Philemon (Phm)

Book 18 of the NT, having just one chapter. Written by Paul to Philemon about AD 60. Time to read: five mins.

Key people: Paul, Philemon, Onesimus.

Outline: It is addressed to Philemon who may have been a wealthy member in the Colossian church. It largely focuses around his slave Onesimus who had run away, maybe stealing something when he went. Later he met up with Paul, and became a believer. Paul, in this personal letter to his friend attempts to correct the situation – he sends Onesimus back to fulfill his obligations as a slave while trusting Philemon would have a greater understanding of his faith and receive back his runaway slave as a fellow Christian. Our earthly roles may indicate a hierarchy but in the sight of God we are all on the same level – blood-bought sinners. Along with Timothy and Titus, Paul calls Onesimus “my son” in the faith (Phm 1:10).

Main lesson. With many of our conflicts there are faults on both sides, so why not try to resolve them in such a way that both parties come out winners with a stronger relationship than before? Don’t just walk away when situations turn a bit sour as so much is lost, plus there is the ongoing festering of wrong attitudes.

Key verses and thoughts: * Paul did not seek to address the political and cultural issue of slavery.  It was a widespread and firmly entrenched part of civilization at that time. The NT writers gave teaching to those who were slaves about their responsibilities (Eph 6:5-7; Col 3:22-24; Tit 2:9,10; 1 Pet 2:18-23). In this instance, Paul’s intention was to correct the wrong attitudes and bring about a God-honouring closure to the situation. Sometimes we want to ‘save the whole world’ but are we effectively touching one life at a time?  The crowds are just multitudes of individual hearts that need to get right with God.

* “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love...I don’t want to do anything without your consent” (Phm 1:8,9,14). Paul presented the situation in such a way that Philemon would see the logic and do what was honourable and right. Is this my approach or do I think I have the right to demand a certain response? Trying to force a situation is misguided authority and is sure to meet with negativity and seldom has a favourable outcome. Deal with past issues with tact and grace. After all, if Christ dealt with us as our sin deserves none of us would stand a chance. Like Onesimus we as humanity have run from God but through Christ we can be reconciled. Have I addressed the mistakes of the past and as appropriate made restitution, so my conscience is clear?

* “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him back to you...perhaps for good; no longer just as a slave, but a dear brother in the Lord” (Phm 1:11,15-21). Paul said in effect, ‘don’t be hard-hearted, you have been blessed by me, how about passing a blessing on. Move on from the past. Give another the benefit of a second chance’. Don’t we regularly need a reprieve ourselves?  We have been blessed by the grace and mercy of God, not so that we become hoarders but that in turn we might bless others.

See also: authority, forgive/forgiveness, reconciliation, second chance, slave.