Monday, March 26, 2012
Your Killing Me Philemon
Philemon 1:8-22 The Message
In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ's ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn't hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I'd rather make it a personal request. While here in jail, I've fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he's useful to both of us. I'm sending him back to you, but it feels like I'm cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I'm in jail for the Message. But I didn't want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn't willingly agreed to. Maybe it's all for the best that you lost him for a while. You're getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That's what he was to me—he'll be even more than that to you. So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don't need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You'll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good. I know you well enough to know you will. You'll probably go far beyond what I've written. And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again.
So here's the deal. There was an unproductive slave (that I have always thought to be lazy) who ran away. His name was Onesimus and at some point he met up with Paul, heard the Gospel and was saved. Onesimus attended to Paul's needs for a while and the two men became close friends. Then Paul sent Onesimus back to his owner - a guy named Philemon who was also Paul's friend. This letter makes me laugh...Paul says stuff like "I could order you but instead I am asking you", which is where I read "DON'T MAKE ME ORDER YOU". Paul says he will cover the mans debt and adds "I don't need to remind you about the debt you owe me do I" and I read "YOU OWE ME TOO - I AM REMINDING YOU" Is Paul using guilt in this letter to his friend? I can just picture Onesimus showing up with this letter - probably nervous and rightfully so. God had done mighty things in his life, but there was still the matter of the earthly consiquence for earthly actions prior to salvation. I can also see Philemon reading this letter and shaking his head, maybe rolling his eyes a bit and straining a small smile - because that is exactly what I would do.
The truth is I have an Onesimus in my life. No. This person was not my slave, but they were in my life and they did prove "useless" to me. I have little patience for people who claim Christ and then spit in His face with an unchanged life and character that in no way speaks to the salvation they claim. This person was harmful to me and to my family. They went out of their way to be ugly in my specific direction, excluding and cruel. Where my Onesimus stands with God right now I do not know. I don't wish them harm or hell, but I have wished that we would never have to share space again on this side of heaven. I also have someone in my life that in many ways is my Paul. I love her, I treasure her, she has invested in me and extended grace to me. She is friends with my Onesimus - though I have often wondered why! How would I feel and what would I do if my friend sent me this type of letter? If my friend said to me, "Count their debt as my debt, I will cover their obligations; welcome them, embrace them, forgive them, love them" what would I do really? Roll my eyes and shake my head - yeah that would probably happen. But I would think about it, I would pray over it and I am guessing that in the end the Holy Spirit and I would agree that there was work still to be done and the work that is needed is in me.
So, do I wait for the letter from my "Paul", or do I simply apply the truth of the original and agree right now with what God is whispering in my ear? What do you think?