A letter from Paul to a man named Philemon has us looking at some big changes and New Beginnings.
The last three posts have looked at this letter too, find them on my blog page.
I’m not sure what this New Year has brought in your life. But, I bet, you’ve seen some new beginnings, already.
Let’s pick up with Paul’s letter to Philemon in verse 8 …. almost ready to meet the third person in this letter, Onesimus.
Verse 8 – 9
Now I want to ask a favor of you. I could demand it of you in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do, but I love you and prefer just to ask you—I, Paul, an old man now, here in jail for the sake of Jesus Christ.
After Paul affirms his love and admiration for Philemon and reminds him
that his character and actions bring joy…
he presents, there is a greater purpose for this letter.
He explains briefly, that since he thinks so highly of Philemon, he won’t demand he act justly, but Paul is certain, without his demanding, Philemon will do the right thing.
The words Paul uses in the original language are some of the most tender in the Bible.
To us, they may sound a little haughty, like Paul is saying, “I can tell you what to do”. That could not be farther from Paul’s intent. It is out of their friendship and close bonds that Paul approaches this matter of importance and knows, even before he speaks, Philemon will do the right thing.
Yet, for clarity and brotherly harmony, he must speak with Philemon. Reminding Philemon of his age and thus the desire to clear up matters while he can. And then, clarifies the purpose of everything … for the sake of Jesus Christ.
“Philemon, I’m not saying this as a teacher correcting a student. We are both called and giving our all to minister for the sake of Jesus. I’m seeking to seize opportunities on earth for heavenly good. I love you and come to you with this situation because it matters. The freedom of speaking our minds and hearts has drawn us close and gives me confidence that you will receive my words as I intended them. We talk about anything and everything. Hear me out on this one.”
Paul’s words, however, they may appear to you, are said in love for Philemon and were not arrogant. These are words spoken between friends from the heart.
There are few friendships that can bare honesty. If you are like most, skirting issues, being politically correct, carefully crafting wording, avoiding “hot spots”, etc. filter many relationships. It is “beloved” few friends who lay their hearts open to one another; vulnerable, trusting, encouraging, free to broach any subject with full confidence of being understood and accepted, regardless.
It is inside those loving friendships, we find total freedom to be ourselves. Speak our minds. Question. Debate. No judgements.
That is the brotherhood between Paul and Philemon … nothing hidden. No reason on earth not to discuss anything. No fear of rejection or judgement. All for the “sake of Jesus Christ.”
10 I appeal to you for my [own spiritual] child Onesimus, whom I have fathered in the faith] while a captive in these chains. 11 Once he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you as well as to me.
Enter … Onesimus!!
He need not explain who Onesimus is… they both know him very well. Paul spends no time making connections. As the text reads, with the mention of his name, Philemon instantly knew whom Paul was writing about.
It’s accepted that Onesimus was the hand carrier of this letter standing right in front of Paul as he read it. (Nothing like facing the issue 😉
I imagine Philemon was quite surprised to see Onesimus. It had been awhile and it would seem their parting was not on good terms.
Philemon needs no formal introduction.
What he does need is explanation.
Why is Onesimus here
WHY is he bringing a letter from Paul?
Paul is quick to reframe who Onesimus is, giving him a new title … “my spiritual child”, whom I fathered in chains. Meaning … Paul lead Onesimus to faith in Christ during his imprisonment, now calling him a spiritual son.
Paul was quick to give this identifier, new title. He is giving Philemon new information and explaining his new relationship with Onesimus. “We are like father and son!” That is a strong bond, a bold association. Philemon, surely, got the picture.
He is FAMILY … if he is my spiritual son, he is your brother in the faith.
Paul establishes a new relationship between himself, Philemon and Onesimus .
He is asking for this favor from Philemon based on this new relationship.
Then in verse 11, Paul acknowledges the past. “Once he was useless to you …”, Paul affirms Philemon’s difficulties with Onesimus. He faces them head on, even validating the uselessness of Onesimus.
Who wants to be called that?
Even in the first century, “useless” was not a sought after title.
Reputations are hard to overcome. Onesimus obviously had one and Paul was not asking Philemon to forget about it, but to inform him that things have changed.
A radical change occurred behind prison bars …
Onesimus became my son!
“Now, he is useful! Let’s focus there!”
Here we find a New Beginning for Onesimus:
He began a faith journey under Paul’s ministry.
He was born into Paul and Philemon’s faith family.
This change … changed everything.
His new title, supersedes his old reputation.
It’s the best news ever that old things can be in the past and new decisions and titles can change everything!!
If you’ve never tried to overcome old things … this may not be poignant to you.
If you are EVER there or if you ARE there … find HOPE!
Old things can be overcome by NEW!!!
In a few words, Paul teaches us that!! I’m so thankful!
Next week, we learn more about Onesimus, his sorted past, and his bright future…
Hooray for New Beginnings,
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