Spirit of God, I thank you for giving me energy when I am about to give up, and for slowing me down when I am overheated.
Read PHILEMON 1:1-11
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace and peace to you[a] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,[b] who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘… welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.’1 Thank God for the influence of other Christians in your life.
Paul, in prison, has met up with the runaway slave, Onesimus, who has come to faith and whom Paul values as a son. Paul counts Onesimus’ owner, Philemon, who is a leader of a house church in Colossae (vs 1,2)2 as a brother and co-worker. This, he believes, gives him the right to make his appeal. First, he affirms the nature of the relationship and the value he places on Philemon. When we discuss delicate matters with others, there is strength in showing respect and love.3 He appeals to Philemon not on the basis of his right as senior (v 8), but on the basis of partnership in the gospel (v 6). Much dissension in the church could be avoided if we followed his example.
As I write, racial unrest is forcing a rethink of historic attitudes. This raises the awkward question of why the Bible seems to condone slavery, why Paul does not condemn it and why the church has so often been complicit in it. Given his context, Paul is placing a time bomb under the institution. Slaves in the first century had mixed fortunes, but even those who had responsible positions under good masters – which was rare – had no rights. Slaves were property. They were useful in the way that a microwave or a computer are useful. By calling him ‘son’ (v 10), Paul accords Onesimus a whole new status. When, in a pun on his name,4 he refers to him as ‘useful’ (v 11) it is because Onesimus genuinely has something to contribute beyond the simply utilitarian. To us this is hardly surprising; in Paul’s context it was revolutionary. This, a direct consequence of Jesus’ coming to the world, has consequences for the way we view people today; are there ways in which our words, actions or social media posts diminish or undermine others?
Pause to think about how you view others – are there people whom you should be honoring and blessing through your words and actions?
Father, I thank you for a mind that can think, a heart that can feel, and hands that can do. Use me in this coming year, I pray.
1 Rom 15:7, ESV 2 See Col 4:17 3 Eph 4:16 4 Onesimus means useful
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