Summary: Unpacking Paul's role in Philemon as well as the underlying meaning in the text
Whenever I preach a sermon – a fair amount of the time I spend on it – is spent looking for illustrations to help explain and convey a meaning or a concept a bit better – a story that would 'bring it home' as such. Tonight however – our reading is the illustration! We've been going through the book of Philemon for the last few weeks – and tonight we are looking more at Paul in order to understand his role in the drama – and to unpack what the underlying message of this tiny little letter is.
So to jog your memories then – or for those of you who may have missed previous evenings. Philemon is a tiny letter, found between Titus and Hebrews in the New Testament. There are three main characters in the book...
Philemon is a wealthy Christian based in the city of Colosse. He is close friends with Paul and runs a church in his house. He also owns slaves as was the custom of the time.
Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who stole from him and presumably used the money to run away to Rome. Here he meets Paul, and by God's mercy has also now become a Christian. He has been serving Paul for a number of months when the letter is written.
Paul is the author of the letter, and he is currently under house arrest in Rome because of his work for Christ. He writes the letter to Philemon, imploring him to accept Onesimus back.
So lets read – Philemon: page... in your Bibles.
Philemon 1 (NIV)
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:
3Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving and Prayer
4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6I 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. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Paul’s Plea for Onesimus
8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
12I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.