Summary: Paul’s desire - for Philemon to embody the grace given to him
Pentecost 15 Refresh my heart
† In the Lord Jesus’ Name †
Grace, and the peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ… is yours.
Paul’s view – The Difficult Request
He sits in his room, chained to a Roman Centurion. On the table, a piece of parchment, waiting to bear words that will echo through the halls of time. Across the room, the messenger, ready to depart for Colossae waits. Next to him, a young man sits on his haunches, nervous, scared, unsure of his future. Yet, as he looks at Paul the apostle, pen in hand, he knows that God has guided him to this place, and as he returns to confront his rebellious past.
Slowly, prayerfully, the pen scratches the surface of the parchment, leaving behind words, guided by the very Spirit of God. Words will challenge their readers, both a man and wife, and friend in Colossae nearly 2000 years ago, and that will challenge us today.
I used to look at this letter, Paul’s epistle to Philemon, as simple correspondence, a simple letter where Paul use logic and perhaps a smattering of guilt too gain Onesimus’ freedom. After spending a week, trying to break it down in Greek, and look at commentaries, struggling with how to see the gospel predominate in this letter, I finally saw something, from the view of Paul. This letter is not about gaining Onesimus’ freedom at all. It is about ensuring Philemon that he too, has received the incomparable, all sufficient grace of Jesus Christ.
We too, need the freedom Paul desires for Philemon, the freedom to abide in God’s grace, to realize the freedom we have from this world of sin, and debt. The words of this epistle, carrying that message… you are forgiven!
Philemon – the disciple
As Paul considers prayerfully, what to write, to this fellow-worker in the Lord, he must consider this man Philemon. We know from this epistle, that there is a strong connection between Paul, enough that Paul would consider him a co-worker in the Lord. One that was loved by Paul. We hear some of the fruits of his labors, as Paul describes him as one who has brought his people the peace of God. That is what refreshment means, a break from the burdens of life. Jesus spoke of it this way,
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
It is now, Paul’s desire, that Philemon refresh Paul. Not by reminding him of the peace of God that is his in Christ Jesus. Instead, the refreshment would come, the rest would be found in Philemon’s realizing the very goal of Paul’s prayer for him:
and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
The full knowledge of every good thing, including freedom from some chains..
One of the things I look for in any passage I am to preach on, is where is the law? Where is the very need for Jesus, that we have, as we fall under the wrath of the Law. When one considers Philemon, the law of mankind is clearly on Philemon’s side. He could have Onesimus branded a run-away, or he could have him killed. The penalties are clear. He is both judge and jury, and the man Paul calls “the faithful Onesimus in the later epistle to this church, puts himself willingly into Philemon’s hands for judgment.
But there is a law, at work judging Philemon as well. One heard in a parable Jesus told, which can be found in Matthew 18. It tells of a servant, who owed millions, literally 10,000 talents. One Biblical reference, written in 1932 by a pre-eminent Bible Scholar, put the dollar value at 12 million dollars in 1932 value. How much would that be today… hmmmm. (An on-line calcultator for such put it at $153,734,175.47) Another places the value at the equivalent of 200,000 years of work – at an average salary. Jesus goes on to say the man begs for mercy, and the King has mercy. The man leaves, and finds a man that owes him 100 denari. There were 6000 denari to a talent, so the debt is 1/6,000,000th of the amount he had owed the king. He was not merciful, thought he had been shown mercy! The parable ends this way,
32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ’You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:32-35 (ESV)