Philemon is a private letter sent by Paul to a householder and friend….a brother in Christ…one, it is suggested, that was won to Christ by Paul.
Philemon 19 “….albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides.”
The subject is one of Philemon’s servants….who had run away from his work, and run far away, to Rome.
His name was Onesimus.
(It does not say, exactly, what Onesimus did or took when he left….but the letter suggests that he wronged Philemon in some way.
Philemon 18-19 “If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account. I Paul have written it with my own hand, I will repay it:…”)
There in Rome, Onesimus had heard Paul preach and had been converted. (Philemon 15-16)
After his conversion, he has become a faithful friend and servant to Paul….running errands, and giving his testimony and witness to others.
(1 Thessalonians 4:7, 9 “All my state shall Tychicus declare unto you….with Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you….”)
Onesimus was changed by the new life of Christ within….becoming a “beloved brother”.
But the letter is not called Onesimus…..but Philemon; for the real meat of the letter is with this man,…..and what Paul was showing him….
Philemon is a Christian….he has a church in his house….most likely of friends and servants; meeting together to worship.
He is also one which has been a good witness of Christ Jesus…..and sent goods to the saints abroad….(Philemon 5)
But, let’s face it, it is not easy to receive one who has treated you badly…..or forgive them…which would put this “run-away” on a totally different status.
Also, now, Onesimus is beloved of Paul….and one who had done works for God.
He was being sent back to ask forgiveness of him (Philemon)….and to speak to the church in his house of Paul….that, too, puts him on a totally different status.
Paul, considering this good man, sends Onesimus back, with this letter….so that Philemon might forgive him…..in person….and grow in grace, and character.
The grace of equality.
Before God, Philemon and Onesimus were brothers in Christ. One was not more loved than the other. This is a hard lesson to learn…..for we are usually quite competitive when it comes to God’s blessing and the respect of others.
And Paul wanted Philemon to have the the character of God….rejoicing over a rebel, returned to God…
….(think the Father with the prodigal running to kiss and restore him….Luke 15:20-22…
….and not the elder brother’s attitude, which was full of anger that the Prodigal got forgiven….so much so, that he would not enter into the rejoicing….even complained of his “service”……which was ridiculous, because he was the owner of all…Luke 15:28-31)
You see, Onesimus still belonged to Philemon…..it was his right to do what he wanted…
….Paul wanted Philemon to know that Onesimus was his, legally…..but was also his brother in Christ. (Philemon 15-16)
Philemon 6 “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”
By forgiving Onesimus, Philemon might grow in faith and love, in himself….and his witness to his church will become more effectual.
(It is one thing to show mercy, or send goods or money to someone who is far away…..but have them stand in your face,….and forgive someone who wronged you….and let them take a prominent role in the church;…..is sometimes quite different.)
Philemon 8-9 “Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,
(Paul would rather have kept Onesimus with him, for he was a help….but…he would not use his authority and seek to keep him, without Philemon’s blessing)
Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now as also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.”
Paul was writing as a friend, a fellow believer…..not in his authority to do this….but beseeching, as a fellow Christian…..for Philemon’s sake.
You see this is the meat…..Paul was not just an advocate for Onesimus…..but for Philemon, as well.
Wanting,…for love’s sake,….to do the best thing for him….and that was to guide him into true forgiveness…..and joy of any circumstances which honor and glorify God….even with a former rebellious servant.
Philemon 14 “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.”
Here is the crux of our forgiveness…..is it willingly…..for Christ’s sake?
Philemon 17, 20 “If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord.”
This is what Paul wanted:
Joy, in knowing that these two Christian brothers had been reconciled in the Lord….this was more important to Paul….even in prison, needing the help….than anything else.
The Lord Jesus said:
John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.”
This kind of love, is always in the Lord….it goes beyond hurt, loss, boundaries of place or title….It is as Jesus loved us.
Philemon 21 “Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt do more than I say.”
Let us have this testimony, as well….that we will be obedient….and more so….we will rejoice in it.