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


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