Can we FORGIVE others just like GOD has FORGIVEN us? “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay--not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 1:17-21)
In the above passage, Apostle Paul is interceding on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus to his master Philemon by putting his own friendship, money and reputation at stake. Paul actually did not have to write this appeal letter, for Onesimus deserved the just punishment that was due to him as a thief and a runaway slave. Nor did he have to send back the runaway slave to his former master as per the Old Testament Law, which has drawn up certain clear rules regarding runaway slaves. This is how the Old Testament Law appeals to the person (like Paul) who has received the runaway slave: "You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you. He may dwell with you in your midst, in the place which he chooses within one of your gates, where it seems best to him; you shall not oppress him" (Deut. 23:15-16).
However, Apostle Paul was now operating under a higher law of Jesus Christ, which was the law of grace and forgiveness. Christ did not come to destroy the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). Onesimus had to go the second mile (Matt. 5:41) and do restitution (good) to his former master (Matt. 5:44). Philemon, on the other hand, had to not only forgive the transgressions of his former slave, but had to accept him back not only as a slave but as a beloved brother in the Lord (v. 16).
So, Apostle Paul appeals to his beloved friend and fellow laborer Philemon (v. 1) to receive Onesimus in the same way as he would receive Paul. His request is startling both in its boldness and in its tenderness and reflects the statement of Jesus: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me" (Matt. 10:40). This reminds us how God has accepted us in the Person of His Son Jesus even though we were enemies, sinners and transgressors of His Law (see Rom. 5:8-10).
We should note that Paul never questioned Philemon’s right to have his slave returned or receive reimbursement for the theft. According to Roman law, Onesimus could have been executed for his crimes! But he had become a brother in Christ, and Philemon had to forgive him and receive him back as a brother (16). True reconciliation is not cheap; there is a price to pay. Paul knew this and was willing to pay the price himself. By doing this, he was imitating his Lord Jesus Christ! (Isa. 53:6)
We too were once estranged from God because of our sin, but through the death and resurrection of Christ the cause of our enmity has been removed and we have been reconciled to God. Two statements in Paul’s letter to Philemon remind us of what Jesus did for us. “Receive him [Onesimus] as you would me” (v. 17) reminds us that we are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). “Put that on my account” (v. 18) reminds us that Jesus paid the price for our redemption (Rom. 4:1–8; 2 Cor. 5:21).