Today’s selected reading is found in the New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon. This epistle is only twenty-five verses contained within a single chapter and today’s passage covers all twenty-five verses of the epistle. “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1-3).
“I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. But withal prepare me also a lodging: for I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellowprisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Demas, Lucas, my fellow labourers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Philemon 4-24).
“Written from Rome to Philemon, by Onesimus a servant” (Philemon 25).
When you come to this particular epistle you will come to the last of the epistles written by the apostle Paul which are found in the New Testament. Beginning with the epistle which was written unto the saints which were at Rome we find a total of thirteen epistles which were written by the hand of the apostle Paul unto various churches and individuals. If you take the time to read and study the New Testament you will quickly discover that the first epistle of the apostle Paul found in the New Testament is in fact the epistle of Romans. This epistle would be followed by two epistles which were written by the apostle unto the Corinthians. Immediately following these epistles would be the epistle written unto the churches which were in Galatia. The next three epistles found in the New Testament are considered to the be “The Prison Epistles” and are a series of epistles which the apostle Paul wrote while he was in prison. These epistles include the epistle written unto the Ephesians, the epistle written unto the Philippians and the epistle written unto the Colossians. Next in line would be both of the epistles which were written unto the Thessalonian saints which were the first of the epistles written by the apostle Paul during his new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. These two epistles would then be followed by epistles which are considered to be “The Pastoral Epistles”—epistles which although most were written while the apostle Paul was prisoner in the city of Rome were written to provide pastoral counsel and instruction unto various individuals. The Pastoral Epistles would include both epistles written unto Timothy, the epistle written unto Titus and finally the epistle written unto Philemon.
This epistle written unto Philemon is perhaps one of the most peculiar epistles which the apostle Paul wrote and which is found in the New Testament. The epistle written unto Philemon was not an epistle written unto a specific church nor was it an epistle which was written unto one who would serve as bishop in one of the various churches present in the land during those days. The epistle written unto Philemon would be an epistle written by the apostle Paul and from Timothy his brother unto Philemon whom they considered to be their dearly beloved and fellow laborer. What’s more is that the epistle written unto Philemon seems to be written unto more than simply Philemon but also other brethren which served the Lord and who were fellow soldiers in the army of the Lord. In the second verse of this epistle you will find the apostle Paul also writing and referring to “our beloved Apphia” as well as “Archippus” whom he referred to as their fellow soldier. What’s more is that in the second verse you will find the apostle Paul going on to speak of the church which was in the house of Philemon. The words which we find in this particular epistle are quite unique when you take the time to think about them for they were words written by the hand of the apostle Paul and Timothy who had perhaps come unto the apostle Paul in Rome to help minister unto his needs. The epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon would be written unto more than simply a single individual but rather unto a particular church that was present within his house. Oh although this particular epistle was not written unto a particular church such as many of the previous epistles written by the apostle Paul it would nonetheless be read in the company and presence of the church which met in the house of this man named Philemon.
If you begin reading with and from the fourth verse of this passage of Scripture you will find the apostle Paul thanking God as he made mention of him always in his prayers. The purpose of the prayers of the apostle Paul and the reason he made mention of him in the sight and presence of the living God was because he had heard of his love and faith which he not only had toward the Lord Jesus but also toward all the saints. It is absolutely incredible to read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture for the words we find here bring us face to face with two of the greatest commandments found within the life of one who professes themselves to be a disciple of Christ and worshipper of the living God. In the four New Testament gospels the subject of the first and greatest commandment came up on more than one occasion and it was declared that the greatest commandment was to love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength. The second commandment was just like the first commandment and in my opinion cannot truly be fulfilled and fleshed out without and apart from the first commandment. The second commandment was simply to love one’s neighbor as oneself—something that would demonstrate and prove that one was truly a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Building upon this concept of loving the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our strength we must also consider another reality which was found in the four New Testament gospels—namely, loving the Lord Jesus Christ. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this incredible truth for when you read the various epistles written by the apostle Paul you will discover constant language concerning the love for the saints—and not only a love for the saints but also a love for the Lord Jesus Christ. There is something truly remarkable and astonishing about this truth for when we consider ourselves as being part of the corporate body of Christ we must needs recognize that we have not only been called to love the Lord Jesus Christ but we have been called to love His body which is made up of the saints of God. Perhaps one of the greatest realities concerning the corporate body of the Lord Jesus Christ is that its members are not only characterized by their love for the head of the Church which is in fact the Lord Jesus Christ but also a love for the saints. In all reality I would dare say that both the love of Christ as well as the love for the saints go hand in hand and cannot be separated from each other. There would be those who would like to separate the love of the Lord Jesus Christ from loving the saints and yet I would dare say that you cannot truly call yourself a member of the body of Christ if you profess to love the Lord Jesus Christ and yet for whatever reason cannot and do not love the saints of God. Remember the words which the apostle John wrote in his first epistle when he asked how we can profess to love the LORD our God whom we cannot see if we cannot and do not love our brother whom we do see?
It is quite clear from the words which the apostle John wrote in his first epistle that he has indeed and has in fact called us into the place where we are to not only love the Lord Jesus Christ alone but we have also been called to love His saints. I have previously written that when the disciples accepted the invitation and call to abandon every thing to walk with and follow the Lord Jesus Christ they also accepted the invitation and call to walk and fellowship together with the various other disciples who would walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. When the disciples accepted the invitation of the Lord Jesus to walk with and follow Him in this life they also accepted the invitation to walk with the fellow disciples who were numbered among the twelve as well as those countless women and others who would not only walk with and follow the Lord Jesus Christ but who would also minister unto His needs. This is something we must needs recognize and understand when we consider the truth around loving the Lord Jesus Christ for when we made the decision to love the Lord Jesus Christ we also made the decision to love the saints which are indeed His spiritual body in the earth. We cannot declare that we love the Lord Jesus Christ and at the same time profess that we do not love the saints of the most High God who worship together among us within the body of Christ. Despite the fact there would be those who would like to think they can somehow love the Lord Jesus Christ without loving the saints we cannot and must not allow ourselves to fall into this trap and deceptive mindset. It is absolutely impossible to love the Lord Jesus Christ and not at the same time love the saints of God which worship together with us in the corporate body of Christ. We dare not and must not make any attempt to separate loving the Lord Jesus Christ from loving the saints of God which gather together with us to worship the living God in His house and among the saints which are the body of Christ.
Upon reading the words which are found in the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon you will find the apostle Paul thanking his God and making mention of Philemon always in his prayers as he heard of his love and faith which he had toward the Lord Jesus as well as toward all the saints. Moreover the apostle Paul goes on to write of the communication of his faith and that it would become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which was in him in Christ Jesus. This is something we must needs recognize and understand when reading the epistle written unto Philemon for when we read the words which are contained therein we are brought face to face with the love and faith toward the Lord Jesus as well as the love which was toward all the saints. Moreover we are also brought face to face with the communication of faith and the need for it to become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which was present in Philemon in Christ Jesus. Oh I have to admit that I absolutely love the use of the word “all” in this epistle written by the apostle Paul for when the apostle Paul wrote and spoke of the love and faith toward the saints he didn’t merely write concerning some of the saints but rather all the saints. In other words there was absolutely no exclusion, partiality and or favoritism within the heart of Philemon—perhaps even of those who were part of the church which met within his house. The words which the apostle Paul wrote in this particular epistle are best understood when read in light of the words which James the half-brother of the Lord Jesus wrote and are recorded in the second chapter of the epistle which was written by him. It is in this section of the epistle where James not only addresses partiality and favoritism in the midst of the body of Christ and how there is no place for it but he also addresses the danger of faith without works being dead and abiding alone:
“My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons. For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor m an in vile raiment; and ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool: Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts? Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? But ye have despised the poor. Do not rich men oppress you, and draw you before ethe judgment seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called? If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy; and mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:1-13).
“What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destite of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath. Not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only. Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26).
These words which are found in the second chapter of the epistle written unto James not only speak to the sin of partiality and favoritism being found in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ but also of the danger of faith without works being dead and abiding alone. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of these for when we consider the tremendous truth of loving the saints of God—and not only loving the saints of God but loving ALL the saints of God—we must needs recognize they are linked. It is absolutely impossible to separate loving all the saints of God from deliberately and intentionally choosing to show no partiality and favoritism among the saints and members of the body of Christ. Moreover our love which we profess to have toward all the saints is indeed manifested by and through the demonstration and manifestation of our faith. James—the half-brother of the Lord Jesus—deliberately and intentionally declared unto his readers and audience that faith without works is indeed dead and abides alone. Moreover James also declared unto his readers and his audience that faith is more than simply declaration but faith is also demonstration. It is in the epistle written unto the Hebrews where we read of “the substance of faith” and that faith must needs have that which comprises and makes it up. Faith alone is not enough for there must also be both substance and demonstration for it to truly be effective among us among the saints and brethren as well as among those who are in the world. James made it very clear that we demonstrate our faith—not by the words which we speak but by the actions we engage ourselves in within our culture, our generation and society. It is with this in mind I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the third chapter of the Old Testament book of Proverbs as well as the words which are found the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle written by the apostle Paul unto the Corinthian saints:
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when t hou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. For the froward is an abomination to the LORD; But his secret is with the righteous. The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: But he blesseth the habitation of the just. Surely he scorneth the scorners: But he giveth grace unto the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools” (Proverbs 3:27-35).
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant. Ye know that ye were Gentiles, carried away unto these dumb idols, even as ye were led. Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost. Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will” (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But not hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the ye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
“And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:28-31).
“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth no itself, is not puffed up, do not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all thing, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth: but whethere there re knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
It is absolutely necessary we recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in these particular portions of Scripture for they highlight and underscore the tremendous truth surrounding the need to love the saints of God—and not only love the saints of God but also love our neighbor as ourselves. It is absolutely impossible to say that we love our neighbor if we do not also love the saints of God and vice versa. Moreover it is impossible to declare that we love the living God whom we cannot see with our natural eye and yet hate and despise our neighbor who we do see with our natural eye. The apostle John made it perfectly and abundantly clear when writing his first epistle that if we say we love the living God whom we cannot and do not see we must also love our neighbor whom we do see. In fact I would dare say that one of the ways we best demonstrate the love we profess we have for and toward the living God is by and through the love we have for His saints. Moreover I would dare say that one of the greatest ways we demonstrate our love for the Lord Jesus Christ is to indeed love His saints who have the same holy calling upon their lives as we do. The words which we find in this particular epistle are absolutely and incredibly astounding when you consider them for I am convinced that at the very heart and core of what is present here is the love which we profess to have for the saints of God. More than this I would dare say that the words we find in this epistle have as the very foundation of it the love one has for the saints of God and for His holy people.
The more you read the words which are found in this particular epistle the more you will be brought face to face with the realities of forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration within the heart and mind of Philemon. It is as you read the words which are found in this epistle you will discover that Philemon was indeed one who owned slaves for we learn of Onesimus that he was indeed a slave. Perhaps one of the truths we must needs recognize and understand when reading the words which are found in this particular epistle is that during those days—particularly in the Roman Empire—it was not uncommon for the rich and wealthy to have slaves and servants. In fact it is when you read epistles such as those which are written unto the Ephesian and Colossian saints, as well as the epistle written unto Titus you encounter tremendous instruction given by the apostle Paul unto servants and the relationship they must needs have with their master. What’s more is that when you read the words which are found in the epistles written by the apostle Paul you will find a tremendous amount of language contained therein concerning the relationship servants must have with their masters as well as the need for the saints of God to submit themselves unto the authorities, the rulers and the powers which are present in the world. Having said this I invite you to consider the following words which are found in the epistles written unto the Romans, the Ephesians, the Colossians and Titus:
“Let every soul be subject unto higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same. For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. For for this cause Pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Ow no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment it is briefly comprheneded in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:1-10).
“Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart; with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men: knowing that whatsoever good things any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free. And, ye masters, do the same things unto them, forbearing threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; neither is there respect of persons with him” (Ephesians 6:5-9).
“Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: and whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men: knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons. Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 3:22-4:1).
“Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee” (Titus 2:9-15).
If you take the time to read each of these passages of Scripture you will clearly see that during the days of the apostle Paul—and not merely during the days of the apostle Paul but during the days of the early church and of the Roman Empire—there were masters who were present in the earth. These masters were undoubtedly and usually wealthy individuals who would have one or more servants or slaves who would serve in their household. What makes the epistle written unto Philemon so incredibly unique and powerful when you take the time to think about it is that this entire epistle was one that was written unto one of these masters. What’s more is that this epistle wasn’t merely written unto one of these masters but it was written unto a master who also happened to be a servant of the living God and a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. That which is truly unique about the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon is that this epistle was written unto a master concerning the relationship he had with one of his servants and slaves. Not only this but if you take the time to read the words which are found in this epistle you will find that Philemon had a servant and slave whose name was Onesimus. While it was indeed true that Philemon was a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ we might very well assume that Onesimus was not. Scripture is entirely unclear concerning the witness and testimony of Philemon among those in his own household—and not only those in his household but also those who served in his household as servants and slaves.
Perhaps one of the greatest realities I find within the epistle written unto Philemon is that it is quite clear that he was indeed a brother in the Lord Jesus Christ and that he was indeed a worshipper of God and a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote this epistle unto Philemon who was not only a master in the land during those days but one who also happened to be a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. We know from this epistle that Philemon was indeed a worshipper of the living God and a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ, however, we are not at all aware of what his witness and testimony was like. The words presented in this epistle bring us face to face with the awesome and powerful truth surrounding Onesimus and how he actually fled the house of Philemon and ultimately found his way unto the apostle Paul. Scripture is entirely clear if he fled from the house of Philemon in sole pursuit of the apostle Paul or if he fled the house of Philemon and so happened to come unto the apostle Paul in the midst of the city of Rome during those days. The more you read the words which are found in this particular epistle the more you will be brought to the place where you understand that Philemon was both a master as well as a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and how Onesimus was a slave and servant in his house. Despite the fact that Philemon was indeed a master who was also a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ Onesimus felt compelled to flee from his house and make his way unto where the apostle Paul was.
What makes the words which are found in this epistle all the more intriguing when you think about it is that the apostle Paul was indeed a prisoner at the time this epistle was written. As you consider the words which are found in this epistle you will discover this Onesimus not only fled from the house of Philemon but who also journeyed unto the city of Rome where the apostle Paul. Oh I can’t help but wonder how much time, effort and energy Onesimus spent while in the midst of the city of Rome trying to find the location of the apostle Paul. Did Onesimus know the apostle Paul was in prison in the city of Rome or did he only know that the apostle Paul was present in the city of Rome at the time? What becomes quite clear when reading the words which are found in this epistle is that it was written after the apostle Paul arrived in the city of Rome after departing from the city of Caesarea in the land of Judaea. The New Testament book of Acts concludes with the apostle Paul ultimately arriving in the city of Rome and how he was basically under house arrest for a period of time while he was there in the midst of the city. It would be during those times when both Jews and Gentiles would come unto him to hear the word of the Lord Jesus Christ and to be taught of him concerning the things of the kingdom. This takes on an entirely different meaning when you consider that one such individual who came unto the apostle Paul while he was a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ in the city of Rome was Onesimus.
I sit here today thinking about and wondering if the apostle Paul knew and was aware of Onesimus prior to his coming unto him in the city of Rome. Had the apostle Paul had interactions with Onesimus and Philemon in previous times when he was a free man and walked in the midst of the culture and society of those days? If there is one thing I can’t help but wonder when reading the epistle written unto Philemon is how Onesimus knew and was aware of the apostle Paul and knew enough to journey unto the city of Rome in search of him. Did Onesimus deliberately and intentionally flee from the house of Philemon with the sole purpose and desire of journeying unto the city of Rome that he might come unto the apostle Paul? Oh Scripture seems to suggest that although Philemon was indeed a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ one of his servants—Onesimus—felt compelled to flee from his house in pursuit of the apostle Paul. Oh I can’t help but wonder what that journey must have been like for Onesimus knowing that he was a servant—and not only a servant but also a servant who fled from his master’s house. One of the greatest truths which is found when reading this particular epistle is when you think of the great personal risk Onesimus would indeed take upon himself in fleeing from the house of his master. Not only this but also the great personal risk Onesimus would have taken unto and upon himself fleeing from his master’s house during the days of the Roman Empire. It would be during the days of the Roman Empire when the harboring of slaves was strictly forbidden and professional slave catchers were hired to hunt down runaways. Not only this but advertisements were posted with precise descriptions of escape slaves and offered rewards. If such a runaway slave was caught fugitives could be punished by being whipped, burnt with iron, or killed. Those who lived were branded on the forehead with the letters FUG for fugitivus.
There is something truly astonishing about this particular truth when you take the time to think about it for Onesimus was a slave and servant who lived during the days of the Roman Empire. When Onesimus made the decision to flee from his master’s house he did so knowing the tremendous risk and danger he was taking upon himself during those days. Onesimus undoubtedly understood the laws during the days of the Roman Empire and knew what would and could happen if he was caught during those days. Scripture is entirely unclear at what point Philemon realized Onesimus had fled from his house or even what actions he had taken in response to this slave’s fleeing from his house. When Philemon noticed that Onesimus had fled from his house did he immediately report this slave as missing unto the authorities and begin the process of having bounty hunters unleashed to try and recover and return him unto his master’s house? Scripture is entirely unclear concerning Philemon’s response when he discovered that Onesimus had run away and fled from his house. We know that Philemon was a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and it is based upon this reality I can’t help but wonder how he handled the news and discovery of this slave and servant fleeing from his house. How does one who is a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ—one who was taught to turn the other cheek and to forgive from the heart—treat one of his slaves who ran away and fled from his house during those days? Imagine the dilemma and predicament Philemon was in when he realized that Onesimus had fled from his house and whether or not he would report this runaway slave to the authorities.
If you think about it there is no indication Onesimus had any understanding or knowledge whether or not Philemon had reported his name and description to the authorities. I can’t help but think about and wonder what it must have been like for Onesimus to make the decision to flee and run away from his master’s house—and not only flee from his master’s house but also come unto the city of Rome in search of the apostle Paul. There is something truly unique and astonishing about this particular reality when you take the time to think about it for it calls and draws our attention to the underlying reason and purpose Onesimus perceived within his heart concerning the decision to flee from his master’s house. Knowing the inherent danger and risk he could have indeed taken unto and upon himself he still made the deliberate and intentional decision of fleeing from the house of his master. The question must needs be asked what would prompt and cause this servant in his master’s house to flee from it and make the journey unto the capital city of the Roman Empire. WHEN THE SLAVE MEETS THE PRISONER! WHEN THE SLAVE FLEES TO THE PRISON! WHEN THE SLAVE COMES UNTO THE PRISONER! Oh how it is absolutely incredible to think about and consider how this slave—Onesimus—would not only flee his master’s house but would also flee his master’s house, make the journey unto the city of Rome and would ultimately arrive at the place of the prisoner who so happened to be the apostle Paul. At the time Onesimus made the decision to run away from his master’s house the apostle Paul was already a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of the city of Rome.
There is something truly remarkable about the words and language which are found in this epistle—not only concerning Onesimus making the decision to flee from the house of his master, and not only his coming unto the apostle Paul who was himself a prisoner at the time of his arrival but also the instruction given by the apostle Paul unto Philemon when he had understood that Onesimus was a servant of his who had fled from his house. Once again Scripture is entirely unclear whether or not the apostle Paul or Onesimus were indeed aware of each other, however, we must needs recognize and understand when reading this epistle that this runaway slave who fled his master’s house with great risk and danger unto himself would make his way unto the apostle Paul who was a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of the city of Rome. Onesimus would flee from the house of his master and make his way unto the city of Rome in search of the apostle Paul. Oh I have to believe within my heart that Onesimus was indeed aware of who the apostle Paul even if he hadn’t personally met the apostle Paul. Is it possible that Philemon became a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ as a direct result of the teaching and preaching of the apostle Paul? Is it possible that while Onesimus was serving in the house of Philemon he heard stories of the apostle Paul and that which he taught and preached concerning this one whose name was Jesus who suffered, who died and who was raised from death to life on the third day?
The more I read the words within this epistle the more I am brought face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding two distinct charges that were given as a direct result of this epistle. On the one hand there was a charge given unto Onesimus to return unto the house from which he had fled as a sign of humility in the sight of both God and man. On the other hand there was a charge given unto Philemon to receive Onesimus back without retribution, without vengeance, without punishment, without judgment and without revenge. Pause for a moment and consider just how incredibly difficult this particular situation would and could have been for Onesimus to return unto the house of his master from who he had fled and for Philemon to see this servant return unto him. Oh I would absolutely love to know what that particular encounter was like between Onesimus and Philemon as this runaway slave and servant returned unto the house of his master having been begotten in the bonds and afflictions of the apostle Paul. If there is one thing this particular epistle is entirely and altogether clear about it’s that when Onesimus ran away from and fled the house of his master Philemon he was perhaps a curious individual concerning the things of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not a doubt in my mind that when Onesimus fled from the house of Philemon there was this strong and intense desire and yearning within his heart to learn and know more about the Lord Jesus Christ. As a direct result of this he felt the only way to truly satisfy this hunger and thirst within his soul was to flee from the house of his master and to make his way unto the apostle Paul—perhaps one whom he had heard so much about and/or even one he had personally encountered if the apostle Paul ever came to the house of Philemon.
What an incredibly strong and powerful truth is found within this epistle when you take the time to think about it for Onesimus was willing to flee from his master’s house assuming great personal risk and danger against his own life and person on account of not only seeking out the apostle Paul but also learning more about this person called the Lord Jesus Christ. If you begin reading with and from the tenth verse of this epistle you will find the apostle Paul beseeching Philemon for his son Onesimus who he had begotten in his bonds which in times past was unto Philemon unprofitable but now was both profitable for both men. What’s more is that when you read the words which are found in this epistle you will find the apostle Paul writing unto Philemon how he had not only begotten Onesimus as a son in the faith in his bonds but also how he had sent unto him again. Not only had the apostle Paul sent Onesimus unto the house of his master Philemon but he also wrote an epistle written unto this master that he receive him in the very bowels of mercies and charity of the apostle Paul. The apostle Paul would go on to declare unto Philemon that he would have gladly retrained Onesimus with him that in the stead of Philemon he might have ministered unto him in the bonds of the gospel. Although the apostle Paul would indeed have retained Onesimus unto himself that he might minister unto him and his necessities he would send him unto Philemon—first in an attempt to bring about reconciliation and restoration between servant master but also to know and understand the mind of Philemon concerning what he wanted to do with this slave and servant who had run away and fled from his master’s house.
If there is one thing that adds even more weight and significance to the words which are found in this epistle it’s when you come to the fifteenth verse when you read of the apostle Paul declaring unto Philemon that it was possible Onesimus departed from him for a season that he should be received forever—not as a servant alone but above a servant who was indeed a brother beloved both unto the apostle Paul as well as unto Philemon himself. There is something absolutely incredible when reading the words which are found in this particular epistle for Onesimus was a slave—and not only a slave but a slave during the days of the Roman Empire—who made the decision to take his own life into his hands that he might not only seek out the apostle Paul but seek out truth as it were. Remember the words which the Lord Jesus declared concerning those who would seek to save their lives in this life and would lose it but those who were willing to lose their lives in this life would gain them in the realm of eternity. The scenario of Onesimus could have gone a number of different directions as he could have had Roman soldiers and centurions on his heels as he made the journey from his master’s house unto the capital city of the Roman Empire. Imagine being Onesimus and not only fleeing from his master’s house but also making the journey unto the city of Rome itself. The sole purpose for his fleeing from his master’s house was without a doubt in pursuit of truth—and not just any truth but the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that Onesimus was seeking and searching—perhaps even while he was a slave and servant in the house of Philemon—and simply wasn’t receiving that which he desired. What’s more is that Onesimus might very well have been a good and faithful servant in the house of Philemon and yet there was something missing within this man’s heart and soul. I would dare say that despite the fact Onesimus might have been a faithful servant in the house of Philemon there was an inward longing and desire within his heart to learn the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have to admit that I absolutely love the words and language which are found in this epistle for not only do they bring us face to face with reconciliation and restoration but they also bring us face to face with forgiveness. The words and language found within this epistle bring us face to face with a servant who dared flee from his master’s house at great risk and peril to his own life in search of something bigger, larger and greater than himself. This is something we must needs acknowledge when reading this epistle for when we read the words contained therein we are brought face to face with the reality of a servant who was willing to take his own life into his hands in pursuit of the truth of the gospel and the pursuit of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is not a doubt in my mind when reading the words found in this passage of Scripture that Onesimus was earnestly and eagerly searching after and seeking the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and felt that fleeing from his master’s house and making the journey unto the city of Rome to find the apostle Paul was his best option. Imagine being in the place where you are in the house of one who is a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ and even a house in which a church meets and gathers and yet you find the need to flee from that house in pursuit of something you either did not witness or could not find. Imagine being in a place where you witnessed men and women who gathered together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and yet you felt the only option for you to find the truth for yourself is to flee from that house in pursuit of something so much greater and bigger than you could even imagine.
As I prepare to bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary we recognize the words presented in this epistle and how although Onesimus was one whose love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints was reported in those days a servant within his own house felt compelled to flee in order to find and discover truth for himself. Scripture is entirely unclear concerning what the church in the house of Philemon was like, however, we can be certain that when Onesimus fled from his master’s house he not only fled from the house itself but also from the church which met and was gathered together in the midst of the house. This is actually something which we must needs recognize and understand for how many men and women within our own generation find themselves in a place where they need to flee from the house where professing Christians gather together that they might find and discover the truth for themselves. I can’t help see within this epistle a powerful picture of men and women who might very well have attended and been part of various churches in our culture and society and yet for whatever reason they have felt the need within their own hearts and souls to flee from and run away from these churches in order for them to find the truth they are searching for. We would be incredibly naïve to think that just because it is called a church and has four walls, pews, a platform, an altar and a pulpit that truth abides in the midst of the house and people. What we find here in this passage of Scripture is a powerful picture of one who not only fled from his master’s house but one who also fled from a house where a church was present in search of their own truth. There is not a doubt in my mind that there are perhaps countless men and women just like Onesimus who have felt the need to depart from the churches and houses of worship they have been a part of in search of the One who declared that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life.
What we find in this particular epistle should indeed serve as a powerful wakeup call for churches all across this nation and country to recognize that there might be men and women who are leaving them in search of the truth they are not able to find in the house itself. Imagine being in a house of worship seeking after and searching for truth and being unable to find that truth and as a direct result of this you leave from the midst of it in search of the truth for yourself. When we read the words which are found in this particular epistle we must needs recognize and understand that there are men and women among us who are earnestly and eagerly searching to know and experience the One who declared that He is the resurrection and the life and they are unable to find him in the midst of the church buildings they have been present in. This is perhaps one of the greatest truths that was found in the midst of COVID—particularly and especially when church buildings shut down and services were forced to go online and in the virtual environment. All of a sudden men and women were confined to their homes and had access to countless churches, services and ministries they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. I would dare say that when the church buildings shut during COVID—not only did it serve as a wakeup call concerning being the church versus doing church and going to church but it also provided men and women with the ability to partake of teaching and preaching in a virtual environment. Not only this but I am convinced that the Spirit of the living God used this pandemic as a means to bring us back to our roots of meeting in houses and homes and engaging ourselves the way the early Church did in the book of Acts.
I find it absolutely necessary we recognize and pay close attention to the words which are found in this epistle for I believe there have been and there are a whole generation of “Onesimus’”—those who were part of a church, ministry and the like and yet haven’t found what they are searching for. Please note that I am not speaking about finding the right worship atmosphere and environment that suits your tastes, needs, desires and tastes. Please note that I am not speaking about the right layout and makeup of the church building itself and how modern it may or may not be. I am not speaking about how charismatic and energetic the preaching truly is or even how comfortable you may or may not feel. That which I am speaking about is being a part of a church and being unable to find the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. We dare not and must not think that just because we enter into a church building made up of four walls that the truth of the Lord Jesus resides in that place and that men and women are truly finding that which they are seeking after. What we find in this particular epistle is a strong and powerful picture of a slave who dared run away from and flee his master’s house—and not only his master’s house but the church itself which met in that house—in order that he might find the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. It was Jesus Himself who emphatically declared that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life and that no man comes unto the Father but by Him. Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the resurrection and the life and He is the door of the sheep and the Good Shepherd. It is my prayer that in these current days in which we are living men and women would find the truth concerning the Lord Jesus Christ they are seeking after by whatever means necessary. With this being said we must needs recognize that not everyone is going to receive and encounter this truth in the four walls of the church building.
As I bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary we understand the importance of being the body of Christ in the corporate world as much as in the actual church building. I have heard it said before “Preach always and if necessary use words.” I have also heard it said that we might be the only Bible some people ever read. If there is one thing the passing of my father demonstrated to me it’s how ministry can indeed take place outside the four walls of the church just as much as it can take place within the four walls of the church. For more than a decade my father learned what it was like to do ministry outside the four walls of the church after spending more than two decades doing ministry within the four walls of the church. From his dying bed and even after his death he showed and demonstrated how you make a difference one person at a time and one life at a time. He showed me just how incredibly important it was to show up and simply be a witness wherever the Spirit of the LORD has called us to and to have a testimony that demonstrates the truth and beauty of the Lord Jesus Christ in the sight and hearing of others. There is a great need within our culture and society for men and women who are truth bearers—and not only truth bearers but also truth speakers—who present the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ unto those who are earnestly and desperately seeking and searching for it. We have indeed been called to be epistles which are known and read of all man which have been written and engraved—not with human hands but with and by the very Spirit of the living God.