The Way - Day 147 (Philemon)

Daily Reading:
Don't forget to journal in your Foundations Book!
Daily Reading Audio Commentary:
Today's Question or Action Step:
How does the story of Philemon and Onesimus remind us of the hope of God's restoration and reconciliation? What does it reveal about the power of the Gospel?
Weekly Memory Verse(s):
OPTION 1: Psalm 55:22
OPTION 2: Proverbs 19:17
OPTION 3: Matthew 6:14-15
Further Study Resources:
Study Guide for Philemon (Enduring Word - David Guzik)
Pastor Tom's Journal on Today's Reading:
Introduction to Philemon
This is the shortest letter written by Paul in the New Testament and is classified as a prison epistle (written while Paul was imprisoned). Philemon is closely associated with the book of Colossians and was probably written around the same time, AD 60-62. Paul was writing to Philemon, a relatively wealthy man owning a respectably sized house (v.2) and also at least one slave named Onesimus. Philemon was a follower of Christ and his home was even used as a gathering place for a church as indicated in verse 2. The real thrust of this letter is not about a church or even a doctrinal treatise, but rather written to address an isolated circumstance which transpired between Philemon and his slave, Onesimus. Apparently Onesimus had stolen something from Philemon and ran away. This act, under Roman law, was punishable by death. In God's providence, Onesimus fled to Rome (where countless runaway slaves hid) and met the apostle Paul who was being held as a prisoner. Although we are not certain of the circumstances surrounding this providential meeting, Onesimus came to faith in Jesus Christ under the teaching of Paul. It seems that Onesimus was honest with Paul about his situation so Paul sent this letter by the hand of Onesimus who carried it to Philemon. In this very personal letter, Paul asks Philemon to forgive Onesimus and receive him as a brother in the faith. Even though Paul never uses the word forgiveness, this letter relevantly explains the meaning of the act of forgiveness. In the brief twenty-five verses, the reader is challenged to be characterized by mercy even when people treat you wrong. Paul's message is clear - may those of us who have been forgiven of much be the quickest to forgive others.

Philemon 1-7
Paul begins this letter to Philemon in an odd sort of way. We do know that at the time of this writing he was imprisoned, but rather than declaring himself as a prisoner of Rome he declares himself a "prisoner of Jesus Christ" (v.1). This declaration proves that Paul looked at every situation as being God's plan and he was content to accept his hardship. Even from the very first verse we can surmise that Paul was preparing Philemon to accept the wrong which had been done to him by his slave, Onesimus. Paul writes to "Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer" and offers "grace...and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (v.3). Instead of getting right to the point, Paul spends some time commending Philemon for his godly character. Paul writes "I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints" (vv.4-5). It appears that Philemon had a great love for God, which led to a great love for people; furthermore, Philemon was known as one who refreshed the hearts of the people (vv.6-7). From every appearance, Philemon was a man of God who had a passionate love for God and a good reputation amongst the church. Because of his integrity, Paul knew he could speak openly to Philemon about the situation at hand. I believe approachability is imperative in the Christian faith. Others believers should have the feeling that they can approach you about a particular circumstance without you becoming angry or defensive. Philemon is a perfect example of one who was ready to listen so that he could be a better follower of Jesus Christ.

Philemon 8-16
After commending Philemon for his "love and faith...toward the Lord Jesus and all saints" Paul began unveiling the ultimate purpose behind his writing this letter. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus who had stolen some things from him and ran away to Rome. Onesimus' actions were punishable under Roman law and Philemon had every right to discipline him if he was found. However, in his fleeing to Rome Onesimus providentially met Paul, became a follower of Christ, and became useful in the Lord's work (v.11). It does appear that Onesimus was honest with Paul and revealed his sinful deeds against his former master, Philemon. Paul knew that this situation must be resolved so he wrote these words and sent them by the hand of Onesimus: "though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you...for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains" (vv.8-10). Paul had every right, as an apostle, to demand that Philemon forgive Onesimus but he wanted it to be because of their mutual love for one another, not out of forcefulness. Onesimus had become a great help to Paul during his imprisonment and desired that Onesimus could continue to minister to his needs during this hardship (vv.12-13). You have to respect Paul because he wanted to make sure that Onesimus had taken care of any unresolved issues before he continued ministering in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe there is a two-fold lesson here. First, those who desire to serve should resolve any sins from the past before representing the name of Christ. Secondly, those who have a tainted past can be forgiven and become useful in God's work. Paul reminds Philemon that even evil can be turned around for good. In this case, God used Onesimus' sin to bring him in contact with Paul, who was able to share the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ with him (v.15). Now Paul was asking Philemon to accept Onesimus "no longer as a slave but more than a slave - [as] a beloved brother" (v.16). As a follower of Christ we should be quick to forgive, remembering that God freely forgave us of all our sin (Romans 5:8).

Philemon 17-25
Since Paul strongly believed that God had providentially allowed Onesimus (runaway salve who had stolen from Philemon) and him to meet, Paul wrote Philemon a letter asking him to forgive Onesimus for his wrongdoing. Onesimus had become a follower of Christ during Paul's imprisonment in Rome and now spent much of his time ministering to the needs of Paul. He had become valuable to Paul (vv.11-13), but he also wanted to make sure Onesimus straightened out his unresolved issues with Philemon. So Paul was sending this letter by the hand of Onesimus in order to ask Philemon to extend forgiveness to the runaway slave who was now a fellow believer. In concluding this very brief letter Paul writes from his heart "receive him [Onesimus] as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes you anything, put that on my account" (vv.17-18). This is a perfect picture of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross when the sin of mankind was placed on His account in order that man might be forgiven. Paul did not hold the sin of Onesimus over his head, but willingly accepted him as a brother and now he is challenging Philemon to do the same. Paul reminds Philemon that he is forever indebted to him because through Paul's witness he had received the message of the gospel (v.19). There was confidence in the heart of Paul that Philemon would willingly forgive Onesimus for his sin (v.21). I believe the letter Paul wrote to Philemon is so relevant to us. Every day we encounter situations where people treat us wrongly and do things against us which are offensive. However, we must always remember the forgiveness of Jesus Christ offered to us with no strings attached. When you are treated unfairly, be quick to extend a forgiving hand because when you do so, you are acting like Jesus.

Dear God, may I freely forgive anyone who does wrong to me.