A Heart-Felt Appeal from the Word
One of the shortest books in the New Testament of the Bible representing the message of the Gospel of Christ is the Book of Philemon. It contains a letter in the most personal of terms from the Apostle Paul, to a brother in Christ named Philemon. In it, Paul gently expresses his desire to bring about reconciliation and healing for one in the Lord. Paul makes his address in the simplest of terms, not just to Philemon, but to the body of Christ. His letter begins:
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved friend and fellow labourer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house”.(Philemon 1:1 & 2)
There are those in the Body of Christ, who bring times of refreshing from the Lord. Philemon was one of those. Simply translated, the name Philemon means ‘friendly.’ Paul describes Philemon as one who gives great joy and consolation in his love, refreshing the hearts of the saints.
“For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother”.(Philemon 1:7)
Having full trust in the outworking of Philemon’s faith, on behalf of Onesimus, Paul makes a heart-felt appeal for his brother in the Lord. Though Onesimus was known to Philemon, Apphia and Archippus and the church that met in their house, it was through Paul that Onesimus received the Name of the Lord and became accepted as a child of God.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name”.(John 1:12)
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”.(1 John 3:1)
Love Is in Actions; Not in Words
Though Onesimus was a slave, he was now the redeemed of the Lord. His name means ‘profitable’ or ‘useful’. Paul suggests that Onesimus’ leaving them for a time may have occurred that they might receive him back forever, not as a slave, but as one beloved by the Lord. He asks not only that they receive him back, but that they would receive him in exactly the same way that they would receive Paul. In essence Paul was asking, that they not greet Onesimus with reservation, but that they would welcome their brother back into their home with open arms. Paul uses the word ‘brother’ here as an affectionate term. He makes this appeal to Philemon not as a command, but for love’s sake. Paul’s desire was for Philemon to hear his (Paul’s) heart, so that he would be willing to do what was fitting in the Lord.
“Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ—I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the Gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. ‘If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me’”.(Philemon 1:8-17)
In the Book of 1 John, the Apostle John warns against shutting up our hearts from others. “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:17-20).
Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).
The Debt Has Been Paid by the Lord
Paul reminds Philemon, that he himself is indebted to Paul. While speaking of Onesimus Paul says, “But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides” (Philemon 1:18 & 19).
Paul was willing to take on Onesimus’ debt as his own, the same as he had for Philemon, and in the same way that Christ had done for Paul – by not counting his sins against him. The New International Version Bible puts it this way:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation”.(2 Corinthians 5: 17-19, NIV)
Paul had such confidence in Philemon’s willing response that he had already prayed: “That the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:6).
Trusting in Philemon’s obedience, Paul believed that he would do even more than he was asked. “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say” (Philemon 1:20 & 21).
Christ’s Immediate Response of Grace
With outstretched arms at Calvary, Jesus hung dying on a cross. A criminal being crucified beside him said, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
Though Jesus was also suffering, He gave an immediate response. “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
Because we have this same Christ deep within our hearts, we carry His Spirit of grace. The Spirit of grace enables us, despite our own suffering, to give an immediate response when someone else is in pain. Paul asks us to pattern ourselves after Christ.
When the criminal on the cross was suffering, Jesus didn’t make him wait.
Paul said, “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfil my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:1-8).