Summary: This sermon is an introduction to Paul's letter to Philemon.
When I served as an Associate Pastor many years ago, a new family started attending Worship Services at our church. After several weeks I visited them in their home. It was awkward because their interaction with each other seemed very argumentative to me. A few months later the Senior Pastor and his wife offered a mini weekend marriage conference at our church, and this new couple attended the conference. The following Sunday morning I asked the couple to share with our adult Sunday school class how they enjoyed the marriage conference. They said that they really did enjoy it. The only part of the conference, however, that they did not need was the section on conflict resolution. I was quite surprised to hear them say that. So, I asked them to elaborate.
They said, “We don’t have conflict in our marriage.”
“You don’t?” I said, with some incredulity.
“No, we don’t throw knives and bottles at each other!”
Well, that is when I learned that definitions are important! For my new friends, conflict only took place when people were throwing knives and bottles at each other! However, most other people would say that while conflict may involve throwing knives and bottles at each, conflict also exists when there is “an incompatibility between opinions, principles, etc.” among people.
And, of course, if a conflict is not resolved, it may lead to sinful thoughts, escalated tensions, broken relationships, violent actions, and perhaps eventually even to war.
So, how does one resolve a conflict? How does reconciliation take place between people who are in opposition to each other? What is the remedy for people who are clashing with one another?
To personalize this, let me ask you: Is there someone with whom you are in conflict? With whom do you need to reconcile? And if so, how do you go about it?
Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us because “Philemon is about reconciliation and relationships between Christians.”
Today is the first week of my new sermon series based on the book of Philemon. I am calling the series, “Forgiveness and Reconciliation.” Over the next few weeks I hope to teach on forgiveness and reconciliation from the book of Philemon.
So, let’s read the introduction to Philemon, verses 1-3:
1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Philemon 1-3)
The Apostle Paul found himself in prison in Rome (during 61-63 AD). Actually, prison for Paul was more like house arrest, and he wrote this letter to Philemon from “his own rented house” (Acts 28:30).
While in prison in Rome, Paul also wrote letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Laodiceans (although the letter to the Laodiceans has been lost). Paul sent his letters to the Ephesians, Colossians, Laodiceans, and Philemon at the same time, probably in the summer of 62 AD, with a man named Tychicus.
In today’s lesson I want to introduce the letter to Philemon.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Background to the Letter
2. The Writer of the Letter (1a)
3. The Recipient of the Letter (1b-2)
4. The Greeting in the Letter (3)
5. The Relevance of the Letter
I. The Background to the Letter
First, let’s look at the background to the letter to Philemon.
Philemon was a wealthy Christian who lived in the city of Colossae. He had a slave named Onesimus. Apparently, some conflict arose between them, but we don’t know the nature of the conflict. Onesimus then fled from Philemon and went to Rome.
It is possible that Onesimus went to Rome with the intention of asking for Paul’s help to facilitate reconciliation between himself and Philemon. Nevertheless, while in Rome, Onesimus came into contact with Paul in “his own rented house.” Paul shared the gospel with Onesimus and he became a Christian. Onesimus’ life was transformed by the gospel of God’s grace, and he became very helpful to Paul in his service to Jesus. Paul became deeply attached to Onesimus and wanted to keep him with him, in order that he might serve Paul during his imprisonment for the gospel. Yet, Paul knew that it was his duty to return Onesimus to his master Philemon in Colossae, for Roman law demanded the return of runaway slaves, and that it was Onesimus’ duty to return to Philemon.
Meanwhile, Epaphras, who was the founder and pastor of the church at Colossae (Colossians 1:7), which met in Philemon’s home, had recently come to Rome to seek Paul’s help regarding a doctrinal heresy confronting the Colossian church (Colossians 4:12). For some unknown reason, Epaphras did not return to Colossae with the letters that Paul had written. Instead, Paul sent another one of his fellow workers, a man named Tychicus, with his letter to the Colossians, which contains instructions about how to combat the heresy within the Colossian church. Tychicus also carried Paul’s letters to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:21-22) and Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16).