Week 4 – Philemon: “RECONCILER”
Devotions written by Mikel Porter
Introduction: Paul’s letter to Philemon is a plea for him to show mercy to Onesimus, his runaway slave. Onesimus found his way to Paul and came to know Christ. Onesimus’ status was the lowest one could reach in the ancient world. As a runaway slave, he wasn’t protected by any laws and was subject to all manner of abuse. Upon return to their owners, slaves were frequently beaten unmercifully or put to tasks in which their life expectancy was short. Paul must have put Philemon in a precarious position in pleading for forgiveness and restitution for Onesimus. Paul defies Roman tradition and in his plea, gives new dignity to the slave class. In Christ, all are equal. Paul challenges Christ-followers like Philemon to live according to Christ’s Kingdom.
This salutation to Philemon departs from Paul’s usual greetings in his letters. Paul knows he is asking something significant from Philemon and strategically builds his greeting to help the cause. Paul starts with his situation in life—a prisoner for Jesus Christ, a sufferer on behalf of the gospel. The fact that he is in prison and suffering for the Gospel lends weight to his appeal to the slave owner. He also mentions Timothy, a well-recognized young steward of the Gospel. Paul addresses Philemon and his wife, Apphia, because, as is customary, she has the day-to-day responsibility for the slaves. Paul mentions Archippus, a leader in the community and perhaps a pastor, as well as the church that met in Philemon’s home. Paul hopes Philemon will hear his appeal and forgive Onesimus, but he includes those of the believing community to help guide Philemon if need be.
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