Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Proper 18 (23) (September 4, 2016)
- First reading and Psalm
- Jeremiah 18:1-11
- Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
- Second reading
Philemon 1-21 | New Living Translation (NLT)
This letter is from Paul, a prisoner for preaching the Good News about Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy.
I am writing to Philemon, our beloved co-worker, and to our sister Apphia, and to our fellow soldier Archippus, and to the church that meets in your house.
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.
That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from me—Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.
I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison. Onesimus hasn’t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart.
I wanted to keep him here with me while I am in these chains for preaching the Good News, and he would have helped me on your behalf.But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent. I wanted you to help because you were willing, not because you were forced. It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, PAUL, WRITE THIS WITH MY OWN HAND: I WILL REPAY IT. AND I WON’T MENTION THAT YOU OWE ME YOUR VERY SOUL!
Yes, my brother, please do me this favor for the Lord’s sake. Give me this encouragement in Christ.
I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more!
Here we have the shortest of Paul’s letters, co-written with Timothy. So short that the entire contents is presented to us today. It is less than 500 words. If typed in Microsoft Word in Times New Roman 12 pt. font with 1″ margins, it would take just one page.
This brief letter appears to be written to Philemon and several of his co-laborers and to the house church that they led. Paul and Timothy use a typical greeting – I love Paul’s salutations, “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” We often think of that as a benediction rather than an opening. What if we greeted each other that way? What difference would it make. He ends the letter the same way.
Following the salutation, Paul writes something again that is very typical for his letters. It is a prayer for Philemon and thanksgiving for the way that the Lord is working in his life. We learn that Philemon is a faithful believer – that he is generous, that he loves people, and that he is kind – showing the love of Jesus to the people.
After that prayer is where the letter gets interesting. It takes a different turn than Paul’s other letters. Paul now makes a rather urgent appeal on behalf of Onesimus. Paul calls him my child. It looks like Paul has been doing some discipling of his own while in prison – in chains for the gospel. It appears that Onesimus at some point in the past ran away from Philemon and we aren’t given any background on that. From what we can gather from Paul, it doesn’t seem like he was much of a servant and really not worth much. Paul states that Onesimus wasn’t much use to you in the past.
Apparently the discipling that Paul has been doing has caused a great chance in Onesimus’ heart – so much so that Paul would rather keep him to help in the work of furthering the gospel, but Paul know that wouldn’t be right. It would be wrong to keep another man’s servant. It appears from what we can gather that Onesimus is willing to go back, but I would guess that he is just a little concerned to go back because of the circumstances under which he left. Paul is writing this letter on his behalf and as a Christian brother asking Philemon to accept Onesimus back – but not as a slave or a servant – because Onesimus is willing to come back – but as a beloved brother in Christ – Paul says he is now a man, I beleive meaning that Onesimus has matured. Paul goes one more step and asks Philemon to accept Onesimus as Philemon would accept Paul.
What a great picture of the body of Christ – what a great picture of what Christ has done for us. We ran away from God, but Christ pursued us. Through the work of the cross and the power of the resurrection and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have been welcomed back into the family – we have matured. Sometimes we think that God might not want us back, but Jesus has “written” to him on our behalf and now we are called sons and daughters – we are brothers and sisters – we are co-workers in the cause of Christ.
Going back to Paul’s original words about grace. Onesimus has received quite a gift from Paul. Now Paul is asking that Philemon extend grace to Onesimus and receive him back as not a slave but a brother in Christ. So many times it is easy to get our feelings hurt – believe me I am talking as one and the same. I wear my feelings on my sleeves. Yet Christ is asking us to extend grace to those who need it – and who doesn’t need grace? We are even asked to extend grace to those who have hurt us in the past – that’s hard and yet it is what Christ did for us – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). We were enemies of the God and God extended us grace through Christ. It doesn’t get anymore sobering than that.
Who do you need to extend grace to today?