Verses 3-5- "Grace to you,
and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God,
making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith,
which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;
Philemon is known to have a bond of love to Christ and to Paul and the other believers. Love is wonderful, but sometimes in this life it gets put to the test. That is what is happening to Philemon. Paul encourages him to meet the test:
Verse 6- "That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing that is in you in Christ Jesus."
If Jesus is in you, sooner or later, you will be called on to communicate the love of Jesus to someone in need. This is how we acknowledge that we know Christ and that He fills us. This is where spirituality gets real and practical and sometimes very difficult.
Verse 7- "For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.
It's possible to start hoping others will fail their test of love, so that
you or I can look a bit more spiritual. Paul avoids all that and continues
to encourage Philemon. But now Philemon's test begins:
Verses 8- "Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,"
An unusual and uncomfortable situation has come up, and the Apostle says first that he has every right to dictate to Philemon exactly how to handle this set of circumstances...but Paul doesn't pontificate. Listen to what he says next:
Verse 9- "Yet for love's sake I rather beseech thee, being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ."
So he sort of does pull rank on Philemon, but only to encourage him to show love. Paul used his authority in the Church "for love's sake." Keep listening to him:
Verse 10- "I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds."
This is just weird. It's really embarrassing for the church. This is an issue that has always plagued a society. Philemon had a slave, or indentured servant named Onesimus. Onesimus apparently could not accept his low position in life and ran away from Philemon, which was illegal to do in their day and culture (see I Tim 6:1-2). But now, Paul has met Onesimus in prison, witnessed to him of Christ, and he has become a believer. The conflict between these two believers, Philemon and Onesimus, emerges. Beloved, I want you to see how Paul handles this conflict, how he faces it head on and yet, how gently he applies Christ's love to the problem:
Verses 11-12- "Which (means Onesimus) in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:"
When Paul says his bowels he means his heart. He loves Onesimus and in Christ the two have become one. Of course the Apostle has a similar relationship with Philemon. This is a conflict worthy of any we are having today in our contemporary Church. But Paul understood what we often fail to see today. Conflicts need to be faced, not avoided or concealed. Unresolved conflict brings only resentment and a false, temporary sense of peace. It does not lead us to God's true Love. Too often we just run from our conflicts, start a "new church" or denomination, avoid individuals, etc. We in the Church are actually hiding today from many of our major conflicts. This keeps the Church disjointed and weak. This is because we don't have the kind of faith that Paul had in the power of the Love of the Lord. By grace, Paul is bold and confident:
Verses 13-20- "Whom (Onesimus) I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel: But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but now how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore as a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou owest unto me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord."
Paul has real hope that the brothers will work things out in the Lord. I'm not saying it was easy to face conflicts back then, and I know personally that it is not easy now. But the hope that Love will reign within the church truly does refresh the heart and give joy. Of course we rely on God for so much, and rightfully so, but this is a joy we can help bring to each other. Our unity can even spread the joy of the Lord to the entire planet (see John 13:35).
There is no short-cut to unity and giving up, running, hiding or faking is not an option. Paul is showing us the kind of faith it took to have one united Church of believers in his day. And they did! Could the Lord expect any less from us today? He's getting far less, and so are we. Listen to Paul as we close with verse 21. It wasn't the absence of conflict that made their Church great. It was their victory of Love over it.
Verse 21- "Having confidence
in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more
than I say."