What follows is a manuscript from a sermon I have preached on a few occasions. I walk through the whole book of Philemon. Love to have you follow along in this series. My prayer is that it will inspire you to “forgive as you have been forgiven…” The rest of the 5 part series is here.
Paul wrote this letter as a personal note to a dear friend named Philemon who was the leader of a house church in Colossae. This letter was sent with the letter to the Colossians. This evening, lets journey back to the first century and see if we can imagine being the recipients of this letter.
1Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice that this is a letter that is sent to one person: Philemon (who is a “fellow worker” and more literally a “partner”). Paul then goes on to acknowledge some other key people and the church as a whole. The point being that although this is a letter that was sent primarily to one person, it is addressing a matter that the whole church must wrestle with. Lets continue with verse four…
4I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6I pray that your partnership with us in the faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
You may know that Paul usually has some sort of prayer that is directed at the recipients of his letters. One of the key things that Paul is communicating to Philemon is that he sees him as a “partner” in the faith. Throughout the rest of the letter, the idea of “partnership” is going to be a main focus. Paul sees Philemon as a dear partner in Jesus and this partnership (sometimes translated “fellowship”) is a great blessing to the whole Colossian church.
8Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
Onesimus has now been introduced for the first time as one who has become a “son” to Paul. Somehow while Paul is in jail, he sees Onesimus (perhaps Onesimus sought him out), and this runaway slave has become a follower of Jesus! It is easy to imagine from here that Paul feels the same way about Onesimus as he feels about Philemon. He loves each of these men deeply. But apparently, somewhere during Onesimus’ life journey, he did something to wrong Philemon. This comes out in verse 11 where Paul uses a ‘Greek’ play on words.
The name Onesimus in the ancient Greek means “useful” or “profitable.” When Paul says “formerly he was useless (not profitable)…but now he has become useful (profitable) to you and to me”, he is actually making a pun. His use of humor actually seems to be a way to creatively introduce a difficult topic. When used appropriately, humor can be good medicine in difficult situations.
So far, Paul has said that they are “partners” in the business of the Gospel, and now Onesimus is “profitable” for them both. The Apostle is using a business metaphor to describe the situation they find themselves in. Think about it. When people are partners in business in our day, what do they have in common? They are working towards a common goal driven by a common vision. The difference here is that the goal is to live out the kingdom of God driven by a vision to show the world the love of Jesus!
MORE TO COME!
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE “BUSINESS” METAPHOR FOR KINGDOM WORK? HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THIS USED IN A “PROFITABLE” SENSE IN MODERN TIMES, AND HOW HAS SUCH IMAGERY BEEN “UNPROFITABLE” FOR THE CHURCH?
HOW DOES THE FACT THAT PAUL USES ONESIMUS’ NAME AS A PUN POINT TO CREATIVITY & FLEXIBILITY WHEN COMMUNICATING ABOUT CHURCH/GOSPEL ISSUES?
WHO ARE YOUR “PARTNERS” IN THE GOSPEL? WHAT MAKES SUCH A PARTNERSHIP WORK WELL? WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO FIND THEMSELVES WITHOUT SUCH PARTNERS?
WHAT OTHER IDEAS POPPED OUT AT YOU IN THIS SECTION?