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01/10/2023 - Doug Pors

Five of the smallest books of our bible.

Looking in the smaller places to find the Bigger stories.

Obadiah, Philemon, and the three letters of the Apostle John.

We often overlook some of these smaller books, unless we are doing a structured reading plan, often because as pastors and preachers we tend not to engage with them either!

But some of these smaller books show that they have purpose and it reminds us that there is powerful learning and practical insight to be gained from them.

They have been preserved for us and included in our Bible because they are valuable to us.

  • Andy Stanley’ You put things in a safe, not to make them valuable, but because they are valuable.

They have something big to say and we should be so grateful that people fought for some of these, especially small books to have a place.

I’d imagine that the writers like the Prophet Obadiah or Paul or John would be staggered to learn that we are reading these letters and prophecies in 2023, but that is the beauty of a WORD that’s living. It continues to speak to us and enrich our Faith journey centuries later.

But I wanted to ask:

Have you ever been robbed or had something stolen from you??

How we respond is pretty interesting isn’t it? The way we process these kinds of events or situations can often reveal deeper things within us.

Today we are going to look at one of these small books of the NT where the apostle Paul writes a letter to his friend in the hope that he will respond well to a situation that would have been very serious indeed.

  • Philemon, written by Paul to his friend in ministry.
  • The letter is sent personally to Philemon but most of Paul’s letters, were addressed to churches to be read out to the members in which ever house they met in.
  • Philemon hosted and possibly led a vibrant house church in Colossae
  • Paul greets Philemon’s family, his wife Apphia and son Archippus and also the Church that meets in their house, but the subject of the letter is for Philemon.

What do we see here? What is Paul doing? Vs 4-7.

Paul has a big favour to ask Philemon which has big feelings attached.

He reminds Philemon about the refreshing love he has shown, so that his request for a favour can be seen in the light of this kind of love.

Back story of Paul and Philemon’s relationship.

Paul led him to Christ at some point and sees himself as Philemon’s Spiritual Father.

Even though Paul had never been to Colossae, his friendship with Philemon attached him to that church.

Philemon was a wealthy man and had quite some influence and was the owner of servants and slaves.

One of these was a man named Onesimus, ironically whos’ name means profitable or useful, who had stolen an amount of money from Philemon and had run away.

And this is where the grace of God intersects the stories of these three men, Paul Philemon and Onesimus.

Onesimus makes his getaway with his loot, and decides to head to Rome to spend up big. But at some point, he gets himself in trouble with the law, gets caught and ends up imprisoned for his actions.

The prison that he was placed in already had another man in one of its cells by the name of Paul, eventually leading Onesimus to Faith in Jesus.

And there must have been some conversation between Onesimus and Paul about where he was from and who he had worked for, about the fact that Onesimus had stolen from his generous master Philemon and ended up in Rome!

Only God could have orchestrated these circumstances.

Paul sends this letter back with Onesimus with the purpose of appealing to Philemon to take Onesimus back without resorting to his first response which could have been un-Christlike.

How would we respond in this situation?

After the mistrust and anger and hurt, betrayal or loss.

Could we possibly love someone again that has taken advantage of us?

Could we, would we ever commit to restoring that person to relationship with us?

Or would we reject, hold back and push away instead?

Because, it’s our response that shows us what kind of fruit we are growing.

Paul asks Philemon to do a favour by taking back Onesimus. He asks a generous man to be even more generous.

  • Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of their relationship to see the change in Onesimus and take him back as a Christian brother and to forgive him and be an encouragement to him.
  • In the first centuries slave owners like Philemon had the right as a slave owner to either brand Onesimus with a T or R representing him to be a thief or a runaway slave, or he could have had him crucified for the same reasons. They literally held lives in their hands.

Paul uses a bit of humour by playing with Onesimus’ name saying that he has now become profitable to both of them now that his heart belongs to Jesus. Vs 11

He is going to be the stealer of hearts now ie. Peter fisher of men.

How do we respond with the fruits of the spirit?

A couple of weeks ago our Youth Pastor Tiani, spoke about putting on LOVE like a garment.

It’s when we put on Love, when the love that comes from God in us, becomes the activating force in our life, then we can respond in grace and forgiveness and restoration.

Because we don’t just have courage we respond courageously,

we don’t have forgiveness, we respond by forgiving,

we don’t have compassion, we respond compassionately.

These are the fruit that come because we are clothed first in love.

We see others in a new light when our sight is directed to Jesus. And we can respond to them with the forgiveness and reconciliation we have received personally from him.

Paul sends Onesimus back to the house where he stole and deserted, so that restoration could happen for both Onesimus and Philemon.

This kind of Jesus following life introduces a new type of relationship between people in which the human grades of society cease to matter.

  • Later on, in a letter to the Colossians 3:11 Paul explains this more, obviously using this situation to encourage the whole Church that there is no slave or free, jew or Greek male nor female. All are one in Christ.
  • The things we use to separate, the labels and classes we put people in do not have any value. They are not Onesimus / profitable, or fruitful to us.
  • Paul jokingly reminds Philemon of the fact that he led him to the Lord and if he is going to hold Onesimus responsible for earthly things Paul is holding Philemon responsible to remember his debt to the Lord.

But how does this little letter become profitable for us?

What is it that we ought to do?

  1. What labels or conditions to we place on people that change how we see and respond to them?
  2. What labels or conditions do we place on ourselves that assume how God sees us?
  3. If we saw ourselves and others through the lenses of active, restoring Jesus’ love, how would that change our day tomorrow?

Our capacity to respond with the fruits of the Spirit, has the capacity to influence way more than just our own personal relationships.

The potential is world changing.

After this situation was resolved, and because of Paul’s encouragement to change the heart about it, slavery completely died out within the Christian community, and the Christian world into the second century.

Onesimus was so restored, that church history tells us that he grew to be such a leader in the Christian community that he became the bishop of the church in Ephesus.

A short, one page letter, written two thousand years ago, from one friend to another, for the sake of another person, changed a lot.

Who is it that Jesus might be encouraging you to write to?