And the journey continues…Philemon. This short letter from Paul to the slave owning believer Philemon in Colossae is an example of Christian persuasion at its best. Paul’s words seek to remind the believing slave owner, who has been wronged, of how his faith in Christ can and will transform his attitudes and opinions for the common good. It seems Onesimus, the slave, ran away from his master Philemon’s home in Colossae stealing from him in the process. His journey away from Colossae took him to Rome where he encountered Paul. Paul lead him to faith in Jesus and was witness to his transformed character. Onesimus decided that the right thing to do was to return to his master. Under Roman law, this was a crime punishable by death. Seeing the changed heart and his desire to return to ‘fix’ the situation, Paul writes this letter to persuade Philemon to welcome Onesimus back into this home and his service.
Paul’s steps to persuade Philemon start with their common ground. They are both believers and Paul thanks God for Philemon’s faith in Jesus and his willingness to share his faith with others. Paul tells him how he has been blessed and encouraged by the faith of the believers in Colossae. As we learned in Colossians, Paul had never been to Colossae but Epaphras whom he had led to Christ had started a church there. Paul had heard of their growing and vibrant faith. Philemon 1:7 “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. What Christian brother or sister are you grateful for? How has their love for Jesus impacted you? Does their witness and faith encourage you and build up your own faith? If so, make a point of telling them. It will be an encouragement to them and help them see how they are having an impact for Christ in the world.
Next Paul sets before Philemon a challenge of faith. He asks him, because of Jesus’ loves for him, to accept and forgive Onesimus back for several reasons. Paul tells him of his love for Onesimus and how much he has grown to love this young man since leading him to Christ. He tells him how helpful he has been, during his time in prison, and that it is as if Philemon is there helping him through Onesimus. As to the matter of what he stole from Philemon, Paul goes so far as to ask Philemon to charge the debt to him. He says he will pay whatever is owed when he sees Philemon. Lastly, he argues the point that if he should welcome Onesimus back he will get not only his slave returned to his service but a brother in Christ who will be serving him and the savior they share in faith.
As I pondered Paul’s pleas for the life of Onesimus, I was struck by the power of the gospel in our lives. Paul contributes Onesimus’ new attitudes and faith in Christ with his total change of heart and character. The power of Christ in our lives makes us do and say things that are contrary to our old nature. The truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17 is evident in Onesimus’ life. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” He was also reminding Philemon that he too has a new nature that should not be motivated by worldly values. Is there someone or something you need to reevaluate in light of the cross of Christ?
Paul closes this letter with greetings to their common friends and asks Philemon to have a room ready for him when he visits. This is very personal and shows Paul’s willingness to come to him regardless of his decision concerning Onesimus. He is praying that Philemon will be lead by Christ to have compassion, mercy and love towards his slave. PauI’s pleas remind me God’s desire for each of us.
Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
May we seek to please God and walk humbly with Christ looking to serve him with justice and love towards others.