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Dearest Philemon … I Appeal to You

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love.
Philemon 8-9

Ladies, yesterday we left Philemon most certainly cherishing every word of the first paragraph of this letter from Paul. I can see him, closing his eyes for a moment before reading on, thanking God for the encouraging words of his friend. And then, what’s this? I love your faith; I love your love; but there’s something you ought to do. In fact I could order you to do it. Uh-oh, something serious is about to come his way.

You do it too; you know you do. Why, just the other day my good friend said to her husband, “I love you, but…” It’s the diplomatic way to persuade someone you love to change their attitude or their approach. 

And so Paul’s appeal to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus plays out on the basis of love. Oh not just brotherly love, but that agape love of God that dwells in all believers. If Philemon could have read 1 John 4, specifically 4:7-8, he would know that with God in us, we cannot help but love: Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  

As Paul explains, Onesimus is his spiritual son, becoming his son while Paul was under house arrest in Rome (vs8). We have no idea how Onesimus found his way to Paul’s house, but thankfully he did. And there he caught the Spirit. He changed: Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me (vs11). Interestingly, Onesimus means helpful or profitable.  

Of course, so were we all, useless in our former way of life before Christ. Once born again, spiritual sons, we became useful to God.

In fact Paul considered Onesimus so useful to him, he didn’t really want to send him back. The two men had developed a close relationship with each other. Paul described Onesimus as my very heart (vs12). He felt Onesimus could help him out as well as Philemon could. Seems to put Onesimus and Philemon on equal footing, doesn’t it? 

Legalism versus grace is written all over these verses, ladies. Spontaneous favors from the heart are what God wants from us all. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”, says Jesus (John 13:34). How could Philemon refuse?

Nancy P

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