Thursday, December 14, 2023

2023.12.14 Hopewell @Home ▫ Philemon vv8–25

Read Philemon vv8–25

Questions from the Scripture text: What might the apostle be (Philemon 8)? In Whom? To do what? What does he prefer over commanding (Philemon 9)? What three reasons does he add to his appeal? For whom does he appeal (what does he call him, Philemon 10)? What has happened to Onesimus and when? What had he been previously (Philemon 11a)? What is he like now (verse 11b)? What is the apostle doing with Onesimus (Philemon 12)? What does he now call him? What had the apostle wished (Philemon 13)? What did he desire Onesimus to do? Why didn’t Paul just keep him (Philemon 14)? Why, particularly, did the apostle want Philemon’s consent? What does the apostle suggest about Onesimus’s time with him (Philemon 15)? How does he urge Philemon to receive him (Philemon 16)? In what two ways? How else does he want Philemon to count him (Philemon 17)? What offer does he add in Philemon 18? What does the apostle begin doing in Philemon 19? What does he now promise? And remind Philemon? What is he asking him for, again in Philemon 20 (cf. Philemon 7)? Of what does the apostle have confidence (Philemon 21)? What else does Paul ask for (Philemon 22)? Why? Who sends greetings in Philemon 23? What does Paul title him? Who send them in Philemon 24? What does Paul call them? Who greets him in what way in Philemon 25? How does the apostle conclude the letter?

Why doesn’t Paul just command Philemon? Philemon 8–25 prepares us for the second serial reading in public worship on the Lord’s Day. In these eighteen verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that out of love for one another, believers love to stir one another up to love.

Authority that appeals by love, Philemon 8-14. The apostle had the authority to command Philemon (Philemon 8). Setting Onesimus free is “fitting” (“proper,” or even “required”). But Paul loves Philemon (Philemon 9a, cf. Philemon 1) and desires that Philemon himself act out of love (cf. Philemon 5Philemon 7). Let elders, husbands, fathers, and others in authority take note: the apostle sets the example of refraining from direct command in order to give the opportunity to act freely, from love. 

This is not to say that he doesn’t pile on the pressure. He appeals by their relationship (Philemon 9b). He appeals by his own age. He appeals by his status as a prisoner. He appeals by his own love for Onesimus (Philemon 10Philemon 12), using tender terms of fatherhood and affection for having led him to the faith. He appeals by Onesimus’s conversion (Philemon 11). 

What the apostle does here, and how he pleads, many today would call “manipulative.” But all of these are proper considerations! It is fleshly and worldly to act only out of self-interest, and out of love for Philemon, Paul gives him many reasons to act not in self-interest but out of sacrificial love. This takes wisdom to apply well, but it is helpful for us to see that it is sometimes loving to motivate someone out of love, if we have good hope that it is there. 

Provoking genuine love is not manipulation (forcing them by our will) but liberation (sparking the freedom of their own will to do the good deed not under compulsion, but by the voluntary exercise of a loving heart). In a healthy and wisely-led home or church, there will be little need for the commands of the lesser authority, because the commands of Christ in Scripture will be more than enough to drive the loving hearts of those under authority to do what is right.

Believers never “lose” one another, Philemon 15-16. There really wasn’t much for Philemon to lose before. Onesimus having been “unprofitable” in Philemon 11 gives us a clue as to how Paul had run into him: Onesimus had run away (and probably robbed Philemon, as well, cf. Philemon 18). You can imagine Onesimus’s horror when he thinks he’s made his escape, but far from home, he runs into his master’s beloved friend who had brought his master to Christ. But soon, the Lord uses Paul to bring Onesimus to Christ. Now, Onesimus would be delighted to serve Paul but is also willing to be a profitable servant to Philemon as well (cf. Philemon 11). 

So Paul is sending Onesimus back (Philemon 12), asking that Philemon would immediately send Onesimus back to Paul. Wouldn’t this mean that Philemon would once again lose his slave? Not at all. Believers cannot permanently lose one another! What Onesimus had intended for evil (that Philemon would lose him for a while, Philemon 15a), the Lord had intended for good (that Philemon would receive him forever (verse 15b) as a beloved brother (Philemon 16). So now Philemon has Onesimus “back” both in the flesh and in the Lord. This is a great comfort for believers who have to say goodbye in this life. Even if we lose one another in the flesh, we will always have one another in the Lord. Believers never “lose” one another.

Believers love to refresh one another, Philemon 17-25. Philemon would be glad to be disadvantaged for Paul’s sake (Philemon 17-19), and the apostle now urges him to treat Onesimus in the same way. After all, Philemon loves to refresh the hearts of the saints (cf. Philemon 7), and now he has an opportunity to refresh Paul’s own heart by Onesimus (Philemon 20). Paul himself is hoping to be able to come (with Onesimus) back to Colossae and refresh Philemon (Philemon 22). And those who are with Paul are sending Philemon greetings (Philemon 23-24). Why do believers love to do this? Because we are being conformed to Christ! He Himself gives the final greeting by His apostle (Philemon 25). We do not have goodness and strength in ourselves to give to others, like Jesus does. But, we love to be used by Him to refresh one another, just as He loves to be gracious to us. 

How are you fostering and nourishing your own love for Christ and Christians? Whom have you refreshed recently? Whom do you have opportunity to refresh? What believers have you “lost” in this life? Why haven’t you lost them?

Sample prayer:  Lord, forgive us for how small is our love for one another. We have not loved to refresh one another like we ought to. And often we have had to have been ruled by the commands of authority rather than appeals to our affections. Please make us to be more like Paul and Philemon; indeed, make us to be more like Christ, from Whom true Christian love comes, we ask in His Name, AMEN!

 Suggested songs: ARP197 “Christian Unity” or TPH409 “Blest Be the Tie That Binds”

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