Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Philemon. More specifically, today’s passage is found in verses eight through twenty-five of the epistle. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you find the apostle Paul transitioning away from the salutation and greeting of the epistle to the actually purpose and message of the epistle. As you approach the eighth verse of the epistle which was written unto Philemon you will find the apostle Paul beginning to speak directly to him concerning the nature for which this epistle would in fact be written. What marks this particular passage of scripture as so interesting and unique is that when you read the words which the apostle Paul writes in verses eight and nine you find him presenting two realities unto Philemon. On the one hand the apostle Paul could have been bold when writing unto Titus and could have presented unto him that which was convenient. The apostle Paul could have written unto Philemon and spoke those words which were convenient, but weren’t entirely necessary. I feel compelled to pause right here and emphatically declare that there is a vast difference between writing that which is convenient and that which is necessary. There is a vast difference between speaking that which is convenient and that which is necessary. If we are truly honest with ourselves we will and must come to terms with the tremendous reality that more often than not we would prefer that which is convenient rather than that which is necessary. For many this not only touches the realm of the corporate setting of the body when the preaching of the Word of God is delivered, but it also touches the personal and private realm of one on one relationships. More often than not we have an incredibly difficult time with listening to and hearing that which is necessary and favor that which is convenient. We would much rather those pills which are easy to swallow and easy to digest rather than that which truly challenges us.
As I sit here and consider the words which the apostle Paul writes unto Philemon I can’t help but be struck with the tremendous reality that the apostle Paul could have been bold and spoken that which was convenient, or the apostle Paul could have spoken in love and written unto Philemon that which was necessary. I am completely and utterly convinced that there are enough men and women in this world who would have absolutely no issue with, and have no quarrel with presenting unto others that which is convenient, and are even bold when doing so. The sad reality is that this mindset has in fact crept into the church and has infiltrated both the pew and the pulpit. I am finding myself sitting herein the train right now asking where are all those men and women who aren’t willing to sugar coat their words to us and aren’t willing to tell us what we want to hear, or to tell us that which we think we need. I am finding myself asking where all the men and women are who are willing to speak the truth in love and convey unto us that which is absolutely necessary for our well-being. I would dare say that if you show me a man or woman who merely speaks unto us that which is convenient versus that which is necessary, and I will show you that man or that woman who cares little if anything for and about us. Do you know how much love it takes to speak into someone’s life and tell them—not what they want to hear, but that which they need to hear? Do you know how much love and affection it takes to look someone dead and square in the eyes and tell them that which you know might even offend and upset them? It takes a great deal of love, affection, compassion and tenderness to speak the truth in love, and not merely to tickle someone’s ears giving them what you think they need to hear. What’s more, is that it takes a great deal to give someone that which is necessary rather than that which they themselves even think is necessary for themselves. There is a great need in our culture and society today for men and women who aren’t afraid to speak the truth in love and who are willing to speak that which is necessary to the hearts, the minds, and the lives of those around us.
The epistle which was written unto Philemon is one that was meant to provide a very practical response to that which the apostle Paul was presenting unto him. In all reality, the epistle which was written unto Philemon was one that was written to encourage a practical manifestation to the gospel within the life of this man Philemon. What’s more, is that in all reality this epistle was designed to bring reparation to a relationship which had been strained due to the actions of a servant by the name of Onesimus who was once the servant of Philemon. When writing unto Philemon the apostle Paul could have very easily written unto him that which was convenient and not requested a powerful display and manifestation of the gospel unto which he was bound, however, the apostle Paul did not do that. It’s important to note that this epistle was written by the apostle Paul from the hand of Onesimus who had found the apostle Paul while he was in prison within the city of Rome. It isn’t explicitly or specifically clear whether this servant left and fled the house of Onesimus to deliberately and intentionally seek out Paul in a Roman prison or not, but one thing we do know is that he did find and encounter the apostle while he was in prison within the city of Rome. This servant made his way unto the prison where the apostle Paul was, and even made his way to the exact location where the apostle Paul—perhaps in order to hear and listen to the apostle speak and preach unto him. In all reality, it is quite interesting that even though the apostle Paul was in prison within the city of Rome, his words, his message and his gospel could not be silenced. There is not a doubt in my mind that this young servant had heard strikes and accounts of the apostle Paul from his master, and there cane a day when he made the conscious decision to leave the house of Philemon and make his way unto the apostle Paul. At some point within the life of this servant he reached the point where he needed to encounter the apostle Paul for himself, and needed to experience the tremendous message the apostle Paul had to speak directly unto him. Undoubtedly this young man was searching for something that he could not and did not find within the house of Philemon. There is not a doubt in my mind that this young servant Onesimus made the journey to where the apostle Paul was—in prison nonetheless—in order that he might hear the gospel directly from his mouth.
As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but ask myself why this young servant would have chosen to risk his life to make his way to the prison cell where the apostle Paul in order that he might hear and listen to the apostle speak. For this young servant there was great risk to fleeing his master’s house and making his way to find the apostle Paul in prison. The more I think about and consider this reality the more I can’t help but wonder what would have caused this young servant to risk everything he had—his life, his freedom, his security, and so much more—to flee his master’s house and make his way to seek out the apostle Paul. I believe with all my heart that this young servant felt compelled, and perhaps even burdened to make his way to where the apostle Paul—even though the apostle Paul was in chains in a Roman prison. I can’t help but be completely captivated by the tremendous risk this young servant was taking by leaving and fleeing his master’s house in order that he might make his way to where the apostle Paul in a Roman prison. I can’t help but think that for this young servant the risk that was involved in fleeing his master’s house to finding the apostle Paul was far outweighed by the reward of finding the apostle Paul. What’s more, is that I do not believe for one moment this young servant sought the apostle Paul simply because of the man himself alone, but also because of the message this particular man preached and possessed. I am utterly and completely convinced that this young servant risked his life and his freedom in fleeing his master’s house because he not only wanted to seek out the man Paul, but he also wanted to seek out, hear and listen to the message of this man whom he had perhaps heard his master speak so much about. Perhaps even this master—Philemon—spoke very highly of the apostle Paul, for even within this letter the apostle Paul writes unto him and declares that he owed unto him his own self and his own life. Please don’t miss the significance and importance of what took place as you read this particular epistle, for when this epistle was written by the apostle Paul by the hand of Onesimus, this young servant was still with the apostle Paul. Undoubtedly this young servant was still meeting with the apostle Paul—perhaps regularly and on a daily basis. I can’t help but think that this young servant spent a considerable amount of time in the company and presence of the apostle Paul listening to and hearing him speak.
The more I think about, and the more I consider this particular epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto Philemon, the more I can’t help but think that for Onesimus, he felt compelled to risk his life and take it into his own hands in order that he might not only seek and search out the apostle Paul, but also to both encounter the man, as well as to listen to the message he had preached and proclaimed for so long. Perhaps this young servant knew that the apostle’s time on the earth was drawing to a close, and he wanted to make his way unto the apostle in order that he might encounter him before the time of his departure drew near. Perhaps this young servant viewed this as an opportunity of a lifetime, and was unwilling to pass it up. Perhaps this young servant was willing to accept—not only the risk, but also the consequences associated with the risk in not only fleeing his master’s house, but also making his way to a Roman prison. I can’t help but believe within my heart that this young servant wanted to desperately to encounter the man and the message before his opportunity would be gone and pass away forever, and for this reason, and this reason alone, he risked everything in order that he might seek out and search for the apostle. I wonder what type of work and effort went into seeking and searching out the apostle Paul within the city of Rome, and if this young servant had to spend some considerable time inquiring about the location of the apostle Paul before he actually found him in the prison cell. When the book of Acts concludes, it concludes with the following words: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31). These words which conclude the second treatise which the beloved physician Luke wrote unto Theophilus describe how the apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life prior to his departure from this life unto the next. These words describe how during the final two years of the life of the apostle Paul he dwelt in his own hired house, and received all that came unto him. This is actually quite significant, for it might very well be that Onesimus was one of those who came unto the apostle Paul during these two years to listen to him preach the kingdom of God, and teach those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ. We know that the epistle written unto Philemon was in fact written by the apostle Paul, and that it was written from Rome by the hand of Onesimus, and we know that the final two years of the apostle Paul’s life were spent within the city of Rome. The timing and location of the epistle itself, as well as the words which Luke writes within the New Testament book of Acts seems to confirm that it might very well have been during these two years when Onesimus made his way to Rome in order that he might seek out the apostle Paul.
There are specific parables which our Lord spoke while here on the earth which I feel are absolutely fitting and necessary to and for our understanding of that which Onesimus took upon Himself to encounter the apostle Paul in a Roman prison. There are specific parables which Jesus spoke which describe the kingdom of heaven—the kingdom of God—and what the kingdom of heaven was truly like. One such parable is found in verses thirty-one and thirty-two of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel: “Another parable put He forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32). In the very next verse our Lord Jesus spoke forth another parable concerning the kingdom of heaven and is as follows: “Another parable spake He unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33). In the forty-fourth verse of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus we find the following parable spoken by Jesus: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44). IN verses forty-five and forty-six we find yet another parable concerning the kingdom of heaven which is as follows: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46). It is these final two parables that I would like to highlight before moving any further, for within these two parables we find a treasure hidden in a field, which when a man found, he sold everything he had in order that he might buy the field in which the treasure was found. It is within these two parables that we find a merchant man who was seeking goodly pearls, who when finding one of great and costly price, sold all that he had and bought it. Please don’t miss the significance and importance of what is found within these two parables, for not only do we find in both parables that which is costly, that which is valuable, that which is goodly being found, but we also find both individuals selling all they had in order that they might obtain and lay hold of that which they had found and discovered.
What I absolutely love is that when we encounter the reality of the man who found the treasure hidden in the field, he didn’t simply remove the treasure from the field and take it for and unto himself, but he sold all he had to buy and purchase the entire field. This man wasn’t merely content with removing the treasure that was hidden in the field, but he sought to own and possess the entire field. Within the parable we find this man who found the treasure which was hidden in the field with and for joy going and sailing all that he had in order that he might return and buy the field. I can’t help but be absolutely and completely struck with the reality that for this man—finding this treasure produced such a joy within his heart and soul that there was no cost that was too high for him to pay in order that he might purchase the field. Pause for a moment and consider this reality—the reality that not only did this man sell everything he had, but he sold everything he had with great joy in his heart. The interesting reality is that it wasn’t necessarily the field that produced such joy within this man’s heart, but the treasure that was hidden within the field. That which filled this man’s heart with such great joy was the prospect of what might yet still be found hidden in the field. This man entered into this field, and we are unclear and uncertain as to whether or not this man was even seeking and searching for anything in particular or specifically. The only thing we know is that this man entered into this field and found something that had been hidden there by someone who had come before him. Once this man found the treasure which was hidden in the field, he wasn’t content simply to remove the treasure from the field, for such would have been too easy and too convenient for this man. Instead, what this man did was sold all that he had in order that he might purchase the entire field. For this man, it wasn’t merely the treasure itself that brought him great joy, but it was also the entire field itself which produced such joy within his heart and soul. For this man the field was just as valuable as the treasure, for this man sold all he had in order that he might purchase the entire field. Please make note of this within your heart and mind, for the man could have removed the treasure hidden within the field, and such an endeavor might not have cost him much of anything. However, to purchase the entire field cost this man everything he had, for this man was willing to sell everything he had in order that he might purchase the field. Undoubtedly this man was not willing to take that which did not and would not cost him something, and so as a direct result of this reality, he went and sold all he had in order that he might purchase the entire field.
Now, you might be wondering why I would present such parables unto you when we are speaking about this young servant by the name of Onesimus. There are those of you who are reading this who might be wondering what these parables could have to do with this young servant who had left the house of his master in order that he might seek and search out the apostle Paul within the city of Rome. Not only this, but also seek out the apostle Paul within one of the prisons found within the very city itself. I am absolutely and utterly convinced that the parables which Jesus spoke concerning the kingdom of heaven have tremendous application concerning this young servant who fled his master’s house, for this young servant had heard of something that so piqued his curiosity that he was willing to risk his own life and freedom in order that he might lay hold of and obtain that which he had heard of. I can’t help but wonder if this young servant risked severe penalty to himself by leaving his master’s house, and essentially running away unto the city of Rome. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like for this servant the very first night he left his master’s house. Where did he initially go? What did he do? Where did he sleep? What food did he eat? If he was merely a servant, and his life and sustenance was determined by his master and his master’s household, then essentially this young servant was on his own to fend for himself upon running away. I am sitting here right now and I can’t help but think of the tremendous build up that must have ensued within the heart and mind of this young servant as he was building up the courage, the strength and the fortitude to rise from his master’s house and to make his way to the city of Rome to seek out and search for the apostle Paul. How many sleepless nights did this young servant have because he lie awake upon his bed thinking about the journey he would make to encounter the apostle Paul within the city of Rome? What was it like the moment this servant finally made up his mind to rise form his master’s house and make his way unto the city of Rome where he would find the apostle Paul? Was this young servant even convinced he would even find the apostle Paul once he arrived within the city of Rome? Did this servant get word of a possible whereabouts and location of the apostle Paul prior to rising up and making his way to the city of Rome to encounter this man his message? Was this servant making this journey as a blind leap of faith, or did this servant possess certain knowledge—not only of what the journey was like, but also what he would do once he finally arrived within the city of Rome?
The reason I included the parables which Jesus Himself spoke and taught is because the parable of the man who found treasure hidden in a field, and the parable of the merchant man who discovered a pearl of great price both present us with the fact that each discovered something of great worth, something of great value, something of great significance, and they were willing to do whatever it took to lay hold of and obtain that which they had discovered. For the man who had found the treasure hidden and buried within a field, he sold all that he had and purchased the entire field. For the man who had discovered and found a pearl of great price, he sold everything he had to lay hold of that pearl of great price. For each of these men the cost of selling everything they had wasn’t too high or too much to ask in order that they might lay hold of and obtain that which was of tremendous worth and value unto them. I can’t help but be reminded of the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of the epistle which he wrote unto the Philippian congregation. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter of this particular epistle beginning with the seventh verse:
“But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: that I may know Him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing” (Philippians 3:7-16).
There are several key realities found within these words which were written by the apostle Paul—all of which point to one central theme, and one central reality. Within this particular passage of Scripture we not only find the apostle Paul pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, but we also find the apostle Paul seeking to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death. There is within this passage of Scripture a powerful sense—not only of that which the apostle Paul was seeking after and pressing toward, but also that which the apostle Paul was willing to give up and let go of in order that he might lay hold of that which he pursued. As you read the words which the apostle Paul writes in this passage of Scripture you will notice first and foremost that those things which were once gain to him, it was those things which he counted as loss for Christ. What’s more, is that the apostle Paul would go on to declare that he counted all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus His Lord. Furthermore, the apostle Paul goes on to write and declare how he suffered the loss of all things, and did count them but dung, in order that he might win Christ. Oh, please don’t miss the significance and importance of what is found here, for while it is true the apostle Paul was in fact seeking to win Christ, and while it is in fact true the apostle Paul was pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, it would not come without his forgetting those things which were behind him. In order for the apostle Paul to lay hold of that which was ahead and before him, he not only needed to consider those things which were once gain to him as loss, but the apostle Paul also needed to forget those things which were behind him, in order that he might lay hold of that which was before him. It is absolutely critical and necessary that we pay close attention to this passage of Scripture—particularly and especially when considering that which was written within the epistle unto Philemon—for this young servant, Onesimus was essentially willing to let go of, forsake, abandon, and remove himself from everything he once knew, in order that he might lay hold of and obtain something that was far greater than what he currently possessed within himself.
Within the fifteenth verse of this epistle written unto Philemon we find the apostle Paul writing that perhaps this servant Onesimus departed for a season, in order that Philemon might have him forever. With that being said, the apostle Paul took this a step further and would go on to declare that when Onesimus departed from the house of Philemon he did so as a servant, but should and if he would return, he would return as a brother beloved unto the apostle Paul. Consider the tremendous reality that when Onesimus first departed from the house of his master he did so as a servant, however, if and should he return unto the house of his master, a new relationship would be forged and created, for Onesimus had found the apostle Paul, and in the apostle’s chains and bonds he begat him as a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ. There is not a doubt in my mind that when Onesimus found the apostle Paul he found exactly and everything he was looking for, as he undoubtedly heard the apostle Paul preach the kingdom of God, and teach those things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, in the tenth verse of this epistle the apostle Paul even goes so far as to declare unto Philemon that he had begotten Onesimus in his bonds, who in times past might not have been profitable, but now more than ever was not only profitable for the apostle Paul, but also for Philemon himself. Undoubtedly Onesimus encountered and experienced a powerful transformation in the company and presence of the apostle Paul, and his life was radically altered and changed forever. Onesimus left his master’s house as a servant, yet should and if he would return, he would return—not so much as a servant, but also as a beloved brother in the Lord, and as a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. Onesimus was willing to forsake everything, and potentially risk everything in order that he might lay hold of that for which he had heard of—perhaps even while in the house of his master. This reminds me of an Old Testament account of a man named Naaman who was a general in the Syrian army, but who also had leprosy. The account in the Old Testament book describes how there was a day when one of the Hebrew servant girls spoke of a prophet in the land of Israel whom this Namaan should seek out and inquire in order that he might find healing for his leprosy. I choose to leave you with the words found in this Old Testament book, for as a direct result of this young servant girl within the house of Namaan, not only did he seek out the man Elisha, but he also found healing for his leprosy. Consider if you will the account of Namaan—the soldier with leprosy:
“Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letters, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. And ELisah sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I Thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near, and speak unt him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? How much rather than, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kings 5:1-14).