Paul wrote this letter to Philemon, a leader in the church at Colossae. It's intimacy shines through his words of encouragement, greetings to Philemon's family, and his detailed care and concern. Then Paul gets to the point of his letter...a slave that ran away from Philemon's household.
Paul shared how when his path crossed with a slave called, Onesimus (his name means 'Useful”), he shared the gospel with him and he became not only a follower of Christ but a comforter to Paul. He remarked that even though Philemon thought Onesimus to be 'useless', Paul found him to be useful to him while in prison. Paul writes to ask Philemon to receive Onesimus with forgiveness, and restore him not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.
Paul's earnest support reminds me of his earlier experience as a new believer in Acts 9; he encountered Jesus on the Damascas Road and his life (and his name) were forever changed. Jesus told Paul to proclaim the good news, yet believers knew him only as Saul, the one who savagely persecuted Christians. They didn't trust him. Then, Barnabas came alongside Paul to encourage him and assured skeptical believers of Paul's change of heart and genuine faith.
In the letter to Philemon, Paul was able to return the favor and intercede on behalf of Onesimus to his former master.
This is how God works in the lives of His children; we can't help to pass on what we have received because our gratitude compels us. When our encounter with the Living Christ has made a difference; we want to share that hope with others.
Another message I see embedded in this letter is one of forgiveness and redemption, mirroring the gospel of Christ. Jesus finds us while we are lost, redeems us from our sin, pays what is owed on our behalf and then restores us, not as slaves, but as sisters and brothers in Christ. Then, He makes sure that others see us as He does—useful to His ministry.
The final thing I discovered was Paul's Three-R's of the Gospel. . . no, not Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic. Rather, Paul shows us Redemption, Restoration and Reconciliation. Everyday we meet people that God brings across our path and they need to encounter the Living God and hear His message of hope. Together we can experience redemption, restoration and reconciliation with our Heavenly Father and with one another. Paul's example inspires and convicts me that I need to stand in the gap for those who we meet on the road to eternity.
I discovered a lot in this little book. In the past it's one that I tended to skip right past, maybe because it didn't look like much. I am glad the Lord led me here to find His nourishment and a fresh understanding of community relationships.
May you dig deep and find His rich blessings,