Conflict Resolution Principles from Philemon

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Article by Nate Nauman
Discipleship Specialist, FBC Jenks


“As part of the recent Primetime Revival, I had the privilege of preaching Paul’s Letter to Philemon. In this letter Paul appeals to Philemon—a man of great character, someone greatly loved by Paul, and the owner of Onesimus—to forgive and be reconciled to his runaway and formerly useless slave, Onesimus. In his appeal to Philemon and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul gives us some important principles for confronting broken relationships and how to work toward reconciliation.


As is normal with most every sermon, there is usually content that doesn’t make the “cut” because of time constraints. Although some of the points below were discussed in the sermon, this list of conflict resolution principles wasn’t included in the notes so I thought it might be helpful to provide you with my list of principles I observed as I studied Philemon.


Conflict Resolution Principles from Philemon:

  • Like Paul did for Onesimus, intercede for the guilty person when they are willing to do what is right (vv. 1-25).
  • Sign your name to the letter (v. 1). No anonymous notes.
  • Hold others accountable to do what is right. Be an Apphia, Archippus, and house church member (v. 2).
  • Before you confront someone, affirm them. It builds trust (vv. 1, 4-7).
  • Put your confidence in Christ because people will let you down (v. 8).
  • Don’t pull rank or order someone to do what is right (v. 8).
  • Appeal to others on the basis of love (vv. 9).
  • When you are making restitution or asking for forgiveness, do it in person (v. 12).
  • Challenge the guilty person to go back to the source of their wrong behavior (v. 12).
  • Don’t short-circuit the reconciliation process—no shortcuts (vv. 13-14).
  • Give the wronged person the opportunity to forgive without manipulating them into it (v. 14).
  • Never forget that our amazing God can turn horrible situations, even messy conflict, into something good and great (vv. 15-16).
  • Elevate the restoration of the relationship over the reclamation of the property damages (vv. 15-17).
  • If appropriate, take the debt of the guilty person upon yourself (v. 18-19).
  • Be a person who “refreshes” others in the midst of the conflict (vv. 7, 20).
  • Go above and beyond the minimum requirements in forgiveness and restitution (v. 21).


Here are some additional Principles regarding resolving conflict that aren’t specifically tied to a verse in Philemon, but are important for biblical reconciliation:

  • Pray for reconciliation for those who are going through a conflict.
  • Give a valid apology—don’t make excuses.
  • Keep the circle of conflict participants small. Don’t involve people who don’t need to be involved.
  • Define what the issue is and stick to the issue.
  • Fight fairly.
  • Give grace instead of justice.
  • Don’t be controlled by your emotions when “the knock at the door” comes.
  • Hold on to hope because God hasn’t given up on you or the other person.
  • Forgive, forgive, forgive and seek forgiveness.
  • Work toward restoration, not vindication.
  • Seek reconciliation with God and others.


As I hopefully made clear in the sermon, the message of reconciliation and Philemon is the message of the gospel. We had a broken relationship with God because we wronged Him. We defied his perfect standard and incurred a debt. Our sins earned us death. But, because God is the Compassionate Reconciler, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the debt that we couldn’t pay and so He died as our substitute.


Reconciliation doesn’t ignore the consequences of sin. Your sin must be dealt with because God is just and restitution must be made. But God is also loving and full of grace so He paid the penalty Himself. God wants a relationship with us and He made a way for the debt to be paid and for our relationship to be restored with Him through what Jesus, His Son, did for us on the cross.


Have you been reconciled to God by placing your faith in Jesus? This is where ultimate reconciliation is found. When we grasp how much God loves us by taking our sin and putting it on Jesus, we then realize just how much God did for us in order to reconcile us to Himself. If God goes to great lengths and a great cost to reconcile us to Himself, then why wouldn’t we do the same when it comes to our relationships with other! May God help you and me to be His agents of reconciliation.”


In Him,

Nate Nauman


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On August 8, 2019

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