Paul knew the power of the crucifixion and resurrection and how it affects all of life.
Ephesians 2.14 – For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
Because Jesus unites humanity under the banner of his peace and love, the powerful effect of the gospel is evident in human relations.
Galatians 3.28 – There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
Does the gospel work in real-life situations? Paul put to test the truth that “there is no longer slave or free . . . for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” in a situation in Colossae.
Philemon was a wealthy church member in Colossae. His slave, Onesimus, had run away.
Escaped slaves could be severely punished and were potentially subject to the death penalty.
While Paul was in prison in Ephesus, Onesimus came into contact with Paul and became a follower of Jesus.
Paul sent Onesimus home with a letter to his owner, Philemon. Would Philemon see his disobedient slave as a brother or punish him as nothing more than a slave?
Let’s look at selected passages from his letter and discover the answer.
Prayer for Friends
While writing this article, I received a text from a friend who has COVID. Several people in a group text with him replied and said that we are praying for him.
That’s what friends do. Paul was a friend of Philemon and he naturally prayed for him.
Philemon 4-7 – I thank my God always when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.
I pray that the partnership of your faith may become effective as you comprehend all the good that we share in 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.
Thanksgiving and prayer go hand-in-hand. When we pray for a friend, we give them the gift of our thoughts, time, and energy.
In Paul’s case, he thanked God for Philemon’s love and faithfulness.
Intercession is another aspect of prayer. We often pray for our friends to grow more effective in their service to Christ.
This is something that should be prayed for pastors, church leaders, and our loved ones.
The Test of Love
In the next paragraph of Paul’s letter, he encouraged Philemon to do the right thing out of love.
Philemon 10-11 – I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus . . . Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.
Onesimus means “useful,” but as a runaway slave, he was useless to Philemon.
As Paul’s child in the Lord, he had become useful once again.
Philemon 12-14 – I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I wanted to keep him with me so that he might minister 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.
A relationship with Jesus is a transformational friendship. Slaves were considered property to their owners. Paul didn’t see him as a non-being, but valued him as “my heart.”
Paul had options concerning Onesimus. He could have helped him run further away from Philemon.
He could have used his authority with Philemon and ordered him to receive Onesimus back.
Instead, Paul appealed from his heart to Philemon’s heart.
There are several applications we can make from Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon.
(1) All people are valuable to God. We may not have the emotional maturity to see everyone as “my heart,” but at least we can see them as creations of our Lord and Savior.
(2) Doing the right thing is difficult. The right thing was to send Onesimus back to Philemon.
I’m sure there was a fair amount of tension and anxiety over the outcome. If Philemon turned out to be mean-spirited, he could have severely punished his slave or have him put to death.
Doing the right thing in troubling situations involves faith that God is at work along with us.
(3) When dealing with fellow Christians, we should be able to appeal to their relationship with Jesus and their understanding of his will. Like Paul, we can remind them of this fact, as they deliberate on their behavior.
Paul was able to refer to Onesimus as “my heart.” He wanted Philemon to see him in a new light.
Philemon 15-16 – Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for the long term,
No longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
I have the joy of attending church with several men who would have frightened me at another time in their lives.
They are no longer tough guys, violent criminals, thieves, drug addicts, and cheaters. They are brothers and sisters in the family of the same God whom we love and serve.
I tell these friends that they are my reward for being a Baptist preacher for 50 years. The joy of seeing the way they love and serve Jesus is one of the greatest joys of my life.
I expect Philemon felt the same as me when he received Onesimus back as a brother and not a slave.
Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. It can be found on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.
Please email your prayer requests to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.