From Paul in a Roman prison to Philemon, wealthy householder at Colossae. Not much to look at, if size matters. One chapter. Twenty-five verses. Very personal in nature. Recalling a former time when Paul introduced the Gospel to that household.
But something very unusual has developed. Paul has been ministered to in custody by a young man recently arrived in Rome named Onesimus.The name translates “useful”.
There was a time when the younger had proved useful to Philemon as a slave of his household. But then a theft. A flight to freedom and Rome. An introduction to Paul and a life of new hope in the Gospel.
Over time Paul comes to realize the wrongdoing of his new friend. He insists that the old score must be settled. But this slave faces very dangerous prospects. The law of the Empire would allow the master to kill the thief, or cut off his hand, or allow him back into service.
What will be the decision now in light of the common bond of Christian faith between master and slave? Paul applies some of his most persuasive words to tip the scale in favour of mercy.
Philemon accepts the challenge, leaving for Colossae, and carrying what amounts to his own letter of emancipation. Consider the thrilling words:
15For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;
16Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?
17If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself.
18If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
Does not each believer have a similar assurance through Christ? Based upon His own sinless credit He intercedes with the Heavenly Father for our transgressions. He makes the same request as is found in the 17th and 18th verses. Trusting in this plea, we are freed from the bondage and guilt of our sins. Where restitution or apologies are necessary, we comply, and move forward in joyful release.
Good letter isn’t it? Punchy.