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  • Gwen Diaz

338 - A Personal Letter to Philemon

December 4 - Nº 338 Philemon

Members of the church in Colossae gathered as they usually did in the home of a man named Philemon to fellowship and study the Scriptures. It had been weeks since Epaphras, the pastor of the church, had left to visit Paul in prison. He had traveled to Rome to seek the apostle’s advice concerning a new form of Christianity that was undermining the foundations of their faith (see #337 - December 3). However, instead of Epaphras, a man named Tychicus walked into their meeting that day. He extended his hand. In it was a letter from Paul and Timothy. (We know it as the book of Colossians.) The letter introduced Tychicus as a “dear brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord” (see Colossians 4:7). It contained Paul’s answers to the issues they were facing and informed the congregation that Tychicus would update them on everything that was happening to Paul. But there was another letter—a personal one written to Philemon. Tychicus handed it to the wealthy businessman. As he opened it, his facial expression must have changed dramatically. It concerned his former slave named Onesimus who had run away quite some time before. Paul was asking Philemon to welcome Onesimus back—not as a slave, but as a faithful and dear brother! Rather than pulling rank as an apostle and ordering Philemon to accept the former slave back into his home, Paul appealed to Philemon on the basis of love. He wrote, “This is Paul—now an old man and a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.” As a fugitive, Onesimus had found his way to Rome. Then God had led him to the house where Paul was imprisoned. During their time together, the runaway slave had put his faith in Jesus. He had become Paul’s “son in the faith” and “brother in the Lord.” And during his time in Rome, the young man had become very helpful to Paul. But Paul realized that Onesimus still had a responsibility. He needed to return to his owner and seek his freedom legally. So Onesimus walked into Philemon’s house that day with Tychicus—and with Paul’s handwritten blessing. In this personal letter, Paul asked Philemon to voluntarily choose to treat Onesimus as a beloved brother in Christ rather than as a runaway slave. Paul wrote, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was so that you might have him back in your life forever. Please welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any harm or owes you anything, charge it to me. I will pay it back!” Rather convincingly Paul added, “Remember you owe your very life in Christ to me. I am confident that you will do even more than I ask.” In closing the letter, Paul wrote, “By the way, prepare a guest room for me, because I hope your prayers will be answered, and I will be restored to you soon.” Paul closed the letter with greetings from Epaphras and several of the others who were with him in Rome.

It is impossible to look down on another person when we understand: How much God loves them! How much Jesus was willing to give up—both for them and for us! How little we deserve! How much we owe! We need to love others just as much as God loves us—and them! No one should be treated as a slave.

338 - A Personal Letter to Philemon
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