The book of Philemon in the Bible is a really small book of just 25 verses. It’s so easy to miss and be overlooked. In fact I didn’t even know where to find it when someone suggested I read it. LOL. Before this week I’d never really paid it much attention. I think I’ve read it once before, but I couldn’t; recall what it was about. Its never been one of the books of the Bible on my list to read to get my life together. You know it’s not a Proverbs or Psalm or anything. Well let me tell you exactly how these little 25 verses have completely snatched my life.
So there are 3 main characters in this book.
The first is Paul. We all know and love Paul right? I like to think of Paul as the modern, imperfect Jesus of his time. Straight shooter and sold out disciple of Jesus. I LOVE PAUL. If you don’t know much about him the book of Acts is a great place to start. It tells of his conversion story and then you see his story continue all throughout the New Testament.
Then there’s Philemon. Paul is writing this letter to Philemon and a couple other fellow Christians. We learn from the text that a church meets in Philemon’s house so perhaps we can assume he led a church with a couple of others. Paul starts off his letter commending Philemon for his faith so from the beginning I knew Philemon was someone to be imitated although I don’t know much about him. If Paul was commending him for his faith that was enough for me. Because again, I LOVE PAUL.
Then there’s Onesimus. Onesimus is a slave of Philemon who had run away after what sounds like stealing from Philemon (v 18). Ok, so Onesimus can’t be trusted. He’s stealing stuff and then running. In his defense he was a slave so he was probably over it. Onesimus probably decided he was taking back everything that was owed to him. Haha. I can’t blame him.
Alright so let’s get to the plot.
So again, Paul starts the letter by commending Philemon’s character. He says that he always thanks God when he thinks of Philemon and that he keeps hearing about Philemon’s faith in the Lord. The next thing he says is crucial to the rest of his letter. He says that “I am praying that you put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ (v6).” Here is where I had to take my first pause. To me I felt that Paul was inferring that a faith in God results in a generosity to others. Hmmmmmm…… What’s the connection here? I think that what Paul was getting at was that if we truly believe in the promises of God it should cause us to respond in a way that reflects that I believe. It should cause me to respond not as circumstances dictate but as what my faith indicates. So as it concerns my relationship with others it shouldn’t be based on what they do to me, can do for me, or how they make me feel, but rather my faith in God. Ok Paul. Hard pill to swallow, but I can agree with that. I’m with you.
So the next portion of the book is Paul’s appeal for Onesimus, the thieving slave.
After reminding Philemon that faith results in generosity towards others Paul makes a plea with him to show kindness to Onesimus. As Onesimus was on the run he encountered Paul in Rome where his life is transformed. So Paul essentially tells Philemon that Onesimus is a changed man so I plead with you to treat him as such. No. Actually what Paul says is, ” I could demand it in the name of Christ Jesus because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer to simply ask you. (vs 8-9).” Remember when I said I love Paul. I LOVE PAUL. He is such a straight shooter. Paul says I mean we can do this one or two ways. I can simply hold you to the standard that you’re called to anyway or we can make this comfortable for everyone. Haha.
Paul then goes on to talk a little more about the change that has been brought about in Onesimus and how he should no longer be treated as a slave but as a beloved brother in the faith. Then Paul takes things a step further.
Philemon 18-19New Living Translation (NLT)18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.19 I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!
Ok y’all. This is where I just broke. Not only does Paul make a plea on Onesimus’ behalf but he also offers to take on his debt!! Wait. Back up. Onesimus was wrong y’all. Even though I’m sure being a slave brought about a lot of negative emotions that didn’t give him a right to steal. Owning slaves was a common practice during this time and Paul even wrote in other letters that instructed slaves to be subject to their masters. Regardless of those facts here he is offering to take on his debt. Paul empathized. Paul understood.
Another important thing to not miss is that Onesimus was on the run and found God. That’s crazy. Here he is thinking he’s running away from a dreadful situation when in actuality he’s running towards God and doesn’t even know it. His whole world is about to change. I’m sure he didn’t think that God was about to meet him right where he was with stolen items and all. It’s just crazy.
The other thing that really broke me is that Paul took the time to scribe this portion of the letter himself (Paul’s letters were usually written by someone else as he told them what to write) so that Philemon knew it was real. Remember how I said I view Paul as the modern, imperfect Jesus of his time? See the correlation?
I was completely outdone with Paul. I was broken as I was reminded of Jesus on the cross. Jesus, willing to take the nails in his own hands. Paul willing to write the letter in his own writing. Both willing to show how serious they are about the salvation of someone else. Wow. Just blown away. As I read this passage I could just picture Jesus continuing to say, “Do it to me instead.” All the lashing out that you want to do because of anger, hurt, and grief. All the ways that you want to pay someone back for the ways they have wronged you. Do it to me instead. And this is when I broke even more. I couldn’t bring myself to even imagine inflicting any type of hurt on Jesus no matter what the circumstances are. Yet, I find it so easy to do this to people that I feel hurt or neglected by. And it isn’t always truly outward, but often just in my heart, which is even worse. I sat on the floor weeping at the reminder of this Jesus that I call a big brother. I sat on the floor weeping as I’m reminded of the amazing grace I receive every single day for my sin. I sat on the floor weeping at the thought of Jesus’ outstretched, pierced hands who wants to take all the burdens I can’t bear on to himself. I feel like I experienced the cross in a whole new way. Paul, though amazing, an ordinary man exemplifying Jesus so clearly. Wow.
So I can only thank my God that he continues to make me more like his image every single day. I can only thank my God that he carries me from glory to glory every single day. I can only thank my God that he continues to floor me, wow me, and make me new by the power of his Word.
To God be the Glory.
Here is a link to a song that has been on my heart since hearing it at church on Sunday. I hope it speaks to your heart as it did mine.
Yours in love