Lesson 31: "I Beseech Thee. . .Receive Him as Myself" (Philemon v.10, 17)
Paul's Prison Epistles.This is lesson #31. In this lesson we would like to consider the body of Paul's letter to Philemon, Paul's plea in behalf of Onesimus. We have talked about the circumstance, the church at Colossae, the problems of that community, and hopefully you have a good grip on these details by now. Let me reiterate, Onesimus was a slave, the property of Philemon. This slave ran away from his master, went to Rome (we don't know why), Paul befriended him and taught him the gospel, he was baptized into Christ and returned to his master, Philemon. When Onesimus came to Philemon, this could have been a very awkward situation; I trust you can imagine. Exactly what the Roman laws were with respect to slaves returning (or being returned) to their masters, I don't know. It would seem to me that Paul, Timothy, Tychicus and all those names down in v.23-24 were trying to soften the shock, awkwardness and confusion for the Onesimus-Philemon's reunion. You see, under the right circumstance it could have been a pleasant and refreshing experience for both Onesimus and Philemon. Onesimus of course realizing he had cleared his conscience; both with God (I Pet. 3:21) and now his slave master, could dump a load of guilt he had been harboring, we don't know how long. Philemon, on the other hand, could take courage in Onesimus' voluntary return hoping and realizing that Onesimus would henceforth be more trustworthy and more dedicated. Now, what does all this say to us? We want to (and we need to) help all of our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of their social station. Thus, through Philemon, Onesimus and the Colossian congregation; we have been given an EXAMPLE of how we should try to achieve smooth transitions, reunions and help attain harmonious relations between all of our brethren and sisters where it is possible. If you were Paul, what would you say to Philemon? What would you write? What would you say about Onesimus? How should we go about reconciling differences? What would you say? O.K. Paul is our example! And, here is what Paul said. Beginning in v.8, we'll read down through v.21. Please read with me. Here we go: "Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in times past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee aught, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say."
O.K., now, what was Paul's message? What did Paul say to Philemon? Let's paraphrase! In v.8, Paul started off by saying: Philemon, you might even consider this a little BOLD on my part, i.e. intruding into things you might consider that are none of my business really AND you could look at this as something that is just a CONVENIENCE to me that possibly might involve more pressures on your part, this I understand. "For love's sake I rather beseech thee," (v.9) i.e. please consider, I'm simply asking, not commanding even though as an apostle I would no doubt be justified in being even more demanding, I'm just asking.. .this comes from an old man in prison, innocent of any crimes, simply here because I preach and teach Jesus. Philemon, I'm simply making a friendly request. However, Bro. Philemon, I had an opportunity to meet your slave, Onesimus. We have become very good friends. I taught him the gospel, how Jesus died on that cruel cross for us (as a sacrifice for our sins, not because he had to; but, because he wanted to do it for us), and I taught him how our Lord was hurriedly buried in Joseph's tomb that Friday evening. And Bro, Philemon, he understands about our Lord coming forth from that tomb, the third day, on a Sunday morning as the first born from the dead. Bro. Philemon, he now understands that just as Jesus came forth from the grave that Sunday morning, all of us will be raised to life in the general resurrection..."they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." (to quote John 5:29, which they didn't have). I taught Onesimus' these things and his heart was melted right here in this prison cell, while connected to this chain, I taught him these things. Bro. Philemon, he repented, confessed Jesus and I made arrangement for him to be baptized into Christ.
Now, someone will surely say at this point that, I'm adlibbing. I confess, this is true. However, isn't everything, I have said, implied in some way? Philemon and Archippus were preachers, laborers in the congregation at Colossae. They understood Paul's language and knew the implications inherent in Paul's words: "Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds." (v.10). These preachers were teaching the same gospel and teaching about the same Lord Jesus Christ at Colossae. I believe Paul knew he didn't have to build some great doctrinal case or start mandating orders, do this or do that. They knew Paul was an ambassador for Christ. It's not even the Christian way to go beyond this understanding. You can't force people. Built into the system is the fact that every man is a free moral agent; he can obey God or he can reject God. You might break his arm; but, you can't make him obey the gospel. It's a mental, inside the heart operation. For people to obey, they must understand, be taught the gospel and they must voluntarily obey out of that four-letter word back in v.9, "love." Do you remember that word "agape" in the Greek, to seek one's highest interest. Truth, love, grace and faith cover a lot of ills. We would do well to keep it all in context.
Now, if I may deviate a minute from our paraphrasing adventure; let me say this to you: I have friends, good friends, non-Christians, that won't even talk to me about the gospel of Jesus. Some of them think I'm a kook on religion. Some of them respect my bible knowledge; but, simply are not interested...for the simple reason that they look at religion as some non-essential optional thing and they want to do something else besides read the bible and go to church as they put it. I can't reach them. Yet, I have known cases (in my own family) where I just couldn't cut the mustard; however, someone else came along, taught and baptized those very same people with all ease. Why is that? Well, I don't have to tell you, I don't know the answer. The Ethiopian eunuch went to Jerusalem for to worship and spend time, the very place where all the apostles were. The H.S. did not use the apostles and other very capable men at Jerusalem to teach and baptize this nobleman. Instead the Holy Spirit sent Philip (Acts ch. 8), many, many more miles to just meet this man along the road. I wonder if Philemon and Archippus had ever tried to convert their slave, Onesimus? If they pushed him a little in this way, it could be the very thing that caused him to run away. Now, I don't know that. But, that's the way life is some times. Yet, the apostle Paul said the right things and melted Onesimus' heart and motivated him not only to obey; but, to go back home in sincere obedience and take up his lowly station in life. Paul didn't say, Philemon, if you bunch of goody, goody preachers at Colossae had been doing your duty; you would have converted this salve and prevented a lot of embarrassment to your selves, saved a lot of expenses and not brought reproach on the church, and all of that. Paul kept it positive! There's a great lesson here for you and me. Don't spend your time crying over milk spilt from the glass, spend your time being thankful for where you are and for that milk left in the glass. Paul's message to Philemon was positive. When you keep it positive, you can tell it, preach it, or write it to the whole church, or the whole world. You don't have to whisper and gossip it around, "don't tell this and don't tell that." There is more to Paul's message to Philemon than just a suggestion as to how Philemon should handle a run-away slave. Paul simply told it the way it was. Did he appeal to Philemon's emotions? I believe he did. Love is an emotion. Hate is an emotion. There's nothing wrong with appealing to someone's emotions, if you keep it positive and appeal to the right emotions. It can do a lot of good. On the other hand, hate, bigotry, prejudice and a lot more negative garbage COULD BE taught in the same time frame, time wasted, and the end result would be negative, just cause more trouble and more hurt. The Holy Spirit did not place the book of Philemon here to just take up space. Perhaps you have those in your own family, or dear friends and neighbors that are not Christians. If you possess the make up of the average elder or deacon or even just a dedicated Christian; you've probably had some sleepless nights, tossing and turning, giving up good sleep, wondering and asking yourself: what can I do to teach this person the gospel? How can I do it in a positive, effective, motivating way that will help and not hurt the person? Lord give me an opportunity, please give me a place to put my pry pole where I might just begin to teach them the gospel that will lift them out of their lost state. Or perhaps the person is a Christian, they've been baptized and they have lost their fire and their zeal and they are as Jesus said: "they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as a sheep having no shepherd." Even if they attend the services with any regularly, they're just a critic, agitators, thinking that everyone else is a hypocrite just like them. They, get all concerned about spending even one penny from the treasury, unless you are buying padded pews; but, they don't contribute much to it. They have been baptized and they think that punched their ticket for life. But, if something needs to be done, they're on vacation. If you are a dedicated Christian, you know what I'm talking about...sleepless nights. Now, I don't want to give you a song and a dance; but, I believe Philemon was doing the best he knew how...Archippus was doing the best he knew how...Paul was doing the best he could...Onesimus, was probably doing all he knew and was motivated to do; but, he finally learned the gospel and obeyed Jesus, praise God! Now, I think you can see, it didn't happen the most efficient way. I can think of an arrangement by which Onesimus could have saved a trip to Rome (and back), more than 2,000 miles on dangerous treacherous seas. I can think how he might have been working at Colossae months before he was, teaching and converting more souls and helping Philemon and Archippus and others at Colossae. Now, what's the point! What do you need to do for those people that cause you to lose sleep? Do what Philemon did...do the best you know how. Do what Archippus was doing...do the very best you know how. Do what Paul was doing... the best he could with what he had. The Lord gives the increase! (I Cor. 3:6). It does not happen by human wisdom (I Cor. 1:21). Keep it positive, do the best you know how, with what you got, where you are...and go ahead and take your rest...sleep sound. What more is a Christian expected to do?...that's it, be a good servant to our Lord. Jesus in one parable (Luke 17:10) said: "So likewise ye, when ye have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do." You don't have to toss and tumble and waste your sleep. Just keep it positive...do your work and the Lord will take care of the rest of it. Don't be impatient. You can't even make yourself one inch taller by all the thinking you can do (Matt. 6:27), don't tax yourself for what you can't do; just cause yourself to do what you can do. And, another way of saying that is (to me): keep it positive.
Now, OH! BOY, did I blow my time on that one! May we continue our paraphrase, beginning in v.11? Philemon, I know...this slave must have caused you a lot of grief in the past. His upkeep may have cost you more than what he produced. I understand that! But, Bro. Philemon, I'm happy to report to you, things have changed. He is not the same man he used to be...He has changed. Old things have passed away, behold, all things have become new (II Cor. 5:11). I've sent him back to you. Please don't be skeptical of his conversion and his fidelity to you. Philemon, if you have any compassion and appreciation for me; please think of ONESIMUS and treat Onesimus as you would treat me, your friend with your best interest in my heart and "YES" Philemon, a precious brother in Christ. Please don't put him on probation or just give him a second chance. Treat him like a brother, for that he is, a brother in Christ. I wish he could have just stayed here with me to help me and I could have used him; but, Bro. Philemon, even if I had your concent to keep him; it wouldn't be fair to you for me to have done so, he belongs to you. You may have lost a little domestic services for a short period when he ran away, "YES", a little fleeting bit of resources in this short lifetime; BUT NOW, Bro. Philemon, an eternity has been appendaged to you in a much closer spiritual relationship. Bro. Philemon, there is probably some things that haven't been resolved yet between you and Onesimus. It may involve money, habits, grievances or perhaps some personal item he stole from you. Bro. Philemon, just mark that off of his account and put it on my account. I promise you, I will restore and make restitution for whatever is involved. And, Bro. Philemon, I'm not just trying to take advantage any other debt of gratitude you may feel you owe me. I want you to be compensated for your losses, honestly. But, please don't make it difficult for Onesimus... just let me make up the difference, O.K.? I know, there's no use for me to tell you this; because, I'm willing to trust in your judgement and my guess is you will do far better than anything I've even suggested. And Philemon, I just can't wait to get out of this stinking prison cell. When I do, I'm going to try my best to come to Colossae and visit you and Archippus and Apphia and enjoy a big chicken dinner. Can you find me a place to stay? Philemon, please keep praying for me and that my fate will turn out as I have here suggested.
Now, let me ask ye! What do you think Philemon did? The book doesn't tell us. But, my guess is the same as yours. Why? Well, Paul was saying to Philemon in so many words, Philemon do unto Onesimus as you would expect Onesimus to do to you. Is that it? Paul was simply demonstrating a bible concept, the teachings of Jesus (Matt. 7:12). Do you believe people can change? Faith cometh by hearing (Rom. 10:17). Have a good day.