Philemon 8-10a - Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus ....
Philemon seems to have been a fairly well-off Christian man with a family and a house large enough for the local Christian church to meet in it. He also apparently had slaves—including a young man named Onesimus. By the sounds of it, Onesimus ran away from his master Philemon, possibly stealing some money at the same time. By some miracle—how? God knows how—Onesimus wound up in contact with Paul, who was in prison for Jesus' sake. Paul taught Onesimus about Jesus, and soon Onesimus was a believer. Then the two of them agreed that it was time for him to go home and face the music.
That had to be scary. What would Philemon do, faced with his runaway slave and thief? They couldn't be sure. But Paul put his trust in the Holy Spirit who was working in Philemon's heart, and he wrote this short letter for Onesimus to take back with him.
If you haven't done it yet, read the whole letter. It's very short. Paul explains that he has come to know and love Onesimus as his own child, and is now sending him home, asking Philemon to "receive him as you would receive me" (verse 17). What! Receive a runaway with the same welcome he would give to Paul himself? But Paul asks for more than that. He says, "If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account ... I will repay it"—which must have made Philemon's head spin. He even hints—no, more than hints—that Philemon should set Onesimus free: "This perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother" (verses 18, 15-16).
Now let's be realistic. This just plain isn't happening. In the world we live in, nobody forgives like that. Nobody takes in a thief and a runaway without punishment—no, even promoting them to the status of one of the family!
But it seems to have happened. There are traces in history of an early church leader named Onesimus—a bishop. If this is the same man, it seems likely that Philemon did exactly what Paul asked—he did the impossible and loved Onesimus with the love of Jesus Christ.
How could this happen? One reason only—because the Holy Spirit was working in Philemon's heart to bring him into conformity with the nature of Jesus. After all, Jesus is the One who lay down His life for us who were His enemies, and who rose from the dead to give us everlasting life. If He can love like that, He can create that kind of love in us as well. It's never easy. But it is possible—because it is Jesus working.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, work in my heart to make it more like Yours. Amen.
This Daily Devotion was written by Dr. Kari Vo.
1. When did someone show you undeserved mercy or kindness?
2. What is one impossible conflict you would like to ask God for help in?
3. Write or say a prayer about that conflict, asking God to work in the hearts of the people involved.
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