INTRODUCTION: This week we are reading Paul’s letter to Philemon. We’ll use a different perspective each day to examine the issues at stake in this short epistle.
What do you think of when you think of the apostle Paul? Passionate. Bold. Feisty. Paul was an old man when he wrote Philemon. He was still bold and feisty, but a loving, nurturing, mentoring side shines in his words to Philemon. He had a special relationship with those like Philemon and Onesimus who had come to faith in Jesus through his ministry. He loved them so much that he was willing to challenge them in their thinking and actions. And, he set the bar high in how he expected them to respond.
- Think of someone in your life who is both bold and loving. How has he or she challenged you to live more fully for Jesus?
READ THE WORD: Philemon (ESV)
1:1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.
8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
1. What words did Paul use to build rapport as he began his letter (vss. 1, 4, 5, 7)?
2. How was Paul both feisty (vs. 8) and wise (vss. 9, 14) in his appeal? What was Paul’s request of Philemon (vss. 15-18)?
3. Paul seemed confident of what two things (vss. 21, 22)? What does this tell you about Paul’s pastoral relationship with Philemon and the church meeting in his house?
4. What can you learn from the way Paul went about making this radical request of Philemon? Whom might you encourage to live in light of the gospel?
RESPOND TO GOD
To Paul, right relationships were the fruit of the gospel. Onesimus might have been Philemon’s slave in society’s eyes, but in God’s eyes he was now a brother in Christ and a partner in advancing the gospel. Paul pressed Philemon to look through God’s eyes and to consider deeply what it looked like to live out his faith. Affectionately, yet boldly, Paul challenged Philemon to step up and do the right thing in a difficult situation. In doing so, Paul invited Philemon to lead strongly and set an example of gospel living. In both his request and conclusion, Paul assumed the best of his friend. He was confident he would obey, confident that he would do the right thing.
- Ask God how you can be a bold and loving example of the gospel, and for opportunities to encourage other believers in Christ to do the same.