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Walk through of Philemon
4/28/19 “Love and Faith” Philemon 1-7
5/5/19 “From Slave to Brother” Philemon 8-16
5/12/19 “Confident Obedience” Philemon 17-25
“I’ve Heard of You”
Have you ever met someone for the first time, and their response is “I’ve heard of you”? Or, have you ever been away from someone for a while and when you get back, they say “I heard about what you did?” These can be scary questions depending on what they mean by it. Have they heard good things about us or bad? Our reputations are important, and they can go a long way in relationships, employment opportunities, and admission into schools. While a good reputation will likely bring you positive results, a bad reputation can ruin your chances at accomplishing anything.
The apostle Paul once wrote a letter to a man named Philemon in the middle of the 1st century CE. He was a Christian living around the city of Colossae (in modern-day Turkey) whose home was used as a church. Philemon was likely a man of means, who had a family, a nice house, and even some slaves. Slaves in the Greco-Roman world during this period were not slaves because of race, but because of economics and birth. At any rate, Paul addresses Philemon as a beloved brother and a fellow worker in the Gospel (v. 1). Paul extends to him the grace and peace of their Father and Lord Jesus Christ (v. 3), before going into a time of thanksgiving for Philemon.
Paul is specifically giving thanks to God and remembering Philemon in his prayers because Paul has heard of his love and faith towards God and all the saints - fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (v. 4-5). In fact, Paul receives much joy and encouragement from him and his work refreshing the hearts and souls of God’s people (v. 7). Therefore, Paul hopes that Philemon’s partnership in the faith will become effective through his knowledge of every good thing in Christ (v. 6).
This is all pretty amazing considering that they likely have not seen each other for a long time, and they are over 1,000 miles apart. Yet, Paul has heard of all the love and faith that Philemon is exemplifying. That’s a good reputation!
Have people heard of you? If so, what are you known for? Let us hope that people have heard of us because of our faith in Jesus Christ and our great love and service for God and for others!
“From Slave to Brother”
What does it mean when you become part of a family? It means that you enter into a community of love. You are no longer on your own, but you are an integral part of a community. On the other hand, it can take time for others to get used to you, and even to trust you, especially if there have been some previous hurts. Since it’s not always easy to make this transition or to accept everyone as they are, how do you proceed?
In a short letter to a man named Philemon, Paul carefully appeals to him concerning a delicate matter. Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, has run away from his master, and into Paul’s life. Paul has a cultural obligation to return Onesimus, just as Philemon has a cultural obligation to punish him for his misbehavior. Onesimus is already at the bottom of the social ladder and he can get in big trouble for running away. Yet something happens when he meets Paul. Onesimus becomes a Christian, most likely by Paul’s evangelistic efforts, and is now serving Paul in the ministry of the Gospel (Philemon 13). This once useless slave has now become very useful (v. 11).
In fact, Onesimus has become quite dear to Paul, to the point that Paul calls him his child (v. 10). But now, Paul knows he needs to send Onesimus back to Philemon despite the blessing he has been. How does Paul get Philemon to accept Onesimus in a kind, loving way? Isn’t he meddling into Philemon’s business?
What is powerful is that despite having the grounds and authority to order Philemon to accept Onesimus back (vs. 8, 14, 19), Paul does not want to do it by compulsion or without Philemon’s consent (v. 14). He therefore appeals to Philemon on the basis of love (v. 9)! Paul wants Philemon to realize that Onesimus is no longer an outsider – a useless slave who doesn’t count for much. Onesimus is now part of a new family – the family of faith. He is a brother in Jesus Christ to both Paul and Philemon, now and forever (vs. 15-16).
It might not be an easy transition. How will these two men react to each other? Will they let past hurts get in the way, or will they embrace each other as family members – as brothers? What would you do? Paul suggests acceptance through God’s love!
When We Welcome Jesus
The letter to Philemon gives us insight into what the apostles thought of the Christian life.
By the time we get to the end of this short letter, it also reflects for us the true nature of the gospel: For those who want to follow Jesus, the greatest must become the least and those who are the least will be elevated to the greatest. That means each of us must be willing to take up our crosses and lay down our lives (and rights) for each other.
In the letter, Paul essentially puts this Christian truth into practice: He asks that Onesimus, the former slave, be welcomed like the apostle himself (v. 17), and that Paul, as an apostle, be given the debts that the former slave owes (v. 18).
Here then lies the truth of our faith. We believe—not just in intellectual theology, but in daily practice—that, when we welcome Jesus, he must reorder our lives so they might reflect his. Don’t think you can say you believe in Jesus and not follow in his footsteps. It’s all about love. Partnering. Forgiving. Welcoming. Restoring. Refreshing. Praying. Serving.
All for the glory of God and witness to the new creation.
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