Philemon Had a Problem. It’s Just Like YOURS!

As we make our way through the last of Paul’s epistles, we encounter the curious case of Paul’s letter on behalf of Onesimus, a slave who ran away from his master, Philemon. According to Roman and cultural dictates, Philemon could have sat in judgment over Onesimus. The law and society was on his side. He had the right to be offended, and to extract the ultimate penalty. Instead, Paul encouraged him not to.

A Heart-felt Plea

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.

He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow-man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (Philemon, Verses 8-17, NIV)

Turning Slavery on Its Head

This interesting and touching story reminds us that Paul lived in the real world. Apparently while he was in Rome, he encountered a runaway slave from Colossae named Onesimus (whose name translates as “profitable” or “helpful”) and led him to belief in Christ. After his conversion, Onesimus realized he was wrong for deserting and was willing to return to Colossae to go back to his master, Philemon.

Apparently Paul counseled him to do so even though Philemon could demand judgment–possibly even capital punishment–for his runaway slave. (Paul was asking Onesimus to take a big risk. But, as his new spiritual father he encouraged Onesimus to return to Colossae because he had become a changed man in Christ, and because Paul believed Philemon would now see him not as a slave, but as a fellow believer.)

Tough Choice

Even though he could face the death penalty for running away when he carried Paul’s letter back to Colossae, Onesimus was willing to risk Philemon’s wrath because Paul interceded for him. Martin Luther believed that this letter mirrored the one Christ wrote to the Father on OUR behalf: that we were all slaves facing the death penalty. In our fallen state, as “runaways”, if we stood before our Master without any help, we would face his wrath.

Philemon

Ok, so this is more than a story. While we have rightfully left the institution of slavery far behind, all of us have been touched by slavery. Forget Onesimus and Philemon! This is your life. What have you been enslaved to? How far away have you run? Are you willing to allow yourself to be adopted into the family? As an adopted family member, do you sometimes sit in judgment over those who are outside? And more than that, as an adopted child, does your gratitude for His mercy make you willing to serve the Father freely, not out of obligation but out of love?

Martin Luther pointed out that Christ made us sons and adopted us into the Father’s family. As a result, we could have the boldness to throw ourselves on his mercy and serve him again. It’s exactly what Paul encouraged Onesimus to do. What about you? Are you ready to take the chance to throw yourself on the mercy of the court? What will happen if you do? Go home, and see…

Philemon’s Choice

 
Every one of us had run away 
And faced the ultimate penalty, all alone;
The Judge had raised his gavel as if to say
"This trial is over, and the judgment's done."

But Jesus said that he would vouch for me, 
And stepped into the dock, and took my place:
The law required I pay my penalty;
But Jesus paid my price. And offered grace.

No matter where you've been, or why you've run,
Your pardon has been given from above!
The Master now accepts you as a son:
Come home to Him in gratitude and love.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Slavery Undone: How the Worst Day Became the Best Day Ever

Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him into slavery when he was just a teenager. It might have been better than killing him, but their actions still put him onto a difficult path in life and caused him great hardship. As time passed, Joseph overcame those hardships and grew in many ways beyond his circumstances.

When they met up years later, the brothers rightfully feared for their lives because Joseph had become a powerful man. His logical response would have been cruelty and vengeance, and very few would have blamed him if he had just done the worst things he could think of to brothers who had sold him out. But Joseph had another perspective, one that no one else saw coming…

A Different Perspective

“Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” (Genesis 50:18-20, NKJV) Joseph’s brothers conspired to kill him, and for Joseph it looked like his worst day ever. But at the last minute they relented and sold him into slavery instead.

slavery

Although he began as a slave, he ended up as a powerful man in Egypt. His brothers fell on hard times, and when they traveled to Egypt seeking help, they unwittingly wound up under his authority. The story of Joseph could have easily been one of righteous vengeance. If he had reflected the cultural and moral values of his day, Joseph would have sought to make his brothers pay for what they had done. It would have only been logical for him to take out his anger upon them, and I don’t imagine anyone would have questioned his right to vengeance.

A Larger Plan

After all, he rose to a position of prominence in Egypt, and became a man with power and resources. After years of separation, his brothers found themselves far from home in Egypt, totally at his mercy. They feared the worst, that he would exact his rightful revenge upon them. Instead, he offered them grace because he believed God had a larger plan.

Joseph’s response was another example of the difference between man’s way and God’s way. His answer offers perspective for us when bad things happen in a fallen world. We don’t always see it right away, but God can redeem even the worst things to accomplish something good.

Romans 8:28 says that He works “all things together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose.” It doesn’t say that only good will happen, or that all things will be ok. It doesn’t even say He will do it automatically for everyone.

Processing Differently

The secret of this oft-quoted verse is the same as the motivation behind Joseph’s statement to his brothers. It says that when you love God, and see yourself as called according to His purpose, you are able to process bad circumstances differently. You can operate in faith that God will turn trials into patience, bad circumstances into intimacy with Him and evil into good. That’s what Joseph believed. It’s also what Paul, James, and Peter taught in the early church.

As the foremost example of this, God took what is arguably the very worst day in human history (the day Christ was crucified) and turned it into the very best day in history (the day all men could be freed from the penalty of sin and redeemed!). Joseph may have been sold into slavery, but the Lord redeemed him for good. Isn’t the same thing true of us? We may have been trapped in the slavery of sin and death, but the Lord redeemed us out of bondage at the cross.

If God is able to transform the WORST day in history to the BEST day ever, then maybe it makes sense to trust Him with whatever happens to you today as well.

Tables Turned

Joseph’s jealous brothers almost had a plot to slay him;
Instead they sold him as a slave, just thinking to betray him.
When he rose to power, and they fell into his hand,
He could have exercised revenge by giving a command.
He told them, “Yes I know you didn’t treat me as you should,
But what you meant for evil, God has transformed into good.
It is the Lord Himself whose grace has given us this chance
To see His hand at work for us in every circumstance.”

The Lord, whose grace has given us the chance to live forever,
Has offered us eternal love no earthly thing can sever,
And turned the very worst of days into the Best. Day. Ever.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread