Monday 30th November
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow-soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Epaphras, my fellow-prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow-workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
If you’re like me you might be struggling to remember much about the letter to Philemon. Paul pleads for Philemon to accept the runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. I offer four suggestions on why this letter has something to say to us today:
- Christian ethics still matter. Both Paul and Onesimus were convinced that the right thing to do was for Onesimus to return. In their time and place this was the right way to do things, and it’s a challenge to us now to make sure we try to do the right thing.
- Courage is important. The letter to Philemon is a tremendous tribute to courage. Onesimus had no idea what his fate might be, but he went back anyway.
- Persuasion is better than power. This beautiful letter to Philemon is a masterful example of the art of gentle persuasion, rather than brute force. It’s a psychological masterpiece: Paul doesn’t wish to flex his apostolic muscle, but he does intend to nudge Philemon in the right direction.
- Take the long view. Paul isn’t interested in today or tomorrow, but in the long term, Onesimus’s long term welfare. We can so often find ourselves only seeing the short term, but God challenges us to look at the long term.
Those of us like Philemon might find ourselves challenged to make radical changes in or lives, while those of us like Onesimus might find ourselves challenged to go back and face our terrors, taking the risk that it might not turn out all right. There may be a bit of Philemon and Onesimus in most of us: it isn’t easy to apologise or to forgive, nor to face our own fears; but God enabled a damaged relationship to be restored. Following is tough – just like crucifixion – but the rewards are eternal – just like resurrection.
Good morning God.
Please give us strength:
strength to hold on,
and strength to let go. Amen.