So far on our “Letter Journey”, we’ve discovered beloved friends, an older and younger living countries apart: one in jail, one a Pastor. We’ve been introduced to a third man, known by both of them, whose life has changed. He was once “useless” (their word not mine); now, to be regarded as a son!
If you’ve missed any info, feel free to read my prior four posts.
We finished last week, at the point where Paul was asking Philemon to treat Onesimus as a family member. Paul, now considers him a son!
Remember, Onesimus is standing in front of Paul, in person, he is the letter carrier, delivering the letter from Paul to Philemon.
Paul gives Philemon more information regarding Onesimus’s change.
I have sent him back to you in person, that is, like sending my very heart.
Not only does Paul consider him a son,
but states that Onesimus is like his own heart …
a vital element for life.
It sounds kind of dramatic to say a person is your heart, but if you are a parent, this is a perfect analogy. I recall referring to my children as my heart or remarking after their birth, “my heart now lives outside of my chest”. When I left them at college, it felt like my heart lived in another city! It may be dramatic, but Paul is speaking my language here! I know the feeling, maybe you do too.
In the Hebrew language, the heart is where the tenderest affections reside: compassion, kindness, benevolence, mercy. Which reiterates Paul’s feelings for Onesimus.
Aside: We often, think, we are different from people who lived in different places and times. This text is a glaring lesson … we are not so different, at all! My heart fully relates to Paul’s parental love.
Verse 13 – 16
I would have chosen to keep him with me, so he might minister to me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I did not want to do anything without first getting your consent, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 Perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a while, so that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but [as someone] more than a slave, as a brother [in Christ], especially dear to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh [as a servant] and in the Lord [as a fellow believer].
Now, we get the full picture … Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s household, or perhaps a paid servant who made a commitment to Philemon’s household. Indentured servant’s agreed to work for someone for pay as long as they lived.
This letter infers that at some point Onesimus ran away from his obligation to Philemon and apparently owed him something. We’re not sure if he stole something or didn’t live up to his commitment, thus Paul using the word “useless”.
Philemon would naturally not trust him or greet him kindly!
Either way, Onesimus didn’t return to Philemon on his own, he arrived with a letter in his hand from Paul. Perhaps, the only way Philemon would have accepted his presence, not sought reprisal or repayment. He may have even held the right to have Onesimus jailed.
Verse 15 & 16 give a different perspective to Onesimus’s failures toward Philemon … Paul infers, perhaps, it was meant for good. So that he could become our brother in Christ, a much higher relationship than any earthly one.
His phrasing reminds me of the Old Testament Story of Esther. It’s a great read, one of my favorite. Her life went through unbelievable earthly affairs, far from anything with outward spiritual significance, yet, God used it to free His people, Israel, from captivity.
Paul suggests this man may have wronged you, but it led to him coming to Rome, our acquaintance, and subsequently, his spiritual birth.
He is asking Philemon to reframe his thoughts on Onesimus … toward eternal good and respect for Paul’s heart.
Matters of the Heart are always complicated!
Philemon’s heart was mistreated by Onesimus.
Paul’s heart loved Onesimus.
Onesimus’ heart changed and professed faith.
Philemon’s heart was, now, asked to look at the eternal and not focus on the earthly; accept a new relationship with Onesimus,
offering Onesimus a new beginning.
Maybe this year, you find your heart deceived, tendered, professing, or refocused. All are challenging, but also serve purposes.
- Maybe, Life is challenging your heart this season.
- You likely will not know the end game ahead of time.
- Something may pop up and surprise you like a letter carrier showing up at your door.
Maybe you wish, as I have a million times, that a letter carrier would show up at your door with specific instructions, but instead you walk in obscurity, praying each step is not a misstep.
There’s a lot packed in one letter … next week, we’ll mine a few more gems!
Feel free to share with a friend(s).
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