Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote more of the New Testament than any other writer. Four of his writings are personal letters. However, Philemon differs from the other three, in that it is neither doctrinal, nor written for general church instruction. In a nutshell the apostle is demonstrating what the intercessory work of Jesus is all about as He sits at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, THE MOST HOLY PLACE, or Holy of Holies, as some translations render it.

      Onesimus, a slave, apparently stole from his owner, Philemon, and ran away. He ran across Paul and converted to Christianity. Being consistent with his teachings in his various writings, Paul convinces Onesimus to return to Philemon, his owner. It appears Paul had great influence over Philemon, a church leader, and uses it on behalf of Onesimus. Writing from a jail cell in an unspecified city – maybe Rome – Paul writes a brief, but compelling letter, to Philemon.

      A few words concerning ancient slavery is in order. Slavery was universal. Aristotle, one of the most enlightened of the Greeks, held that the Creator had made the majority of the human race for slavery. Even the Mosiac law permitted this relation, but mitigated the condition of the slave by protective regulations which made Jewish slavery by far the mildest in the world. Under Roman law a slave was not considered a man, but was chattel, with no civil rights. The slave was totally at the mercy of his master. (notes in this paragraph are from The People's New Testament with notes by B. W. Johnson, Vol. II, pg. 292, pub. 1889. Brief quotes are permitted).

      Setting forth bold hints from beginning to end of his letter, Paul gives convincing reasons for Philemon to free Onesimus so he can be Paul's helper. Paul even promises to pay Philemon what ever Onesimus owes him! Paul does not pointedly ask Philemon to free Onesimus. However Philemon has to realize it because of the subtle, gentle and compelling pressure Paul applies.

      True to Paul's style, he continues with a lighthearted play on words. The slaves's name Onesimus means "useful". To lighten up on the deadly serious topic of runaway slaves, Paul continues with, " . . once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me." [vs 11 (NKJV)]. I am using modern day jargon in quoting Paul: he concludes with, " . . what ever he owes you, put that on my account, but don't forget you owe me." (vs 18,19).

      This letter to Philemon is a model of tact and delicacy. Luther calls it "a charming and masterly example of Christian love". Though not recorded, it is very possible that Paul had visited the church in Colosse, during his 3 years in Ephesus. (Refer to Acts 19). The implication is that Philemon is a man of some means, and the Colosse church met in his home. It seems he and Paul were intimate friends.

      It is very possible that Paul's letter to Philemon and the one to the church in Colossae were written at the same time, and sent by the same messenger: the one to a particular inhabitant - Philemon; but the other to the church in Colosse - Colossians. The names of Aristarchus, Marcus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas are mentioned in both letters. 

      This letter of intercession by Paul on behalf of Onesimus is a beautiful picture of Jesus' intercessory act as He sits at the right hand of God in Heaven, the Most Holy Place. Paul is following a higher example, even of Him Who found us wondering from our duty and our Father's house, and is pleading for our restoration, with His own suffering, and His own precious blood.      

     Just a Thought Across The Garden Gate by Parson Don. 



                                                                                                         Updated March 9, 2015
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