A powerful and personal message, the New Testament Book of Philemon goes virtually unnoticed by many Christians. Paul’s three other so called Pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus are straightforward, educational and more popular among commentators and sermon writers. Philemon, like all “God breathed scripture,” is rich and applicable to one’s life.
Paul appealing to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, a new a believer in Christ, for perhaps mercy. Onesimus may have runaway from his owner or been involved in some domestic trouble with Philemon, it is not clear from the text. However, following his conversion Onesimus became a valuable helper of the apostle (v. 11). Paul desired to keep Onesimus with him but felt a greater responsibility to return the slave to his Christian master (vv. 13-14). Paul knew that Onesimus had to make things right with Philemon whom he had wronged. But the Holy Spirit had another message that resonates with all of us today.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) Through Paul the Holy Spirit tells Philemon, “It is time he put away worldly things.” The Spirit says, “Owning slaves is a worldly pursuit, and now that you Philemon are a slave of Christ, you should free Onesimus.” Likewise the Spirit tells Onesimus, “I will make you free of human masters so you can be dedicated to serving the one true God.”
Being saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ is a public event. Conversion joins the believer with Christ whose grace transforms every aspect of human life. Philemon and Onesimus had to realize that being transformed by Christ would require new relationships and new behaviors. Philemon and Onesimus as new creations would spend the rest of their lives being transformed into the image of Christ and dying to their former selves. Paul’s “little suggestion” to Philemon represented a powerful change from self-centered living to God-centered obedience. Onesimus was no longer a servant of Philemon and Philemon was no longer a master of his own life. Both men now were servants of the Most High just as their brother Paul, “in chains for Christ.”
My prayer. Father thank you for your Word. It truly is a “lamp unto my feet.” Thank you for the precision of every detail. Open my heart Lord to an even greater understanding of what you have spoken through ordinary men. Show me Lord where I am still attached to the world serving two masters. Help me to break free and live only for the King of kings and Lord of lords! In Jesus name I pray, Amen!