Let me start my message giving you some background to the book of Philemon. It is a book of love. Even though it is small, it has a powerful message. A message very relevant with Easter only a week away.
Incredibly, Paul wrote most of his letters as a prisoner. And prisons in those days were harsh cruel places where one was dependent on the generosity of friends and family to supply even the bare necessities of life.
But as we see with Paul’s example, most enduring things in life come of out difficulty; God turns them into something good.
Our greatest opportunities will often come about through a problem/difficulty, the answer to which we can’t see at the time. But God does! View problems as an opportunity!
Greeting (v 1-3)
Paul announces himself as a friend to Philemon. Philemon is a pastor of a church. Paul also acknowledges Timothy contribution to this letter. Most of Paul’s letters are collaborations. The Holy Spirit moves in a team, it being God’s basic mindset.
God will never call us to do something alone but with others.
Paul also announces himself as a prisoner. A lot of the church didn’t want to associate with Paul. But Paul knew what it was to have loyal friends. This letter is both written to Philemon’s family and his church.
Thanks and Praise (v 4-7)
Paul moves to thanking God for Philemon. He starts his letter with appropriate courtesies before making any requests. Never underestimate the power of gratefulness: intentional thankfulness.
Gratefulness is a great attitude to have in life. If you keep doing it you’ll develop a thankful heart. And avoid an attitude of entitlement.
The greatest way to be a positive person is to be intentionally thankful.
Paul tells Philemon that he’s been hearing good things about him from others (v5). When we hear something good about someone else, tell him or her. And tell others.
Further, when we acknowledge to others the good things the Lord has done in us, it serves as an effective way of sharing our faith. (v6) Once again, be intentional about sharing the good things the Lord is doing in you.
Paul’s Request (v 8-16)
Paul acknowledges he could command Philemon to do something but due to their friendship he appeals to him. His appeal is for Onesimus, whom he describes as a son. There’s been some trouble between Onesimus and Philemon. The former was Philemon’s slave, whom was accused of theft, and went to prison, where he met Paul.
Onesimus’s name actually means ‘profitable/useful’ and Paul makes play on words by describing his previous behaviour as “unprofitable/useless’ to Philemon. (v11) But now he is born again and Paul has every confidence he will live up to his name and be profitable to both of them. Once you’ve been born again, your life becomes a positive impact for others.
“I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel.” (v 12-13)
Paul’s appeal reflects what Jesus has done for us. Jesus is our intercessor before God. Jesus brings us back to God and in the Gospels we see how Jesus implores the Father to receive us the way He received Jesus. There is no greater love.
“For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever,” (v15)
Paul suggests that maybe God is in this entire situation. From the beginning when Onesimus was a slave. Paul asks Philemon to accept him back, not as a slave, but as a beloved brother. (v16)
When Love is a Sacrifice (v18-22)
“But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account.” (v18)
Once again Paul reflects the story of Jesus. Jesus took our debts so we could be forgiven and enter into a new life as beloved brothers and sisters. Only one person has had the capacity to take on everyone’s debts: Jesus.
“Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (v21)
Paul encourages Philemon with such a compliment. Similarly, Jesus has done ‘even more.’ Our God will do exceedingly abundantly.
“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers.” (v23-24)
Fascinating how Paul ends by stating the names of those of his band of followers who are known to Philemon. Epaphras chose to be in prison with Paul. He never committed a crime or wrongdoing. Mark (John Mark, the writer of Mark’s Gospel) rejoined Paul after leaving him and Dr Luke, the writer of Luke and Acts. Demas, later departed from Paul.
Jesus cares about how we care for each other.
As Easter fast approaches let’s focus our eyes on Jesus, who gave His life so we could be reunited with God and see others reconciled to Him also.