John T. Willis

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Godlike Guidance--Philemon--Part I

The next several blogs deal with the New Testament books of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians. Paul probably wrote all three of these epistles at the same time on the same journey. Paul was apparently under house arrest in Rome, so ca. 62 A. D. Paul had worked in Colossae and Ephesus, and the people there knew him. He was an "apostle," and thus COULD present himself as an "authoritative leader" of the church like many people act today. But Paul acted in a very different way, because Paul KNEW that he was a SERVANT of God through Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians
3:1-9; 4:1).

When a person is in a position of "leadership," he or she has several options. In brief, here are some major approaches.
1. Blackball or ostracize people you do not like. Often such persons do not know WHY they do not like these people. They just do not like them, so they ostracize them, and they can get by this, because they are more powerful than they are.
2. Threaten people you fear. People in "leadership" are ACTUALLY afraid of certain people. Sometimes a person might need to be afraid. But often, FEAR is unfounded. But when one PERCEIVES he or she is afraid of another person, that person in power use the weapon of THREAT to control that person.
3. Deceive people who have a different view of your own but want their money or support. Many leaders do not really believe certain people or groups of people hold the same ideas, but they present themselves as if they agree with these people in order to get money and support to accomplish their goals.
4. Command another person to do what the "leader" demands. In a position of "leadership," the leader CAN command people to do this or that whether the recipient of the command believes this or not. This puts the recipient of the command in a very difficult ethical situation, because he or she believes God through Christ teaches a different idea. Pontius Pilate had this attitude toward Jesus.

Paul refused to follow these ungodly approaches. The Book of Philemon is a wonderful example of HOW godly people act toward others--whether they be shepherds or administrators or preachers or teachers or parents, etc.

Four primarily personalities appear in the Book of Philemon: God through Christ, Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.

1. Philemon was a slave owner in Colossae. In our day and time, we would condemn a Christian to be a slave owner. But Paul did not reason this way. Verse 19 says that Paul had converted Philemon to Christ, but not in Colossae, because Paul had not been there when he wrote Philemon and Colossians (Colossians 2:1). It was more likely that when Paul was at Ephesus teaching in the school of Tyrannus (Acts
19:9-10, 26), Philemon was among those who came to hear him speak and there Paul converted Philemon. According to Philemon 5, 7, Philemon became an active Christian at Colossae. Paul and Philemon enjoyed an intimate love relationship between one another. Paul yearned for men who could minister like Philemon--see verse 13. Paul joyfully considered Philemon a partner--verse 17. At Rome, Paul believed that he might be released from his prison cell and then return to Colossae, and when he arrived, he planned to stay in Philemon's house--verse 22--along with his wife Apphia and his son Archippus--verse 2. In fact, Colossians 4:17 implies that Archippus was the local preacher at Colossae at this time.

2. Onesimus was raised as a non-Christian born and raised by slaves. The parents called this newborn male child "Onesimus," which means "Helpful, Useful, Profitable." Possibly his parents hoped that when he grew up, he would be a model slave so that his master would treat him well and not flog or crucify him. Paul himself urged all slaves to be true Onesimuses--Colossians 3:22-25; Ephesians 6:5-8. But for some unknown reason, Onesimus found an opportunity to escape from his master, Philemon, and run away. Onesimus ultimately found his way to Rome, and by God's guidance met Paul. Paul taught Onesimus and converted him to Christ. See verses 1, 9, 10, 13, 23. We human beings assume that Onesimus ran away from Philemon, but Paul realizes that Onesimus "was separated from" Philemon "for a while" (verse 15). The passive verb "was separated" indicates that GOD had separated Onesimus from Philemon. By God's guidance, Paul "begat" [converted] Onesimus in prison--verse 10.

3. Paul's approach to Philemon was not to "command" Philemon to receive Onesimus back at his slave, but to "appeal to" Philemon to do the right thing--verses 8-9. But far beyond that, Paul appealed to Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a "slave," but as a "beloved brother"--verse 16.

4. By using this God-guided approach, God through Jesus Christ as an instrument of Paul turned Onesimus' world upside down. Mr. "Unprofitable," who could not even be trusted unless his master stood by to see him do it ("eye-service"--Colossians 3:23), now becomes Brother "Profitable," who was always anxiously dependable to serve Philemon and Paul and other Christians.

People in pretigious positions repulse people when they blackball, threaten, deceive, and demand of them. Those who behave in godly ways love those with whom they work gladly. We all need this wonderful lesson from Philemon.

What thoughts to YOU have? Share YOUR insights with others. Read the little book of Philemon. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Post a Comment

<< Home