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Philemon Discussion Guide

By February 12, 2023February 15th, 2023Small Group Study Guide

Activity: On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate how difficult it is for you to forgive when someone wrongs you in some way?

Question 1: Do you recognize a tension between justice and forgiveness? Do you have a tendency to emphasize or ignore one over the other?

*Note— When we think biblically about God’s attributes, such as love and justice, we see that these are not mutually exclusive. No attribute of God is more important than the others. We run into trouble when we prioritize one over the other. The cross is a beautiful picture that displays God’s justice and love.

Read Philemon 8-21:  Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus,[b] whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant[c] but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Explain:  Ancient slavery was different from American slavery. This doesn’t mean ancient forms of slavery were “not that bad.” However, there are many reasons why Paul doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery. It’s possible he hints at Onesimus’s freedom in v. 21. Paul does condemn slave traders in 1 Tim 1:10. While the Bible doesn’t explicitly condemn slavery, it plants the seeds that lead to the abolition of slavery. Something profound is happening in the book of Philemon. The gospel transforms relationships and transforms people’s social standing. In the church, slaves and free men and women were considered equals—brothers and sisters in Christ. The main point of Philemon emphasizes the importance of unity and reconciliation in the body of Christ, the church.

Question 2: Why is unity and reconciliation so important for Paul?

Question 3: Perhaps consider a time when someone wronged you, you chose to forgive them, and then years later you found yourself to still be bitter or angry towards them. Why can forgiveness be so difficult?

Question 4: In vv. 4-10, Paul builds on a pre-existing trust relationship with Philemon. He earned the right to speak into Philemon’s life and ask him to do something difficult—forgive. What are some specific ways you can prioritize growing trust relationships?

Explain: Forgiving others is not easy. Extending forgiveness is not opposed to pursuing justice. Forgiveness takes time. It does not mean trust is immediately restored.

Read Ephesians 4:32: 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Read Luke 7:41-47: 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Question 5: When forgiveness is difficult, what do we learn from the above passages?

Question 6: Is there any unforgiveness that you’re harboring internally?

Question 7: What would it look like for you to forgive and move toward reconciliation?

Question 8: How does the personal nature of forgiveness play out in a communal setting (like the church)?

Question 9: Read vv. 10-11. In what ways is your life “useful” or “fit” for service to those around you?

Question 10: Do you struggle with believing that you are forgiven in Christ?

Conclude: Spend time discussing and praying about next steps for moving toward forgiveness and reconciliation. If God has revealed any sin to you, confess it and thank him for forgiveness.

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