Philemon is one of Paul’s ‘prison epistle’—a letter written while he was imprisoned for preaching Jesus Christ as Lord. Even in the face of persecution, prison bars could not contain Paul’s zeal for the gospel. In this letter to Philemon, as we noted in last post here, he pleaded for mercy and forgiveness for a runaway slave.
Paul urges Philemon to accept back his servant Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, though he was once useless to him. Useless since he probably have stolen from him some large amount of money and then ran away. From this letter, we note few things.
God’s Sovereign Choice
First, we see God acting sovereignly in separating Philemon and Onesimus so that the latter would meet Paul, and be transformed by the gospel. The separation of the master and the servant, even before the latter had finished his term of service to Philemon shows God’s sovereignty in everything. It is through the separation that Onesimus meets Paul, who preaches the Good News of Jesus Christ.
God is sovereign over all. It is good for us to acknowledge him sovereign over our lives.
Reconciliation between brethren
Secondly, we note that Paul develops the theme of reconciliation in this letter more than any other theme. Paul opens the letter by expressing his gratitude to Philemon for his love of Christ. Philemon’s love and faith in God, as Paul notes, was immense and had refreshed many. Paul urged Philemon to open his heart and reconcile with the ‘once useless man’ by accepting him back as a dear brother. Though they had some differences, Paul notes that reconciliation is inevitable, just as Christ reconciled both of them to God.
Once we understand the gospel, it will be easier for us to reconcile with others. Paul banked on the gospel to help Philemon reconcile back with Onesimus.
Believers as Beloved brothers!
No other statement in this letter that excites me than verse 16: so that you might have him back, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother, a brother in the Lord. The earthly distinction between the master and the slave still holds, but more than that, both become brothers. Nothing else but the gospel would make it easier for Philemon to accept ran away servant back. Here, Paul makes it clear that believing in Christ makes both to be brothers in the Lord.
Paul introduces an important thing even for us here and now. Once gospel transforms us, we become brothers in the Lord. We need to be seeing fellow believers as dear and beloved brothers to us in the Lord. Always remembering we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, as Paul notes in his letter to Romans.
Keep posted here for the next article (the third) on this letter
By: Kenneth Irungu
iServe Africa Apprentice- DOVE Kawangware