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By: Larry Shaffer
This pic is from our ministry trip to Malawi in 2016. I’m with our International Missions Pastor, Tim Martin (middle) and Jacob Chung
Fancy meeting you here
Philemon, part 3
Here’s the story; while Paul was in the city of Colossae, preaching and establishing a church, Philemon, his wife Apphia and son Archippus became Christians. It appears they were of the kind that went all in. The church began to meet in Philemon’s house. Paul and Philemon formed a bond and close friendship. Philemon also had a slave, named Onesimus. Slaves were a huge population in the Roman Empire and a lynch-pin of society and the economic system of Rome. I don’t know all the details of the slavery system in Rome, but my understanding is that the abuses were not as brutal and pervasive as the stories we hear related to slave ships, etc. Nevertheless, even though slaves in Rome could buy and sell goods, get married and usually had room and board in good conditions, it was still a system were people were considered the property of another person. Such was the case of Onesimus and he wanted his freedom.
It’s a small world
He apparently stole some money and/or property from Philemon and ran away. Whether this happened before Philemon became a Christian or not, it is not clear. He headed to Rome to hide on the streets among the masses. Somehow, in God’s providence, Onesimus encountered Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome. A real “small world” encounter. Perhaps Onesimus found a job serving food to prisoners or house-keeping and came into Paul’s proximity daily. As was Paul’s custom, he engaged with Onesimus and shared Christ with him. Onesimus became a Christian and the father-son bond in The Faith between the two began to grow and develop. They became close as Paul discipled and taught him God’s Word and Onesimus began to serve Paul and become useful and refreshing to him in his imprisonment.
When did the awareness of their mutual knowledge of Philemon happened? I’m not sure. But when the faith of Onesimus had grown strong, Paul advised him to go back to Philemon, submit to him as his slave and make things right. This was an ominous decision for Onesimus. Legally, masters had the right to inflict serious consequences for runaway slaves. He was not only a run-away, but also a thief. Most likely, since Onesimus lived in Philemon’s home, there was probably a certain closeness and personal trust that was broken, and it left a huge hole of betrayal in Philemon’s heart. Onesimus, by the grace of God and under the discipleship of Paul, was a completely transformed man.
Paul wrote this personal letter to Philemon and had it delivered by Tychicus, along with the epistle to the Colossians and alongside Onesimus. Philemon was no doubt thrilled to see his spiritual brother Tychicus, excited to read the letters from Paul but utterly shocked to see Onesimus. Like all challenging and difficult situations, Philemon had the opportunity to face this unexpected scenario and respond with either grace and kindness or respond with defiance. Would Philemon respond in submission to God and forgive or would he cling to bitterness and exercise his rights?
Let’s get personal
We all know what Philemon should do. It’s pretty much a no-brainer. But then again, this is a story about someone else. The real question is how are we going to respond today to others who wrong us? What are we going to do about the unforgiveness and revenge that we have in our hearts today over past offenses, big and small? Well, that’s pretty much a no-brainer as well, right? Maybe, but it is personal, and it is hard to forgive. God, deal with our hearts today. You forgave us much. Help us be like you and forgive as well. Amen.