That Same Kind of Love
Paul's letter to Philemon is short and to the point; it comes to focus almost immediately.
Why did he feel the need to write to Philemon from Colossae while he was in prison? The main reason is to humbly ask for a favor from a friend for a friend. A favor that would deal with the heart and soul of the believer -- the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation.
- Philemon pastored a church in his home and was known as a pastor who refreshed those who were a part of this body God gave to him to minister to.
- Paul did not plant the church there in Colossae; his evangelist friend Epaphroditis did.
- Paul had
never been to this church physically, nor did he know the body in a
personal way, but Paul cared very much about them
Philemon (a wealthy Christian man) was presumed to be a minister over a church in his home in the city of Colossae and that his home was probably quite large in order to be able to house an entire body of believers.
Back in Paul's personal letter to the Colossian Christians we might recall how he saw the need to warn them about the Jewish zealots who kept trying to convince the believers they needed to return to the strict inheritance of ceremonial law over grace. (just as he did with the Philippian Christians). Paul, in this particular letter (Philemon), however, pens this letter with his co-writer Timothy specifically for the purpose of bringing out how he wanted Philemon and the Body there to deal with one of Philemon's slaves (Onesimus). His purpose: Receive Onesimus with forgiveness and reconciliation. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who had run away, but who, through Paul's ministry got saved. In this letter, Paul will be calling for these Christians to be accepting of this man who has become a dear friend to him.
- Philemon is a letter about forgiveness, reconciliation, and showing joy when we offer it to others
- Philemon teaches the believer about Equality in Christ. (Although Onesimus was a slave, Paul wants Philemon to consider him the same as him, a brother in Christ.).
- Just as we know Grace is a gift from God, it is important for us out of gratitude, to show that same grace to others.
Jesus constantly commanded his disciples to love one another, and that the difference between them and pagans would be how they showed love. Paul requested that same kind of love from Philemon, which runs contrary to our human instinct. He makes request for Onesimus even knowing he could not make excuses for the runaway slave, but maybe in part he wanted to see others take part in making someone who people thought bad, become good and useful instead.
We don’t know much about how Paul met Onesimus. There is a possibility he could have met him while in prison, for it is there we believe he could have served Paul in a small way. It is during this time that Paul brings Onesimus to the Lord. Now Paul has written this short letter and is sending Onesimus back to Colossae to his Master Philemon to be reconciled to his owner, to be forgiven by the body there, and to be made useful to the Body as he was useful to Paul. Though Onesimus was now saved, he had not yet been pardoned by his owner.
Many commentators found it especially interesting how this short letter would have been chosen to be preserved so it could be added to the scriptures for us today. Obviously there is something that we can learn with regard to our Christian walks. That we can put to practice when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation with others.
I. That Blessing of Grace and Peace
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
- Paul writes to Philemon specifically (Because he was the owner of the slave)
- Paul writes to Apphia specifically -- a sister in the church, possibly Philemon's wife. (Because she is the one who deals with the domestic affairs of the church there in Philemon's home.)
- Paul writes to Archippus -- a fellow laborer in the Lord (Because he is a brother there in the church who is filled with concern about the returning slave)
- Paul writes to the Body at Colossae (Because Onesimus's return will affect the entire body. Are they going to be accepting or rejecting?)
- Paul certainly writes to YOU and to ME
For your reflection: Why is it important for us to be included in Paul's purpose for writing this letter?
- At the beginning of the Letter, Paul shows his affection for this Body. "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Whenever Paul starts his letters to the churches, he is careful to draw the body's attention to God first and always to remind those he writes to of his fondness and concern for them. He continually brings the believer back to that Grace and Peace that God has available to us. One thing that's different about this letter is that he doesn’t begin it with "Paul the apostle" but "Paul the prisoner" making it more personal. He's writing to a friend as we've mentioned earlier.
- Paul emphasizes the importance of being Thankful and Prayerful.
He's never met this body and yet,
- He thanks God for them
- He lets them know he remembers them in his prayers,
- He lets them know he keeps track of them, so that he will know how they are doing
(Hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints)
- He thinks to pray to those in the body to remain active in sharing their faith with others
For your reflection: Discuss some ways we show others in the body of Christ
- we are faithful to thank God for them, for their friendship
- we are staying faithful to pray for them
- that we stay on top of how they are doing in the Lord
He's never met this body personally and yet. He is able to say to them: (Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints).
II. That Necessary Act of Acceptance and Forgiveness
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good-- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me
We find ourselves to the main point of Paul's letter: His Plea for Onesimus. He has started his letter with words of encouragement, love, faithfulness, grace, and assurance that this particular body has brought him great joy as he has learned of their growth in the Lord and their flourishing as a Body of Believers.
A letter which begins with such great encouragement and love makes it easier to be able to share further in about the burden or concern you might have on your heart about a certain subject. (The important thing of course is whether or not it will be received when the recipient of the letter opens it and reads it) So much matters on what we write, how we write it, and where our heart is at the time we write the letter.
Another aspect of this letter which I think is important is that though Paul could have made a demand to Philemon and the body to be accepting of Onesimus upon his return, with humility Paul appeals instead.
Let's break this portion down.
- Paul is now ready to petition these believers
- Paul is concerned for how they will treat someone who has become his friend
- Paul has come to love this dear man. "I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel."
- Paul would like to see Philemon and the body there at Colossae willing to take Onesimus back not simply as a slave but as a brother.
- Paul, in spite of what Onesimus might have done in the past, is willing to take the wrong.
Onesimus, who may have been considered by many to be useless in the past, now as a believer, can be made beneficial not only to himself but to others. The Lord is so gracious to make people without hope, new creations in Him and able to be used in positive ways for God's glory.
Another thing we can see here in the life of Onesimus the runaway slave who became a Christian is this and it can apply to each of us personally.
I love that. We all have something in our past we would like to just forget and hope that someday it will just disappear as if it never happened…but it did.
As Christians we CAN face our pasts, let them go, then move forward with our lives. We have been forgiven for our wrongs, we can become forgiving to others who might have wronged us, and we need to let go and let God take control of our future.
We know God forgives, but for us it is sometimes not easy. When we have made mistakes, or others have made mistakes against us the way back how willing, though, are we to let them back into our lives if this is what is necessary?
For your reflection: Consider a time when you have been in this situation and how you dealt with it, or are dealing with it today.
Philemon, as short of a letter as it is, just as I mentioned before speaks to the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation. Ephesians 4:31-32 brings it out well, not only in the forgiveness of others, but I believe, in the forgiveness of ourselves…as we let go of that past that just might continue to plague us.
III. Confidence in Loved Ones
He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Starting this section of Philemon with the 18th verse again, I want to emphasize where Paul was willing to even take the wrong of Onesimus's past whatever it entailed. This shows us Paul's example as a similarity in the teachings and actions of our Lord, who took our wrongs of the world upon himself when he died on the cross for our sins, doesn’t it.
For your reflection: Have you ever had a circumstance where you have taken the wrong in a situation between you and someone else?
Paul ends this brief letter in such a human and affectionate way. "How about putting me up, Philemon, my good brother? Got a room ready for me? Did you change the sheets? Are you going to put a chocolate on my pillow?" (my words of course)
It seems to me so personal how Paul would ask for them to kindly make provisions for him (provide him with a place to sleep should he come to see them). There are so many places in Paul's letters where he gets personal with those to whom he writes. He makes his letter so real, so practical. Once again, the emphasis of this letter once again takes us back to forgiveness, reconciliation, and the joy we can have by showing this in our lives toward others.
To think about:
- What are ways you can show you are expecting the best of people?
- How do you see this letter applying specifically to your life?
- There are times we all need to be reconciled to someone. How do we go about bringing a healing to a relationship?
Yes, Jesus constantly commanded his disciples to love one another, and that the difference between them and pagans would be how they showed love. Paul requested that same kind of love from Philemon, which runs contrary to our human instinct. God requests that same kind of love from us toward others.
Just as we learned about living with joy throughout Paul's letter to the Philippians, I believe God fills us with joy when we do show forgiveness to others, love for others, and try to reconcile with others as much as is possible within us.