To Forgive or Punish?

Rachel Bush

READ : Philemon 1-3, 17
Col. 3:12-17

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (v. 17 NRSV)

Doing the right thing—forgiving or getting our payback? We know this intersection well. Often we stand in middle of the road, peeking down the street one way and then the other, back and forth, trying to decide which way to take. We want to do what's right. But sometimes law or family or society says it's okay to get our revenge. This makes for a difficult choice for those trying to follow God's ways.

In the little book of Philemon we get a quick and complete story about a master and his servant. Onesimus is a slave who has somehow wronged his master Philemon and run away. Providentially, it seems he ran right into Paul's orbit and became a changed man, a servant of God. When Paul sends Onesimus home Philemon has a difficult decision to make. After all, Onesimus is still legally a slave and punishable under the law. But Paul has confidently requested that Philemon welcome Onesimus home as a brother in the work of Christ, transferring all his debts to Paul's account.

The book does not reveal a verdict. We don't know Philemon's answer, but we do know that God is telling us something. When we can't decide which road to take, to forgive or to punish, we must carefully consider Paul's plea to welcome those, once useless, who have become coworkers in the kingdom of God.


God of grace, lead us down the road of forgiveness that we may welcome and not reject.