The letter of Paul to Philemon is one phenomenal book that shows a practical side of Paul that is less talked about — a mediator. It is the letter of a prisoner asking for the “release” of another prisoner. It is a prisoner asking for the reinstatement of a slave and his formal acceptance into the household of Philemon; not just as a slave but as a brother in the common faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s go through this short book of the Bible that takes about 3 minutes 40 seconds to read through.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus
Paul starts most his epistles about who he is; a prisoner of Jesus, his Lord and Master. He is a prisoner of Jesus Christ and also a servant/slave. As such, he knows what he is talking about when he makes the case for Onesimus. It might sound mundane but do not forget that Paul left a secured and famous life, to be on the other side of history. He left what he had known all his life to be the right way to serve God through Jesus Christ. This was a big deal. That meant his social contacts were gone and Paul started life from ground zero. The Jews and Pharisees (whom he left) did not want anything to do with him and his new family, which he persecuted before now, were sceptical of him. Paul had no choice than to pursue his newfound faith zealously.
4 I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, 5 hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, 6 that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. 7 For we have great joy and consolation in your love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.
Paul thanked God for the faith and love that Philemon had exhibited to others. His love for God was evident in how he loved the people around him. You cannot claim to love God and be indifferent about the people around you.
He talked about how effectual his faith has been communicated to others by his ability to live it out. As such Paul reminded Philemon to carry on because he is praying for him. Also, others have been acknowledging the life that Philemon lived. he was a model Christian, whose chief job was to attract and retain others in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8 Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, 9 yet for love’s sake, I rather appeal to you — being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ — 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains.
The plea for Onesimus is made. Obvious Paul and Onesimus have bonded in prison and Onesimus has given Paul his history. Thankfully Paul knows Philemon and is trying to reconnect both parties. Using the platforms that God has given to us for good is something that God is always happy about.
12 I am sending him back. You, therefore, receive him, that is, my own heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. 14 But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary.
Paul is writing a strong letter of both introduction and recommendation for Onesimus. He is vouching for Onesimus. “This one is my own. Receive him as you would receive me”. He (Paul) is pleading with another dear brother (Philemon) to receive back his servant (Onesimus) just like the father did in the parable of the prodigal son; especially now that Onesimus is a new man in Christ Jesus.
Paul, went ahead to state a very important issue. He would have kept Onesimus but he must do what is proper; ask for Philemon’s consent. Paul did not take Philemon for granted though he could have. Paul did not want to put Philemon in a state where his options on the matter of Onesimus will be very limited. Paul did not want to take advantage of Philemon and this is a very crucial lesson for those of us who occupy positions of authority especially spiritual authority. Do not take people for granted. Do the right thing. Ask properly.
15 For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Paul encourages Philemon to see the greater good that has come out of this situation. Once Onesimus was not in Christ and now he is in the faith. This is of higher consequence in the eternal scheme of things. Once Onesimus was estranged from the commonwealth of heaven but now; no more. Perhaps this was the reason he ran away; in the grand scheme of things. Now he will be both your servant and a brother. That bond is stronger.
17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. 18 But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay…
Paul when ahead in the spirit of not taking things for granted to ask to pay whatsoever needs to be paid to restore Onesimus. Accepting him back is one thing, repairing the damage of whatsoever form (reputation, monetary etc) is another. Paul is mindful of this and as such, he is taking this into cognizance and he mentioned to Philemon that he will pay back; if need be.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow-labourers. 25 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow labourer, 2 to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
As is common in Paul’s letters, he sends greetings both in the beginning and at the end of his letters. He is mindful of his co-labourers. His greetings and prayers are to refresh their hearts. Going into a town and looking out for people is godly. Your presence refreshes people.
As we can see, there are many themes that can be obtained from this book. It is about mediation, forgiveness, friendship, being of use in the kingdom of God, refreshing the souls of others, evangelism by your deeds and acts, living out the faith etc. You can gig and dig out your own themes. I hope you were blessed reading it. You can spend another four minutes reading Philemon.
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