The Grace of Life

Key Verse: “That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”
—Philemon 6

Selected Scripture:
Philemon 4-21

THE EPISTLE OF PAUL to Philemon—his close friend—concerns Onesimus, who had formerly been Philemon’s slave, but had run away from his Christian owner. Onesimus, having fled to Rome, met Paul while the apostle was being held prisoner there, and was converted by Paul to Christianity. Although Onesimus heard of Christianity in the home of Philemon, he had not become a consecrated believer until he visited Paul in Rome.

Slavery was freely practiced in the days of the Apostle Paul. It is estimated that throughout the Roman empire the number of the enslaved was very large compared to those that were free. In any case, Paul knew that such social differences should not interfere with Christian relationships and wrote, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.”—Col. 3:11

Paul reasons that Onesimus should now be treated by his master, not as a slave, but as a brother in Christ. Paul’s persuasive letter to Philemon was an effort to mediate between the two, and on this basis to negotiate a resolution for this grave situation.

Paul speaks highly of Philemon’s faith and love: “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.”—Philemon 4-7, New International Version

Paul appealed to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus—speaking as an aged man and also as a prisoner of Jesus Christ—whom he said was his own son in Christ. (vs. 10) The apostle said, “I know you have found him use less in the past but he is going to be useful now, to both of us. I am sending him back to you: will you receive him as my son, part of me? I should have dearly loved to have kept him with me: he could have done what you would have done—looked after me here in prison for the Gospel’s sake. But I would do nothing without consulting you first, for if you have a favour to give me, let it be spontaneous and not forced from you by circumstances.” (vss. 11-14, Phillips) Paul continues, “Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me … I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. … The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”—vss. 15-25, NIV

Dawn Bible Students Association
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