How are you with your knowledge of the book of Philemon?
When you heard that question, did you have to think if this was an Old or a New Testament book? I am not proud to admit this, but I was almost positive this was an Old Testament book. It isn’t…
This is a very different book than almost all other books in the NT. In fact, if it has been a while, or if you haven’t read Philemon at all, I would strongly suggest you take a few minutes and read it right now. It’s very short. Go ahead…I’ll be here when you get back.
Ok, back? Interesting book, right?
I remember this poster from my elementary school, you probably had one too, and it said, “Everything I need to know about life, I learned in Kindergarten.” It then goes on to list about 10 or 15 different simple concepts that become a core of our maturation process. It makes sense, right? But, from there, where do you go? Did we really learn everything we needed to know? Would those items on that poster have equipped us to do what we do everyday, for a paycheck? Would it equip us in how to sauté vegetables? Would it equip us in the fine art of writing a blog post??? No, it really didn’t. That line of thought, however, has caught on in today’s world. When we think about communication styles, for example, we’ve gone from writing hand note letters to friends and family, to sending a text message on our phone. We’ve gone from trying to remember if its Miss, or Mrs., or Ms., to addressing people with #hashtags and @ampersands. No doubt, it is a different world.
This change, like all changes, isn’t always a bad thing. For example, as a result of Twitter’s limitation in terms of the number of characters we can post in a tweet, we are forced to boil down the words we would want to say into the most basic of words needed to get our point across. Like a lot of things in life, what we see is that when we shrink down the environment, but the core message remains, it becomes concentrated and dense. It becomes an avenue that allows for very fluid and efficient communication. Unless of course you are a teenager, and in that case it just gives you a way to say things like idk, ilysm, or bae. Even as adults, some of us have always preferred bullet points and bylines, rather than long flowing bodies of texts…and no I am not just picking on a few people from my A Way of Life group. (Though we know it fits)
What is my point? And how in the world does this relate to Philemon? Well, let’s spend a minute together and I think you’ll sort of see a correlation. Philemon is a short book that is very different in scope than most New Testament writings. This book is a letter, written from Paul spending time in prison, to Philemon, primarily, but also to Apphia, and Archippus. The reason it is different than most other New Testament books is the fact that this is very a much a personal letter to the recipient, and is a personal plea between two men. It does not deal with how to improve ministry, or how to bring more people to Christ, this letter is aimed, specifically, at asking Philemon to see Onesimus as a brother, rather than as a slave. There are several passages where, if this were sent as a DM (direct message) using Twitter, you would see this: #WWJD.
Philemon 1:10, says, “I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison.” He goes on to say, in verse 12: “I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.”
Paul’s desire to be as clear as possible, and to do so with a strong emotional tie to his request continues in further passages as well.
In Philemon 1:17-1:19 “17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!”
Wow…that is strong, is it not?
Yes, it is strong, but you know what? In a letter, you do not have the liberty to be anything other than strong. It is hard for emotions to come across in written words, hence the struggle some people have with online communications. Without the ability to show emotions through your audible voice, you have to use the most dense and concentrated words you can. Clearly, Paul has tapped into the ability to write in a way that makes it very difficult to look past his meaning.
While the book of Philemon is light in chapters, it is not light in content. In some ways, everything we need to know in life, we learned in Philemon, we just hadn’t thought about it that way, before.
- The love we have inside each of us is meant to be used to care for all of God’s people. Everyone, in God’s eyes, is created equal. If we long to be like Jesus, we need to see the world with His eyes.
- When we live like Jesus, we encourage those around us to live like Jesus. Obedience to Jesus, and the blessings of a life lived in Him, give our lives a peace unlike anything else in the world. People crave peace.
- When you live for Jesus, rather than yourself, there is not limit to what you can do. Paul, asking for a favor, is able to do so with confidence knowing that Philemon is a Christ follower. If Philemon was not a Christ follower, he likely would have had a very different attitude in reading this letter and contemplating the request of his friend.
- Grace is the great equalizer. When we are wronged, or wrong others, only the grace of God can heal wounds. Just as God showed us grace by letting his Son die on the cross, we must show others grace, as well. The pain of holding onto grudges only darkens our souls, while the forgiveness, allowed by grace, can eliminate the darkness and fill our souls with the light Christ intended.
So, this week, remember this: #godlovesyou #livewithgrace #connecteverylife
In His Name,
Eric J. Wasson