Lent Devotional: Philemon
by Jonathan Haefs
Philemon (click here)
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints…
I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.
I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart.
For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother… (Philemon 4-5, 10, 12, and 15-16a)
Philemon’s love for the Lord Jesus overflowed in love for all the saints… and now it is about to break bonds with brotherhood.
Onesimus was a bondservant of Philemon’s and for one reason or another he had run away and found Paul. While spending time with the apostle, he became a believer in the Lord and now the time has come for Paul to send him back. Why?
Is Paul sending Onesimus back into the bonds of slavery? Does Paul not love Onesimus? Is Paul just conforming to the culture of his day instead of countering it with the Gospel?
In short… no.
It is because of the Gospel that Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon… it is for the very purpose of putting the power of the Gospel on display! By sending Onesimus back, the bonds of slavery will not merely be escaped, but broken! It is Paul’s love for Onesimus, Philemon, their church in Colossae, and the Gospel that compels him to take such action! Paul is not conforming to the culture around him, but putting on display how the Gospel transforms the culture!
Philemon, whose love overflows to ALL the saints, will have love overflowing to this new saint… Onesimus! He will receive him back no longer as a bondservant, but as a brother!
Philemon will sacrifice his “economic rights,” he will sacrifice his “social position,” he will sacrifice his “normal” way of life to embrace his new brother in Christ! He and all of Colossae will put on display the very love of Jesus as they count a slave as their brother! The old Christmas song couldn’t be more true when it declares of Christ, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother!”
That truth of the Gospel can only be put on display if Onesimus returns to Philemon and the Colossian church. Paul sends Onesimus back so that Philemon and this church might experience the joy of being a cruciform community.
Who has God sent back into your life? Is there anyone with whom there has previously been a difficult relationship… perhaps even one in which they wronged you… or maybe one in which you wronged them? Yet, they are a brother and sister in the Lord and now your paths are crossing again.
Why would God have them come back into your world? Does God not love you? Oh nothing could be further from the truth! Perhaps this is the very love of God on display for you as you have the opportunity to experience the joy of being a cruciform community.