Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Philemon

No Wasted Words

This the second essay in a series covering Paul's letter to Philemon.

In a mere twenty-five verses, Paul makes an appeal for Onesimus' freedom. The New American Standard Bible translates Philemon into 473 words, which is about the size of most freshman college theme papers--at least in my freshman days.

So much accomplished in so few words.

Indeed the argument of the letter begins with the greeting:

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, (Philemon 1)

To understand what I mean, take a look at how Paul introduces himself in his other letters:

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, (Romans 1:1)

Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, (1 Corinthians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  (2 Corinthians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead), (Galatians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are at Ephesus and who are faithful in Christ Jesus: (Ephesians 1:1)

Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers and deacons: (Philippians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, (Colossians 1:1)

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. (1 Thessalonians 1:1)

Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (2 Thessalonians 1:1)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope, (1 Timothy 1:1)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life in Christ Jesus, (2 Timothy 1:1)

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness, (Titus 1:1)

Until writing to Philemon, Paul refers to himself as an apostle and a bond-servant. In did not matter whether Paul was free or in prison, he was an apostle and a bond-servant. But to Philemon, Paul announces himself as a prisoner.

  • He cannot call himself an apostle, because, in this letter, he sets aside his apostolic authority in asking Philemon to free Onesimus.
  • He cannot call himself a bond-servant, because the issue is slavery. A bond-servant is a permanent and voluntary position of slavery.
  • As a prisoner, he creates a parallel between his situation  and Onesimus. Paul is a prisoner of Christ Jesus and Onesimus is a prisoner of Philemon. As Philemon's heart moves in sympathy for Paul's situation, how will he be able to harden it over Onesimus.

No wasted words. Paul, the prisoner, calls Philemon a brother and fellow worker. Paul, Timothy, and Philemon are a team, working for the good of the Kingdom and the spread of the gospel. To not grant Paul's request will be to break this bond.

No wasted words. Here is how Paul continues:

and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: (Philemon 2)

Paul's appeal will not be private. His letter is addressed to Philemon and to his wife Apphia and to his son Archippus and to all the believers who come to worship in his house. Common courtesy requires that the letter be made known to all. Philemon's choice to follow Paul's wishes or not will be a matter of public record.

Onesimus has not even been named and Philemon is in trouble. Paul has not even begun his argument, but Philemon is in a corner.

You have to love the pastoral skills of this man Paul. Philemon will end up doing what is right and do it willingly. But to say that in the end Philemon chose to do what was right is another matter. When Paul was done, Philemon could only have chosen to do wrong!

All this in 473 words.

Wednesday: Philemon's love for all the saints.

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