality, Paul saw himself first and foremost as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.”  He was not there by accident.  His life had been placed in God’s care and control.

In truth, every one of us is a prisoner of someone or something.  Some are prisoners of our own passion.  Others are prisoners of our popularity.  Still others are held captive by pride.  Some are imprisoned by success, and others by a particular person.

Being held captive by His love has a liberating effect on us.

II. RELATIONAL. Verses 1-2

Listen to the words Paul uses to address his friends, brother, beloved (sister), fellow soldier, fellow laborer, the church

We were all made for relationships.  God wires us this way.  Small babies die without loving touch.  Children are emotionally scarred for life in the absence of a loving parental relationship.

Alan McGinnis, The Friendship Factor, wrote, “Friendships spill over onto the other important relationships of life. People with no friends usually have a diminished capacity for sustaining any kind of love. They tend to go through a succession of marriages, be estranged from various family members, and have trouble getting along at work.  On the other hand, those who learn how to love their friends tend to make loving and fulfilling marriages, get along well with people at work, and enjoy their children.”


“our brother” – speaking of Timothy

“sister” – (beloved) referred to Apphia {Ab-c-ia} (Philemon’s wife).  We need to see one another as family.  This was one of the secrets of Paul’s success.  He built a family consciousness and cohesiveness.  This should be true in our worship, and especially our Bible Study classes.  Building a spirit of community and camaraderie is vital in our relationships.  True friendships are really family affairs.  We are the body of Christ and the family of God.

“The church in Your house” – the called out ones.


“beloved friend”

John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."


Disciples had spent 3 years seeing Christ’s love in action.


Their love for one another would be modeled on His love for them and would draw an unbelieving world to God.  The world is still watching to see how we treat one another.  They want to know if our love is real and genuine, and if it includes them (LoveLoud).


Synergos – compound word which means to “work with.”  English word synergism and synergy comes from this word.  Word means that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  Paul is showing us how much we need each other.

Leviticus 26:8a: “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight”

Matthew 18:19: "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.”

Solomon understood this friendship/family, fellow worker truth:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: “Two are better than one,

Because they have a good reward for their labor. for if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

Fellow workers share each other’s dreams, work together in unity toward the same goal, and share in each other’s victories as though they were their own.

Working together for a common good is an indispensable principle.


Word carries the connotation of a fellow combatant, a comrade-in-arms, one who faced the same dangers and fought in the same foxhole in the same conflict.  We are in the same army.  Soldiers share a special bond. 

They are together in dangerous and exhausting circumstances.

They are focused on a common goal

They recognize a common enemy

Many are willing to unselfishly give their lives for a friend

All 4 words speak of how the gospel works.

1. Harvest Work

Paul, Timothy, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus.  Each life speaks of the power and effectiveness of the gospel.

2. Heart Work

“beloved” – Galatians 2:20 speaks of being Divinely Loved.

“beloved” – Philemon 2 speaks of being Dearly Loved.

3. Home-Work

Church in their home; love your family with the gospel.



“grace” – undeserved favor, love, and protection, unconditional, spontaneous, eternal, staying, pardoning; speaks of fruitful results in our life.


“peace” – its results; in the believer’s life, peace is always preceded by grace.

Presupposes a need; implies a war, strife within and among us.

Peace with God, peace with ourselves, peace with others.

Harmony in Philemon’s house had been broken.



Because of grace:

1. Father – I am His son

Paul saw himself in a Father-and-son relationship with God our Father.     

EXAMPLE: No grandchildren; not coat-tail religion/relationship

2. Lord – I am His servant

Colossians 4:1:  “Masters, give your bondservants what is just and fair, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.”

 3. Jesus Christ – He is my Savior.

Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. Throughout his life, Paul had celebrated that high and holy Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, means “the day of covering.” The sins of the previous year were covered by a blood sacrifice.

1 John 2:1-2: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”