“Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
Philemon 1:8-16 NKJV
There have been times in my life when I have had adversaries that made my life difficult. Often the source of the conflict was the mutual lack of understanding, fed by a lack of knowledge. Sometimes those conflicts can become so fierce that one leaves the other and a relationship is ended.
I have also had situations where a person that I had previously severed ties with, has reentered my life, now as a fellow follower of Christ. Suddenly, all of the bad feelings that so colored our previous interactions, are thrown out, because we have both been made new.
I spent a brief minute in Philemon, this morning. I say brief because it is a very brief book. In it, Paul is gently urging the named recipient to receive one Onesimus, who had been a slave in the household of Philemon. He had stolen from his master and escaped, fleeing to Rome. But God, in His sovereignty, had led him to Paul, who led him to Jesus.
Jesus had transformed him from slave to brother, from owned, to one made free in Christ. Philemon had lost a slave, but gained a brother and fellow servant. It meant a change in his relationship to this one who had previously left him.
In this walk of faith, many of us will encounter those who we knew before we knew Jesus, and in some cases those remembrances may be difficult. Years ago I had a coworker that I had a prolonged conflict with. The environment in which we worked together was woefully toxic. When I look back at the factors that placed us at odds, it was a lack of knowledge of the other that drove things.
Eventually, I left the workplace and severed ties. Years later I encountered the coworker in an unlikely situation, as I entered the church I attended. He was leaving after attending a study. He had apparently become a Christian, forgiven and being made new, just like me.
Instead of acrimony, we were now brothers and greeted each other with joy!
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Galatians 3:26-29 NKJV
Brothers and sisters, Jesus is One who can transform any heart, any relationship, no matter how fractured. Just as He transformed Onesimus from slave to servant of the most high God, from adversary of Philemon to brother and fellow servant, He can transform every relationship and every life.
Onesimus was faithful in his service to the Lord. Over time He proved effective needful for the spreading of the Gospel.
“I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that he may know your circumstances and comfort your hearts, with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will make known to you all things which are happening here.”
Colossians 4:8-9 NKJV
You might be one who has been wronged, even by a fellow believer. Make every effort to make peace, as we are all connected. You may sever ties on this side of eternity, but you will not be able on the other.
It is far better to extend grace, that the world see how those devoted Jesus treat one another.
“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
Ephesians 4:1-6 NKJV