Love on the Basis of Love!

September 25, 2022

Pastor Gunnar Ledermann

Philemon

Philemon

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul’s Plea for Onesimus

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

It is made up of 66 books written over a period of about fifteen hundred years with about 40 authors although the message came from only one source. What was written in the first book agrees with what is written in the last, and everything in between. The oldest part written almost entirely in Hebrew and the newest in Greek, yet they have been translated into many of the world’s languages. Most English copies are around one thousand pages meaning many have not read through the entire book. Statistics like these are even greater than the Lord of the Rings, and can only refer to the Bible, the one book to rule them all.

Today, we are going to do things a little different. Today, we are going to read an entire book of the Bible, Philemon. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the book of Philemon, it is only one chapter of 25 verses. It is also unique among the many books of the Bible as it is written chiefly to one man about one situation. Yet, as we will discover, despite the uniquely person characteristic of this book it remains God’s Word, so its truths have eternal and practical value for all people.

The book of Philemon is one of the letters written by the Apostle Paul, a missionary personally called by Jesus to spread the gospel or good news of Jesus’ forgiveness of sins throughout the Mediterranean in the middle of the first century. The letter begins in the typical fashion informing us of the writer and who the letter is addressed to much like a letter or email today,

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote this letter while in prison in Rome for preaching the gospel. He was not alone, but Timothy, a fellow missionary, and others were with him. The letter is addressed to Philemon, along with Apphia who is presumed to be Philemon’s wife and Archippus who is presumed to be his son and the pastor of the church meeting in Philemon’s home. Philemon lived in the city of Colossae to which Paul also wrote a letter, Colossians, which was written and delivered at the same time as the letter to Philemon. Paul then gave a greeting of God’s grace and peace as was his custom.

After the greeting, Paul got to the heart of situation surrounding the writing of this letter. Paul continued with most of the details we know about Philemon writing,

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.

Paul had heard about Philemon’s love for his Christian brothers and sisters. He was a faithful lay leader in the church, not because of any official title, but with the genuine love of God living in his heart. He was a man of means able to open his home to more families to form a house church and provide a place to stay for traveling Christians. Paul went on to write,

6 I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Paul recognized Philemon as a partner, a fellow worker in God’s kingdom. Although Paul was in chains, he had encouragement that God’s kingdom continued to grow and be served by other believers like Philemon.

All of this praise for Philemon now transitioned to the situation Paul needed to write about. He wrote,

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

In most of Paul’s letters, he states clearly that he is an Apostle of Christ Jesus, as he did in the opening verse of the accompanying letter to the Colossians 1, 1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother. Paul’s status has an Apostle made him an authority as his calling was directly from Christ. Yet, Paul did not make use of this authority in this letter, which by no means meant he did not have it, it simply mean Paul was making a different kind of appeal to his respected brother in Christ. Instead, Paul appeals as an old man in chains for Jesus. Paul further appeals to Philemon as Christian brother to Christian brother, as an equal, not by a command, but based on love. Paul was appealing to Philemon on the basis of love for a man named Onesimus.

Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s. Onesimus broke the law by running away, and likely stole from Philemon to make his escape. After Onesimus left Colossae, he ended up in Rome, where he met Paul. There Paul shared the gospel of Jesus with Onesimus, and he became a believer. In addition to his conversion, Paul wrote that he now lived up to his namesake, Onesimus means useful, becoming a great help to Paul. Yet, Paul knew he could not keep Onesimus with him,

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.

Paul loved Onesimus like a son. Paul himself had a dramatic conversion and knew the depths of God’s grace even for the worst of sinners, and Onesimus situation was not good either. Yet, Paul did not want to keep him out of presumption that Philemon would have given him up to be Paul’s servant. Instead, he wanted Onesimus to return to face Philemon.

When Onesimus returned, Philemon would face a difficult decision. Onesimus had wronged him in multiple ways, costing him the time he was away and even what was stolen from him. Philemon would have been within his rights at the time to carry out severe, even mortal punishment. Or Philemon could have received Onesimus back only to keep him alive just to make his life difficult for years to come as a slave. Yet, Paul appealed to him to consider what it means to show the love of Christ, which was the same message Jesus had for the crowds following him in our Gospel reading from Luke 14, 31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” Jesus’ point was to consider the cost of following him. Paul’s appeal to Philemon was to consider how to receive back Onesimus now that he was a believer. And for us, we need to consider the cost of following Jesus. We need to consider if we are willing to be wronged for Jesus. When our need to be right, to get justice, to be recognized, to be paid back in full with interest, to have our spot in line, spot on the team, position at work, ranking among family and friends to be fair, etc. is worth more to us than what Jesus has given us, we become selfish, we sin and we are in danger of losing all Christ gave us.

Paul reminded Philemon to consider the cost of love. The cost to show true love is recorded in 1 Peter 1, 18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. Sin requires the highest cost. Sin demands the payment of a life and an eternity in hell. Jesus was obedient his entire life, never abandoning his work or going against the will of his Father in heaven. He did not steal a moment of time for relief or selfishly demand praise. Jesus considered the cost to love you and the world, to save you and the world from sin, and he paid it. You are now free, no longer slaves to sin, but members of Christ’s own family, his brothers and sisters.

We have all had moments where we weighed the cost of following Jesus, found it to be too much and abandoned him. Jesus has forgiven you for all those times. It is not your faithfulness to Jesus that earned your place in heaven, but Jesus’s faithfulness to his Father’s plan to save you as we read in 1 Peter 3, 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. Jesus’ death and resurrection bought your eternal life. There is nothing worth more than what you already have by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul gave Philemon a chance to show love to Onesimus. Paul continued in his letter,

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

Paul constructs the scale for Philemon to use in weighing his options for Onesimus’ return. God in his grace allowed Onesimus to become a believer after he ran away. Now, he is not only a physical slave, but a spiritually equal brother in Christ. His value will have increase eternally at his return to Philemon. Paul continued,

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

Paul’s respect for Philemon as his Christian brother filled with the love of Christ is the basis for his appeal, but Paul even offers his worldly wealth to make up for anything Onesimus owes Philemon. Plus Paul or one of his pupils was the one who shared Jesus with Philemon, which gave him eternal life. Paul’s kind of wisdom in writing to Philemon is rare in our world, and it is a treasure. Our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 9 captures why Paul can be confident in his appeal to Philemon, 9 “Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Paul knew Philemon would appreciate the appeal to love Onesimus because he appealed to God’s love; to show godly wisdom that sees the spiritual side of situations above all else.

We are not given any information as to the outcome of Onesimus’ return and Philemon’s action, but the ending of Paul’s letter and the fact that we still have it are a good indication that the return was one of love. Paul concluded his letter writing,

22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Paul adds another request to Philemon with confidence that his brother in Christ will show them hospitality upon their return and concludes with the prayer for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to be with him.

When you are faced with a situation where someone has wronged you, consider what cost needs to be paid. So often, we demand others pay the cost and others give something up. Instead, consider that Jesus has paid the cost for all sins, all wrongs against God and you. Consider then what you can give up, so that you can receive others back in love and point them to Christ. Especially, consider what it means when someone who chose to give into many temptations and sins, but then came to faith in Christ returns to you, not to be met with your judgment, but welcomed as an equal brother or sister in Christ.

You have now read a whole book of the Bible. Read more books of the Bible and read this one again and again. The whole Bible is not just another book to be read and be filed away; it is God’s love letter to us. The Bible is all that has been done for us by God’s grace through Jesus Christ who pleads on our behalf before God not to treat us as our sinful deeds deserve, but by his undeserved grace, by the payment made by Christ. Christ’s love saved us. Paul encouraged Philemon to love Onesimus. So, I encourage you to love on the basis of love. Amen.

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