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Onesimus was a runaway slave, whom the apostle Paul helped to find the Saviour. He spoke about him as "my child, whom I have begotten in my bonds, Onesimus". He became very helpful to the aged apostle when he was in prison, and that's interesting, because his name means Helpful. Having received new life in Christ, he was now being helped to live out the meaning of his name. Paul would have liked to keep him with him, but there were things in his life which had to be put right first. He'd run away from his master Philemon, and stolen from him too, as far as we can judge. So Paul wrote the short letter which in our New Testaments bears Philemon's name and in it he pleads with him to forgive Onesimus. He promised to repay himself any debt Onesimus owed. It was a masterly letter, full of the love of Christ, and pleading for the forgiveness which springs out of love. I'm sure when Philemon received it he'd be unable to resist the entreaty of his aged friend, and any hard feelings he may have had would gradually melt away.

This matter of forgiveness is so important, and especially when we are Christians. The Lord Jesus said "If ye forgive not men their trespasses,

neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Mat. 6:14). An unforgiving spirit does far more damage to the person who has it than to the one he's unwilling to forgive.

May I remind you of the words the apostle Paul wrote, also from the Roman prison, round about the same time as he wrote to Philemon, "be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you" (Eph. 4:32). Notice, as God forgave you. How has He forgiven us? Oh, freely and fully and finally, blotting our sin from His memory. He has forgiven all things, and He has loved us freely. And now He asks that we do the same with anyone who may offend us, or speak unkindly about us. "Be ye therefore imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you" (Eph. 5:2). So we have two great examples on which to pattern our lives - the example of God's forgiveness and the example of Christ's love - Both have reached us through the gospel and now we are asked, by the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells within, to show out both these lovely traits in our lives - God's forgiveness and Christ's love.