I was going to write a poem today, but then I saw this.
I was going to write a poem today, but then I saw this.
This personal and shortest letter of Paul’s is the third in the series of prison epistles written in 62 A.D. The letter was sent with Tychicus and Onesimus along with letters to the Colossians and the Ephesians. The letter to Philemon, however, served a specific purpose.
Philemon was the owner of the runaway slave Onesimus. He was a wealthy Christian who had, during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus ten years earlier, been saved and opened his home in Colosae to the Christian community for regular meetings. Onesimus, you’ll recall, had fled to Rome, come to be a believer, and was introduced to Paul in a remarkable set of God-ordained circumstances. As Onesimus helped Paul, who was in prison, he also matured in Christ. It is now Paul’s turn to help Onesimus and reflect on the power of the gospel to transform lives and relationships.
I hear of the love and of the faith you have toward the Lord Jesus which pours out to other believers. (v.5)
I pray this faith we hold in common continues to show up in the good things we do and people recognize Christ in all of it. (v.6)
I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of fellow believers have been refreshed through your hospitality. (vv.7)
Maybe it’s for the best you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good, not as a mere slave but a true Christian brother, especially to me, but how much more to you. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) (vv.15-16, 11)
Paul reminds Philemon of the strength and power of his faith, and his continual enrichment of other believers, of which Onesimus is now one. He also suggests it is likely God’s will and perfect timing that Onesimus has now become a follower of Christ in order to help them both be partners in the gospel.
Accordingly, I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request. (vv.8-9)
I have sent him (who is my very heart) back to you. I wanted to keep him with me so that he could serve me in your place during my imprisonment for the sake of the gospel. However, without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your good deed would not be out of compulsion, but from your own willingness. (vv.12-14)
Welcome him back, “no longer as a servant, but more than a servant, as a beloved brother in Christ.” (v.16)
If you accept me as your friend, then accept Onesimus back. Welcome him like you would welcome me. (v.17)
If he has done any wrong to you or owes you anything, charge that to me. I, Paul, am writing this in my own handwriting: I will pay back anything Onesimus owes. And I will say nothing about what you owe me for your own life. (vv.18-19)
So, my brother, as a follower of the Lord, please do this favor for me. It would be such a great encouragement to me as your brother in Christ. I write this letter knowing that you will do what I ask, and even more than I ask. (vv.20-21)
Paul has made clear the way for Philemon to act generously. In v.12, Paul has used not the common term for heart (kardia) but splanchnon, which means “internal organs.” He communicates that Onesimus has become a part of him, as dear as one’s self. Paul also removes any reason for Philemon to keep Onesimus by requesting he forgive any debt Onesimus likely owes.
Paul leaves Philemon with only one response. As a brother in Christ to Paul and now to Onesimus, Philemon must respond with heartfelt generosity, considering his eternal life is “owed” to Paul’s ministry, a debt far greater than anything Onesimus could owe.
Now that the lives of both Philemon and Onesimus are transformed in Christ, Paul expects their relationship to be transformed. Breaking the chains of master and slave allows the two men to form a new relationship of loving brothers equal in the eyes of the Lord.
A sacred space designed to greet
In love and mercy You entreat
With no façade and no pretense
Let down my guard and all defense
This dyad, You and I, discrete.
With dawn’s aubade and fragrance sweet
My rocking chair and coffee’s heat
Love, faith and grace, Your words dispense
A sacred space.
A building, park or quaint retreat
It matters not where our hearts meet
What my thought lacks Your warmth augments
You always leave me filled, content
And nothing less than whole, complete
A sacred space.
This twin epistle of Ephesians, and one of the four prison epistles, repeats several recurring themes in that letter. It focuses on Christ as the Cornerstone of his church, where church is not a building but a body of people indwelt with the Holy Spirit. Paul urges all believers to be rooted in Christ, living our daily lives –at home, at work and at play – with him foremost in everything. To do anything else is inconsistent, and would be choosing to live our lives without him, completely ignoring this amazing gift.
Just as in the entire world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, so it has also been bearing fruit and growing among you from the first day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. (1:6)
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (1:13-14)
The Son was there before anything was made. And all things continue because of him. He is the head of the body, which is the church. He is the beginning of everything else. And he is the first among all who will be raised from death. So in everything he is most important. God was pleased for all of himself to live in the Son. (1:15-19)
You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence. (1:21-22)
God decided to let his people know just how rich and glorious that truth is. That secret truth, which is for all people, is that Christ lives in you, his people. He is our hope for glory. (1:27)
In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (2:3)
For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (2:9-10)
In Christ you had a different kind of circumcision, one that was not done by human hands. That is, you were made free from the power of your sinful self. That is the kind of circumcision Christ does. (2:11)
For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. (2:12-14)
Our relationship with Christ has given us the freedom to choose. We no longer are chained to our former, unfruitful lives of being run by our opinions and feelings. If we cling to the Spirit, we are assured, not of a pain-free life, but of the constant accompaniment that leads to discernment, hope, wisdom, correction, mercy, everlasting love and life, and peace beyond comprehension. It will lead to our true colors as we mature in our identity in Christ. (For more on our true colors in Christ, see God is Revealing Our True Colors on In My Father’s House by Mel Wild.)
But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. (1:23)
Don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services or holy days [or head coverings or tattoos or what to wear to church – my addition]. (2:16)
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they are of no value in conquering a person’s evil desires. (2:20-23)
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1-2) [More on this in two weeks on Philippians.]
Therefore, put to death whatever is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry. (3:5)
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (3:8)
I can’t help but point out that nearly every time Paul mentions sexual immorality, he also remarks upon covetousness and filthy language. He doesn’t single out one as more egregious than the other, but links them together as equal forms of idolatry. It seems we should take note.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. (3:12-13)
Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. (3:14)
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (3:15)
Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly. Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged. (3:18-21) [For more on this, see Ephesians 2]
Servants, obey those who are your earthly masters; whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Masters, treat your servants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. (3:22-23, 4:1)
Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. (4:2)
Use your heads as you live and work among unbelievers. Make the most of every opportunity. Be gracious in your speech. The goal is to bring out the best in others in a conversation, not put them down or cut them off. (4:5-6)
You see, none of this comes down to whether we get or don’t get tattoos; whether we’re Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, or Pentecostal; whether we believe in a rapture or believe heaven is coming to earth.
It all comes down to whether we believe in the gospel of Jesus and walk it out in our daily lives. He came to earth in the form of God to redeem all of creation. He preached repentance, love and mercy, forgave our sins, saved us by dying on the cross, rose again to conquer death, returned to the Father and sits by His side. With the free gift of grace He abides in us through the Holy Spirit until He returns to us again.
Too often steeped in sinecure
Church leaders seek control, immure.
To follow seems too high a price;
I drift away to walk with Christ.
Pastor speaks words; are they a lure
For his agenda unobscured
By exhortation and advice?
I drift away to walk with Christ.
As my church head makes strong adjures
For generosity, assures
It’s not for church (his nay device)
I drift away to walk with Christ
Infrequently heard: God’s grandeur,
Provision, grace, mercy assured.
More expansion, to be precise.
I drift away to walk with Christ.
I am the church, I feel secure,
The Spirit leads me to mature
In knowing God, His sacrifice;
I step away and walk with Christ.
Paul, in his imperatives to the members of this collective, emphasizes our identity in Christ and begins chapter four with this overture:
I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (4:1-3)
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head – into Christ – from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that is builds itself up in love. (4:15-16)
Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. (4:22-24)
And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. (4:26-27, Psalm 4:4 )
If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. (4:28)
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. (4:29, 31)
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption. (4:30)
Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, then do the same. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (4:32-5:2)
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. (5:4-5)
Paul reminds us we are changed beings in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit who helps us discern right speech and behavior. We must be certain always to check ourselves first, ensuring we do not cling to our old ways of thinking, speaking and acting. If we truly have declared our belief in Christ, we are new. Our thoughts, our words and our way of being surrender to the maturing work of God in us.
Don’t let yourselves get taken in by religious smooth talk. God gets furious with people who are full of religious sales talk but want nothing to do with Him. Don’t even hang around people like that. (5:6-7)
In the past you were full of darkness, but now you are full of light in the Lord. So live like children who belong to the light. This light produces every kind of goodness, right living, and truth. Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Have no part in the things that people in darkness do [sexual immorality and covetousness], which produce nothing good. Instead, tell everyone how wrong those things are. (5:8-11)
Okay, I’m going to diverge a bit here because I know these next passages can be controversial. I’ve looked up some key words in the original Greek using the Mounce Reverse-Interlinear New Testament translation, and the Mounce Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament, along with Strong’s use of these words.
In chapter five, Paul speaks of wives and husbands and their relationship to one another in Christ (5:21-33):
For wives, Paul uses the Greek word hypotassō, which means “to submit one’s self,” not be subjugated (5:22).
To husbands, Paul uses paradidōmi, the Greek word for “gave up” (as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 5:25) which means to give over, to commit, to yield up, to abandon, to be matured.
So it is not just wives who are instructed to submit; it is also husbands. Paul is saying here to wives, respect your husbands. Allow them to influence your thinking, your way of being. Let them be the cornerstone (kephalē) of your household. To husbands, he is saying, love your wives with the kind of love Christ has for you. Love them with abandon. Let them be first in your lives. Allow them to help you mature into the kind of men that lead a family: with strength, responsibility and kindness.
Children, do what your parents tell you. Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead the in the way of Jesus. Servants, respectfully obey your earthly masters, but always with an eye to obeying the real master, Christ. Masters, it’s the same with you. No abuse and no threats. You and your servants are both under the same Master in heaven; He makes no distinction between you. (6:1-9)
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (6:10-12)
Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued so that when it’s all over but the shouting, you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. (6:13-17)
In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out. (6:18)
Pray for me also, that I may be given the message when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel. (6:19)
is a fearful thing
provoking anger when you give it away to those I hate
is a weighty burden
when i don’t understand the depth of your love
is the salty tear
of joy releasing the flood of guilt and shame
is eyes open, seeing
newly accepting redemption, forgiveness; giving it away
is the warming sunrise
during times when i feel the chill of loneliness
is the first soft
flake of snow falling upon my face
is the fresh scent
of rain after a long hot summer’s drought
is a welcome smile
and a pat on a neighboring empty seat at church
is an unexpected hug
or kind word from someone who shows the face of Jesus
is your full embrace
of belonging, mercy and unconditional love