Friday, December 05, 2003

Philemon

Providence

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

We continue to look at Paul's appeal for Onesimus, his child and his very heart:

For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 

If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. (Philemon 15-17)

"For this reason..." Can our sin work the purposes of God? Philemon and Onesimus became separated because Onesimus stole money from his master and ran away. Could he not have become a Christian without running away? For that matter are the providential purposes only for Onesimus' salvation? Could they have actually include salvation, freedom, and a strong bond of fellowship between Onesimus and Philemon? Could they include the letter that has been read and studied for centuries? 

Can sin work the purposes of God? The answer is, "Yes." But does not excuse sin. As Paul wrote elsewhere, "But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? (Romans 3:7)" That God will sometime redeem sin to great glory only speaks of God's mercy and His greatness. Most often our sin brings pain, shame, and death. We can only be thankful for those times when the effects workf for the good.

No wasted words. In his greeting to Philemon, Paul wrote, "Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker" Now Paul writes, "If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me." Every point that Paul makes in his opening is connected to a point that Paul makes in the body of this letter.  From the beginning, it became clear that Philemon's only choice was to harden his heart and make the wrong choice. Paul is working to make the right choice the easy choice.

Of course, Onesimus did steal from Philemon. Being unemployed, he had no means to repay. This, perhaps, gives Philemon an out. Paul moves to this issue next:

But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). (Philemon 18-19)

Paul, the prisoner of Jesus the Messiah, an aged man, will raise the money to recompense Philemon for the monetary damages inflicted by Onesimus. All that he has to do is send the bill. Paul has written this letter personally. He has not used a scribe as he typically did. He has, therefore, truly bound himself with Onesimus' debt. All Philemon must now do is forget that Paul has in some way saved Philemon's life and send the bill.

Paul wrote earlier that "the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother." Now he writes:

Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. (Philemon 20)

And because accountability is a good thing, Paul continues:

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say. At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. (Philemon 21-22)

So should Philemon choose to conceal the letter from its other recipients or ignore its request, Philemon is to know that Paul plans to follow up.

Monday: Role Models.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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