My wife is a great encourager. And she has used plenty of opportunities to remind me. More than often, her encouragement would come during stressful times of work. She does it quite well.
I recall one time in particular. I was given a rather difficult project that required a lot of immediate and unrelenting time. The undertaking would require about forty-hours to complete. I had only forty-eight before it was due. So it was certainly possible. But it required that I work two straight days with no sleep and very little time for mistakes.
I had no time to think it through or worry, so I grabbed some coffee and took my seat in front of the computer to start working. My wife came in soon after and took a seat next to me and uttered some words of encouragement. She expressed her gratitude for my diligence and hard work, reminded me of past accomplishments, and told me how much my determination inspired her.
Her encouragement was assuring. She didn’t doubt my talents. She was confident in my abilities and knew that I would pull through. She only spoke words that would help build up my eagerness and energy to push through gracefully.
I then began working on that project with a refreshed and strengthened heart. I was motivated and ready. I was alert and energetic. I was about to start a long, intense project without sleep for two days, but I was never more ready than at the moment.
Philemon had much more of a hard task before him. He just came face-to-face with Onesimus, his once disgruntled slave who wronged him and made the days of the past more than a handful. No doubt, he treated this man with the utmost care. Still, he was betrayed by him. Now, forgiveness was due and it was not going to be easy.
Still, Paul was confident in Philemon. He knew that he could do it. He had the Spirit of Christ. He was regenerated by God. He has the power to forgive. His reputation affirmed his genuine faith. He experienced grace. But Paul also knew that the heart of man, even the regenerated heart, suffers concerns.
Paul, although fully confident in Philemon’s heart, decided to be of some initial encouragement. Like my wife Kathy, he expressed words that inspired. He spoke of his godly reputation, his genuine faith, his hard work, his love and the effect that he leaves on those in the church. Philemon refreshed “the hearts of the saints” and so Paul wanted to refresh his in hopes that it would assure his heart to forgive.
As my wife’s words gave me a strong, freshened heart, so did Paul’s words do for Philemon. He set the tone in his opening. He is writing as a friend and co-laborer rather than an apostle. So a tone of tenderness is already there.
Paul didn’t command forgiveness. He asked for it and he assured the heart in order to help. This was not his way of tricking Philemon into doing something that he would not otherwise do. This was his way of participating in the work of Christ, as the Lord builds up His body to reflect the grace that He has given.
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. (Philemon 1:4-7)
From the book, Forgiveness: A Commentary on Philemon, by Jacob Abshire