6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: Philemon


One of the most fascinating slave stories known lately is that of Oney (also known as Ona) Judge. Judge was one of George Washington's slaves until she managed to escape. Judge was born into slavery at Mount Vernon, and she traveled with the first couple first to New York and then to Philadelphia when Washington became president.

It was in Philadelphia that Judge learned she was to be given to Martha Washington's granddaughter and re-shipped south. Instead, she slipped away from the presidential mansion with the help of free blacks and made it to New Hampshire. The president took this as a personal affront—he huffed at her "ingratitude"—and tried to recapture her for years, right up until his death. Washington famously freed his slaves in his will, but Judge technically belonged to Martha Washington and thus wouldn't have been affected.

Judge would marry and have three children, and though she lived in near poverty, she expressed no regrets in two interviews before her death in 1848, at around age 75. Washington, for his part, tried to skirt federal rules on the recapture of slaves and enlisted a customs employee to get her back, but Judge, however, evaded all attempts at recapture. (A kids' book on Washington's slaves didn't go over well.)


Paul usually introduces himself as Paul a servant of Jesus Christ/God (Rom 1:1, Phil 1:1, Titus 1:1) or Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 1:1, Gal 1:1,

Col 1:1, 1 Tim 1:1, 2 Tim 1:1), but breaks precedent and identifying himself as Paul a “prisoner,” not once but twice (vv 1, 9). Yet he softens the tone by calling Philemon “dear friend/dearly beloved,” a designation reserved only for Philemon and Timothy (2 Tim 1:2). The letter is unique because it is a prison epistle and a pastoral epistle because it is addressed to Philemon as well as the church (v 2).

Attend to All Passionately

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 from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 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.

During the days of the Berlin Wall some East Berliners decided they were going to send their West Berlin adversaries a little "gift." They loaded up a dump truck with all sorts of garbage, broken bricks, old tires, building materials, and any-thing else of zero value. They drove the truck across the border, gained clearance, and dumped it all on the West Berlin side.

Needless to say, the West Berliners were incensed and were going to "get even" with them. Fortunately, a very wise man intervened giving entirely different counsel. As a result, they responded by loading a dump truck with bags of food (scarce in East Berlin), clothing (also scarce), medical supplies (even more scarce), and a host of other essential items. They drove the truck across the border, carefully unloaded it all, and left a sign that read neatly: "Each gives according to one’s ability to give." (Zig Ziglar)

Like other epistles addressed to churches but not to individuals such as Timothy and Titus, Paul began with a thanksgiving to God. Paul heard of Philemon’s love and faith to the Lord and the saints – both love and faith to God and people alike, unlike NIV’s compartmentalization of both. The outcome of the partnership (v 6, koinonia), fellowship and sharing of his faith was effectiveness/energy (energes) added to the knowledge of the good, the beneficiary could be both.

Still, Paul’s main assertion was that he and others (we) had great joy and encouragement (c0nsolation) from the hearts of the Lord’s people being refreshed. Great (polus) joy occurs one other time only in the Bible, when the gospel miracles caused great joy to the Samaritans (Acts 8:8), who were not discriminate or disqualified from the gospel. Encouragement (v 7) is translated as consolation (Luke 2:25), comfort (Acts 9:31) and exhortation (Acts 13:15) and intreaty (2 Cor 8:4) (consolation (14x), exhortation (8x), comfort (6x), intreaty (1x)). Paul clarified what he meant by saying the hearts (Luke 1:78 “tender”, 2 Cor 7:15 “inward affection”) of the saints were rested (Matt 11:28) or eased (Luke 12:19). In other words, because of Philemon’s input into the church and work in peoples’ lives the believers were rejoicing, reassured and rested.

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