Summary: This message is an overview of the book of Philemon and part of a 2-year study of the Bible.
Philemon: An Appeal to Forgive
by, Tony Thomas
Sr. Minister, Woodland Heights Christian Church, Crawfordsville, IN
No. 57 in a series called, Route 66, a Road Trip Through the Bible
Several TV mini-series were popular during the 80s. For example, some of my favorites were The Blue and the Grey (1982), The Winds of War (1983) ... Anne of Green Gables and The Civil War (1990).
But the No. 1 series of all-time was Roots, based on Alex Haley’s 1976 novel. It received 37 Emmy Award nominations (won 9), and it also won a Golden Globe and Peabody award. The series revolved around Kunta Kinte, played by Levar Burton and John Amos.
That story opened in 1750. Kunta Kinte grew up in Gambia, West Africa, and he was trained to become a Mandinka Warrior. But, he was captured by black collaborators, sold to a slave trader, chained in the hold of a slave ship and transported to Colonial America.
A plantation owner named John Reynolds purchased Kunta Kinte and changed his name to Toby. But Kunta Kinte dreamed of going home, so he ran away. When he was captured he was whipped, and when he healed up he ran away again. Eventually some bounty hunters caught him, tied him to a tree and severed one of his feet in half!
To give you some idea of how popular that series was, it aired for eight consecutive nights on ABC, it was watched by 140 million Americans (that represents nearly 80% of the total viewership), and more than half of all Americans!
Kunta Kinte passed on his dream of freedom to his daughter Kizzy and his grandson Chicken George. Six
generations later, when Alex Haley discovered his legacy, he wrote a book that inspired an entire generation! African American’s from one coast to the other began naming their children after the characters on Roots, names like Kunta, Kinte, Bell, Kizzy, George, Fiddler and Fanta.
We’re in a series called Route 66 and today we’re covering the shortest New Testament book (25 verses). It’s from Paul to Philemon, a first century slave owner. And Paul encourages Philemon to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus.
I want to break these 25 verses down into four parts: the background, the historical setting, the book and the application. If you’re a child or if you dread the routine of your factory job, you might feel like a slave. But all of us have been offended and we need to forgive.
No one is born with that ability. It is a learned behavior that requires your deliberate choice. I hope you will pray and listen carefully to what God teaches. As the Psalmist writes, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O lord my strength/Redeemer” (Psalms 19:14).
I. The Background
About 5-6 years before he was executed, Paul wrote a brief letter to a friend who lived in Colossae. His name was, “Philemon, a dear and fellow worker” (Philemon 1). His wife was Apphia and his son was Archippus. And, the church met in his home.
The other person who made up the household of Philemon was Onesimus, a slave. Onesimus means, “profitable, or helpful.”
Paul wrote Philemon, asking him to accept back, forgive and restore his runaway slave. Why did Onesimus run away? Apparently, Onesimus was guilty of theft. When his dastardly deed was discovered, he fled to Rome to blend in with the city’s slave population.
In the providence of God he somehow crossed paths with Paul who was under house arrest. Guess what happened? Onesimus was converted to faith in Jesus Christ! This is what we call a God thing! His conversion, however, wasn’t the end of his story, it’s just beginning:
A second pastor named Epaphras showed up in Rome to check on Paul. Epaphras preached in Colossae, and guess where Onesimus fled from? Yep. Colossae!
We read earlier that the church met in Philemon’s house. One of the blessings of a small church is that you know everybody. And one of the disadvantages of a small church is that everybody knows you!
When I began my youth ministry in Harrison, OH, the church was still small. I think the attendance on my first Sunday was somewhere around 150. It would eventually grow to an average of 475 each week, but when it was 150 it was easy to know everybody.
I knew everybody’s name, what kind of car they drove, where they worked, what they ate. I even knew the names of their pets!
Paige Hudson is the eldest child of John and Angie Hudson, and last fall she showed up at church wearing a Bears’ jersey. So I asked, “Do you like the Bears? Or does your Dad?”
Paige thought about that for a second and said, “I do.”