Sunday – May 4, 2014 – Read the Word on Worship
Word On Worship – Sunday – May 4, 2014 Download / Print
“I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel…”
Philemon is Paul’s shortest and most personal letter, written during his first imprisonment in Rome. Philemon, the main recipient of the letter, was a wealthy man from Colossae, about 100 miles inland from Ephesus on the west coast of modern Turkey. The letter was also addressed to Apphia, who was probably Philemon’s wife; to Archippus, who may have been the pastor of the church there (some think he was the son of Philemon and Apphia); and to the entire church that met in Philemon’s house. (There is no record of a church building until the third century.) Paul had not visited Colossae, although he hoped to do so soon. But somehow, perhaps during Paul’s ministry in Ephesus, he had come into contact with Philemon and led him to Christ.
One of Philemon’s slaves was named Onesimus. He had stolen from his master and run away. In the Roman Empire, masters had absolute authority over slaves and they often tortured or killed them for minor offenses or mistakes. So Onesimus was a fugitive slave, under a capital offense, running from a household where the gospel was proclaimed. But just as the Old Testament prophet Jonah found out, no matter how far Onesimus ran, he could not outrun God.
In his travels, God providentially led Onesimus all the way to Rome, where he crossed paths with the apostle Paul. We don’t know whether he was imprisoned with Paul or how they met. But the Hound of Heaven was pursuing Onesimus. Although he had undoubtedly heard the gospel in Philemon’s household, Onesimus ran from the place where he easily could have been saved. He traveled hundreds of miles to a large city where he happened to meet Paul. When Paul shared the gospel, God opened Onesimus’ heart and he trusted in Christ. He then stayed with Paul and the two men formed a close relationship as Onesimus served Paul.
Maybe you once heard the gospel before without understanding, but suddenly God opened your blind eyes and it made sense. You never could hope to pay God back for all of the sins that you have committed. But you don’t have to. Christ paid your debt on the cross. Everything that you stole and all the back wages that you owe were charged to His account. You put your trust in the Savior who paid the debt that you owed. You returned to the Master and willingly put yourself under His lordship. For the first time in your life, you were truly free. Now, you live to please Him and do His will from the heart. And to your amazement, the blessed Lord Jesus, who paid the debt you owed, is pleased to call you his beloved brother or sister, just as Paul refers to the slave, Onesimus!