All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.—2 Corinthians 5:18
You’re getting along just fine with your brother when suddenly you find that you don’t see eye-to-eye on something. And the disagreement escalates a little, then a little more, until your friendship sort of devolves into hurt and frustration. It happens – and that’s just one scenario. There are at least as many ways for friends to fall out as there are friendships. But our God is a God of peace, and He would have us work toward restoring harmony when conflicts arise with people in our lives.
The book of Philemon is a story about just that potential for renewal — an account of reconciliation between Onesimus (whose name means “useless”) to Philemon, a wealthy donor to Paul and leader in the early church. Onesimus was a runaway slave who Paul met in Rome and led to Christ before discovering that he knew Onesimus’ owner, Philemon. Paul then sends Onesimus back to Philemon carrying a letter encouraging reconciliation between the two men. There is much we can take away from Paul’s godly perspective of this age-old issue: rifts in relationships.
One | You Must Go Back to Go Forward
“I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.” (Philemon 12)
All of our relationships have context and history; we need to remember that matters. Paul reminds Philemon that Onesimus is a person of intrinsic value (he matters to Paul, just as he matters to God). Indeed, every person is important to God; His entire eternal plan was forged to bring His lost and loved people back into relationship with Himself. Jesus is the proof incarnate that “God so loved the world.” Even the most off-course, seemingly hopeless cases – yes, even the criminal hanging on a neighboring cross as Jesus was crucified – He rejoices to save. We have to see the bigger picture, to view people with God’s eyes, not our own, and sometimes that is HARD to do. But praise God, He helps us do it.
Two | Spiritual Renewal Changes People and Their Relationships
“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant 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.” (Philemon 15-16)
Onesimus had been Philemon’s slave, but Paul was not playing “bounty hunter” here. His goal was not to return a slave to the owner. Instead, he hoped to encourage a transformational reconciliation – one in which the restored relationship between two men would reflect a brother-to-brother bond rather than their former slave and owner connection. So, if we are striving to see the people in our lives as God sees them, the nature of our interaction with them will inevitably be changed. Particularly if they are fellow believers – because then, Scripture makes clear, we are bound together by virtue of our shared faith in Jesus Christ. They’re family – so it behooves us to do everything we can to handle those relationships in a way that’s pleasing to the Lord.
Three | Mediation & Bartering May Help
“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (Philemon 17-18)
Paul was a friend to both men, and he aimed to bring peace to their relationship. He took the initiative as a sort of mediator, and we can follow his lead by encouraging reconciliation between two feuding friends. But it also follows that if we ourselves are at odds with a brother, we can and often should seek help from a cooler-headed third party. Especially if that third party has a little expertise in the art of conflict resolution. Be careful, though. Make sure your mediator can bring a spiritual viewpoint to the table and maintain a neutral perspective. It’s tempting to engage a go-between who seems to side with you so that together you can present a united front. But that’ll only make your brother feel attacked and distance him even more. Even if you sincerely believe your brother is behaving in a scripturally errant or un-Christlike way, you still want to identify a mediator who can help guide you through the reconciliation process in a thoughtful, sensitive, loving way.
Four | Be Willing to Make Amends
“Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 21)
To restore a relationship is – perhaps first and foremost – an act of obedience. We know that God is a God of reconciliation, so reconciliation is what we seek. But it does come at a cost. It requires that we set aside our ruffled feathers to see things from the other guy’s point of view. It requires that we welcome each other, agreeing to learn whatever hard lessons are necessary, and move on. It requires that we correct any mistakes we’ve made and attempt to put things right. And it requires a decision to forgive – and a commitment to work toward restoring trust.
Our friendships are valuable. You know how it is when you’ve lost something that was important to you, or something you treasure gets broken – and how happy you feel when the lost is found or the broken repaired. Friendships are worth pursuing, and Scripture encourages us to preserve those bonds—“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18). After all, as brothers in Christ, we all end up together in heaven – forever!
Vince Miller is an author and speaker to men around the world on topics that include manhood, masculinity, fatherhood, mentorship, and leadership. He has authored 18 different books for men and is hosted on major video platforms like RightNow Media and Faithlife TV. He hosts a weekly podcast, writes weekly articles, and provides daily thoughts from God's Word all just for men. He is a 27-year ministry veteran and the founder of Resolute a Men's Ministry Platform that provides bible studies aimed at building better men found at www.beresolute.org. See his latest study Men & Marriage: Overcoming 6 Unspoken Tensions.