John T. Willis

Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Way a Christian Treats Others--Philemon 8-16

Like all of us, we have mistreated others. As I grew up and became a young man and a young husband and a young father, occasionally I mistreated other people. I was self-centered, not God-centered, not Christ-centered, not Holy Spirit-centered. In my career, I have learned a very important lesson: other people mistreat me--unjustifiably, just as I have treated others in the past. But a fundamental part of God's message in the Bible is to learn how to treat others as God would have us do. As Christians, it is imperative that we treat others in a godly, Christian, Spirit-filled way. Paul presents a "model case" of HOW to do this found in the little epistle of Philemon. The previous blog on Philemon dealt with verses 1-7. Now we turn to the heart of this epistle, found in verses 8-16. This section may be conveniently divided into three parts.

I. Paul encourages Philemon to treat Onesimus on the basis of love. Verses 8-10.
a. Paul is an apostle called by Jesus Christ (see Acts 9:1-19; 1 Corinthians
15:8-11), but he refuses to use this "trump card" to "command" Philemon to "do his duty." When someone "does a duty," the heart of Christianity vanishes. A true Christian does not "command" another person to perform a duty. When a superior threatens an individual or a church or a community, that superior acts in an ungodly way, in an unChristian motivation. Verse 8.
b. The appropriate Christian approach is "appeal" "on the basis of love." When an individual or a church or a group of people acts as the motivation of love called by God's "appeal," this is powerful and motivating. This changes people. Hence, Paul "appeals" to Philemon to do the right thing. Verse 9a.
c. Paul's appeal is based on three simple aspects of his own life known to Philemon. First, Paul is an old man. In reality, he does not have the power or the energy or the desire to "force" Philemon or anyone else to do anything. Second, Paul is a prisoner. He is under house arrest in Rome. He is vulnerable, and can do nothing physically. Third, while Paul has been in prison at Rome, he has come into contact with a runaway slave, Onesimus, and Paul has worked with Onesimus and over time has made Onesimus Paul's "father" in the faith, and Onesimus' spiritual "child." These three simple events constitute Philemon's "appeal" to do what Paul is asking. Verses 9b-10.

II. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus back to Philemon as Philemon's slave. Verses 11-14.
a. Previously, Onesimus had been one of Philemon's slaves. But for some reason, Onesimus decided to escape from Philemon and flee--ultimate to Rome, where he found Paul. When Onesimus fled from Philemon, Onesimus was "useless" to Philemon. But now that God through Paul has converted Onesimus to Jesus Christ, Onesimus now is "useful," in which condition he is now living up to his name ["Onesimus" means "Useful"]. Onesimus is "useful" to Philemon and to Paul. Verse 11.
b. Hence, Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon. This act is like sending Paul's own heart back to Philemon. In this process, Paul sends Onesimus along with Tychicus to carry this epistle to Philemon as well as Colossians and Ephesians (see Colossians 4:7-9; Ephesians 6:21-22). Verse 12.
c. Paul wanted to keep Onesimus with him at Rome, because he really needed Onesimus to accomplish his mission, and in this role, Onesimus would serve Paul in Philemon's place. Verse 13.
d. But Paul made an important, loving choice: Paul refused to act on his own without first having Philemon's consent. Paul knew that a Christian could not act like God and Jesus Christ willed by force. Christianity must be "voluntary." So Paul sought Philemon to think and act "voluntarily," and not "by force." Verse 14.

III. Now, Paul raises the question about WHY Onesimus fled from Philemon. Did Onesimus act completely on his own? Verses 15-16.
a. Most people would assume that if a person does something, that person acts on his own volition. This COULD be the case. But it may be that GOD is at work, even when that person does not realize it. Paul suggests that "perhaps" Onesimus "was separated" from Philemon "temporarily" that Philemon might have Onesimus "forever." The passive, as often in the Bible, appears to declare that God is working here. In other word, what Paul is REALLY saying is that "God separated" Onesimus from Philemon to accomplish God's purposes. Verse 15. How would this understanding of life affect our function in life and our attitude toward others?
b. Paul then proposes that Philemon receive Onesimus back, not merely or primarily as a "slave," but especially as a "beloved brother" in the Lord as the result of Onesimus' spiritual transformation by Jesus Christ through Paul. Now, both Paul and Philemon accept Onesimus as "beloved brothers" in the Lord. Verse 16.

How do YOU treat others? How do others treat YOU? What is the appropriate way of treating other people? This is a fundamental issue for true Christians. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Thursday, December 31, 2009

South Georgia Island and the South Sandwich Islands

Anthony de la Roche, a London merchant, first sighted the Island of South Georgia in 1675. In 1775, Captain James Cook circumnavigated this island, made the first landing, claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, and named it "The Isle of Georgia," in honor of King George III. Throughout the 19th century, South Georgia was a sealers' base and, in the 20th century became a whalers' base until whaling ended in the 1960s. In 1904, the Norwegian Carl Anton Larsen first land-based whaling station, and first permanent habitation, was established at Grytviken. It operated through his Argentine Fishing Company, and this station remained in operation until 1965. In the early 1900s, a church and a museum were established at Grytviken. Vagabond Argentinians captured Grytviken for a time from England in the 1980s, but England soon regained this region.

Captain James Cook discovered the southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group in 1775. Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen discovered the northern three islands in 1819. Great Britain secured these islands, but lost them briefly to Argentina, only to resume them again.

All of these islands are remote, jagged, isolated, and dark. Only special stations have ever lived on these dismal islands. But through the years, people have been attracted to these islands by fishing, tourism, and beautiful postage stamps, which have brought great revenue into the British government.

Vegetation is limited to grasses, mosses, lichens, ferns, and a few other small flowering plants. There are not trees or shrubs. South Georgia Island supports a great number of sea birds, including albatross, a large colony of King Penguins and penguins of various other species, petrels, shags, skuas, gulls, and terns. There is one songbird which is unique tot he archipelago--the South Georgie Pipit. Seals are frequent on the islands, and whales may be seen in the surrounding waters. There are no native land mammals, although reindeer, introduced early in the 20th century, live on South Georgia, along with rats and mice.

South Georgia Island and the Sandwich Islands are another part of God's world. Very few people have every lived in this remote part of the world, because of its dismal environment. But God is there. And many of his creatures live there. I hope YOU appreciate these islands. God has put them there for some reason, even when we do not know this.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Paul's Relationship to Philemon and God--Philemon 1-7

A previous blog sketched the major personalities in the Book of Philemon: God through Jesus Christ, Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus. Now, let us work through the Book of Philemon verse by verse. In this blog, we will treat Philemon 1-7. Here, Paul prepares Philemon to hear his message in this book. This little book demonstrates HOW a Christian should deal with others--in this case, the way Paul deals with Philemon. Verses 1-7 fall into two parts.

I. Paul describes his relationship to Jesus Christ and to Philemon. Verses 1-3.
a. Paul first describes himself as "a prisoner of Christ Jesus." Literally, Paul was a prisoner in Rome under house arrest. See Acts 28:23-31. And thus he could not return to Colossae physically. But Paul was also a prison "spiritually." Paul was at Rome because of his total commitment to God through Jesus Christ. And Paul gladly and voluntarily submitted his heart and life to Jesus Christ. Verse 1a.
b. Paul then describes Timothy as "our brother." "Our" apparently means the spiritual "brother" of Paul, of Philemon, of the church at Colossae, of the church at large. Verse 1b. Christians are true "brothers" in Christ, irrespective of their blood relationship. Verse 1b.
c. Next, Paul describes Philemon as "our dear friend and co-worker." This relationship is very intimate. They are "dear" to one another. And they "work together" in the Lord's service. Verse 1c.
d. Finally, Paul describes (1) Apphia our sister; (2) Archippus our fellow soldier; and (3) the church in Philemon's house [note that "your" here is singular, thus Philemon]. Apparently Apphia was the wife of Philemon, and Archippus was Philemon's son, who probably was the preacher at Colossae. The church here is clearly a "house church," which was common throughout the first century A. D. Verse
e. Paul concludes by expressing his traditional greeting: "Grace to you and peace," which comes from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. God and Jesus are intimately involved in this entire situation--as always. Verse 3.

II. Paul highly commends Philemon for his Christian character and life. Verses 4-7.
a. In preparation for his message to Philemon, Paul carefully reminds Philemon of how much Paul loves and appreciates him, as he has done for a long time.
b. Paul reminds Philemon that he has been praying for Philemon, and in his prayers, he thanks God for Philemon. Verse 4.
c. The reason Paul is thankful for Philemon is that Philemon constantly shows love for all the saints and shows his faith toward the Lord Jesus. Verse 5. Love and faith are vital aspects of Christian living. Paul knew of Philemon's love and faith from his own experience while he was there, but also he had "heard" this from others.
d. Now Paul prepares Philemon for this little letter. Paul says he prays that the sharing of Philemon's faith may become effective when he perceives all the good that he and Paul may do together for Christ. When Paul says this at first, Philemon has no idea of what Paul has in mind. But Paul plants the "seed" here before he tells what he wants Philemon to do. Verse 6.
e. In further preparation for Philemon's heart, Paul reminds Philemon that Paul had received much joy and encouragement from Philemon's love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through Philemon, Paul's "brother." If Philemon has give Paul joy and encouragement and refreshment for the saints, Philemon will certainly be prepared to do this again in this new set of circumstances. Verse 7.

Note HOW carefully Paul approaches Philemon to emphasize Philemon's Christian character and background and prior actions in behalf of God through Jesus Christ. NOW, and only now, is Paul ready to approach Philemon with a new, challenging situation to act in behalf of God.

What are YOUR insights thus far in the Book of Philemon? We will continue beginning in verse 8 in the next blog. Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, December 28, 2009


The auk is a bird of the Alcidae family and the Charadriiformes order. It is similar to penguins because of its black and white colors with upright postures and similar habits to penguins. But in reality it is not closely related to penguins, but an example of moderate convergent evolution.

In contrast to penguins, the auk can fly [except for the recently extinct Great Auk). it is a good swimmer and diver, but its walk seems clumsy. The auk has short wings, so it has to flap its wings very quickly in order to fly. The Least Auklet is 6 inches long and weighs 3 ounces, but the Thick-billed Murre is 18 inches long and weighs 2 and a fourth pounds.

The auk lives on the open sea and goes ashore only for breeding. Some species, like the Common Guillemot, spend a great part of the year defending their nesting spot from others. Some species, like the Uria guillemots, nest in large colonies on cliff edges. Cepphus guillemots breed in small groups on rocky coasts. Puffins, auklets, and some murrelets nest in burrows. All species except the Brachyramphus murrelets are colonial.

The auk is a wing-propelled pursuit diver. Its prey is schools of fish swimming a little beneath the water. The earliest unequivocal fossils of auks are from the Miocene, found in California and Maryland and the Miocene Pacific. The extant auks are broken into two main groups: the usually high-billed puffins and auklets, as opposed to the more slender-billed murres and true auks, and the murrelets and guillemots. Razorbills are tue auks only found in the Atlantic Ocean.

The auk is another example of God's creativity and wonders. The auk is unique. YOU are unique. God creates everything and everyone for a purpose. What is YOUR purpose? How does God want to use YOU for his purposes? Share YOUR thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John 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