Journal Philemon (all references are from the ESV; changes in punctuation are mine)
Scripture: “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Philemon 4-7
(and then there was Onesimus…)
Observation: Again, Paul addresses effectual brothers in the local church. There is no indication that this guy is a pastor or anything but a good brother…
Reading further, Philemon also had an issue with Onesimus…which Paul is appealing for Philemon to change his mind about…
Analysis: A while back, I changed this section from “application” to “analysis.” Little did I know that I was getting on the “textualist” band wagon—not trying to interpret what the Scripture means but stopping at what it says. From looking at what the Scripture says, then I can extrapolate any application from the text alone.
I see two things in the letter to Philemon:
- An acknowledgment concerning Philemon of effective involvement within a home church, and;
- Take that “effectiveness of faith” and apply that to Onesimus. Please.
I think it can be safely assumed that Phil is a brother of good, faithful, exemplary character in his local church. Perhaps a guy that can be pointed to and said, “I want to be like him.” Maybe not a pastor, nor an elder/deacon because there is no indication of that; maybe a small group leader. He may be an example of what a disciple looks and acts like. Faithful to the church, encouraging, exhorting, comforting, and refreshing…refreshing is such a cool word and description of someone who just loves Jesus and His Word.
But even Phil has a wart or two. Nobody is completely without fault. After all, if that even could be true, what need of the Gospel then? So, Philemon has a blind spot—and his name is Onesimus.
Once upon a time, Onesimus tripped up somehow. Philemon deemed him “useless.” I have been deemed useless a time back; considered unfaithful, not needed, hopeless, incompetent, etc.
Paul is now asking Philemon to reconsider Onesimus. This reads like this may be a difficult decision for Phil, bad blood perhaps. Maybe there is really an issue that is not surfacing in this letter but is known by many at that house church. Paul isn’t commanding, he is appealing—and there is some heart searching that Philemon may have to go through.
I think the point I am taking away is that church life is messy. It is not straightforward. There are twists and turns, hurts and losses, betrayal, and unfaithfulness galore. And it is always there, just under the surface, needing Grace and Mercy.
Factually, forgiveness is not always easy for folks, even Redeemed folks. There is that awful tendency lurking in hearts that “someone’s gotta pay.” That is my inner being aligning with the Justice of God that sin demands a price to be paid.
Philemon is being asked by Paul to struggle with that decision about Onesimus.
And the whole story now is an example for me to follow…
Prayer: Father, thanks for opening my eyes to this. I never recognized this story as one that I am presented with daily. It is, I think, the practical application of the Gospel for my life. Did Onesimus reconcile with the home church that Philemon was in? I don’t know yet. I pray that when I am presented with reconciliation moments, I will respond appropriately in the manner of the Gospel.
Bring revival, O God.