“For the Love of Onesimus”

On Sept. 8, Pastor Jim preaches on Philemon 1:10-21.

10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Philemon is an often neglected book on the backside of the New Testament. I confess I’ve never preached from it. Along with Obadiah,  2nd and 3rd John, and Jude, Philemon is one of the few Bible books made up of only one chapter.

Paul has been criticized for not condemning slavery. Some of the letters attributed to Paul seem to condone the evil practice. For example, Ephesians 6:5 says, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.”

Even if we give Paul the benefit of the doubt as a prisoner of his own time, such verses are hard to take. Why didn’t the Spirit simply inspire Paul to condemn slavery altogether? Surely that’s what you or I would do. Hmmm…..

The book of Philemon is interesting. Paul is sending a letter to a slave owner named (guess who?) and asking him to release a runaway slave named Onesimus. The amazing thing is that the person making the delivery is none other than the very runaway.

Why didn’t Paul keep Onesimus sheltered from his former owner? Why does Paul feel the need to ask Philemon to release him?

We’ll think together about these and other things on Sunday. In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do on this passage if I have any hope of putting together any kind of a sermon.