November 13, 2017

Philemon

By: Larry Shaffer

This is my dear friend, Pastor Charles Tsukuluzu when he stayed in our home in The Woodlands, TX last year. He lives in Lilongwe, Malawi and he is the Pastor of Pastors in Malawi. I am wearing a shirt he brought me from Malawi and he’s wearing a T-shirt our church provided him when he attended our International Mission conference.

Philemon

Open your Bible and without looking at the table of contents, find the book of Philemon. I must admit, it took me a few minutes. Who chooses Philemon for their devotions? I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon on Philemon, have you??? Once you find it, read it. It only takes about 5 minutes. Why is this book in the Bible? As I begin, I’m not sure I can answer that question with total confidence. But that’s why I’m compelled to explore it and discover the divine principles that are here. Philemon has survived all the grueling tests of canonicity, which is divine and scholarly tests of inspiration, as well as the test of preservation (enduring the test of time). Yes, we accept Philemon, and the entire 66 books of the Bible by faith, but it’s not blind faith. It is faith with substance. The Bible has gone through God’s publishing process which is not mystical but scholarly. It has divinely (not mystically) endured the test of time and has been transmitted without error for millenniums. (Note: the science of textual criticism has confirmed transmission with 99.99 accuracy with the words in doubt having no effect on its content). All that to say, Philemon is “in” the Bible and there is a reason. Let’s find it, learn it and apply it to our lives. As with all scripture, these words are life to us and carry with them promises to grow us, renew us and make us more like Jesus! Take five minutes and read it. I bet the Lord whispers in your ear words about forgiveness and restoration. Amen.

Let’s get personal

Philemon is a personal letter from the apostle Paul written toward the end of his life while in prison in Rome. It was delivered to the city of Colossae, along with the book of Colossians, to Philemon, a prominent member of the church Paul had established in Colossae. Colossians was written to the church and is filled with rich and deep doctrinal truth. Philemon was an open letter written to an individual about a personal issue. From a quick reading of Philemon, the themes appear to be the amazing transformation of the saving grace of salvation and consequently, how salvation effects personal restoration and forgiveness. Philemon also gives insight into the early church’s relationship with slavery. Hmmm, this should be interesting to explore deeper.

“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother; to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker…grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” v1-3. Philemon was a prominent member of the church which met in his home, so therefore probably wealthy and prominent in the community as well. Plus, he had at least one slave, the subject of this letter. More on that later. Interesting that of the letters written from prison, this is the only one that opens with this title from Paul; “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. The letters to the churches usually began with the more formal title of “apostle of Christ Jesus.” This is a personal letter and not one of apostolic authority.

The vertical mindset

We would say he is a prisoner of Rome. Paul says he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. A simple but profound distinction and lesson. We tend to view our situations, good or bad, horizontally. Paul tended to see the world vertically, looking upward, from God’s perspective. Paul was in prison by the will of God. This perspective of God’s Sovereignty always prompted Paul to avoid self-pity and embrace the fact that God has a purpose and he immediately sets about to pursue God’s purpose for him. Like we will learn when we study 2 Corinthians regarding the issue of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, there’s nothing wrong with praying for the removal of bad situations. But let’s always keep the perspective that God’s will carries with it “purpose” and by accepting that in the moment, we are prepared to be used by God in all situations. Lord, give us a heavenly perspective in ALL things and at ALL times. Amen!