Over the next several days we are going to read the Apostle Paul’s shortest letter that we have: Philemon. In fact in the Greek text it only has 335 words (the NIV translation makes it 504 words) so within a few minutes we can read the whole letter easily and maybe that would be a good thing for us to do right now.
It is a letter which teaches us the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
But it is also a letter which we are reading that was not addressed to us. There are so many theories and dramatic stories that have been added on top of this letter. It is obviously impossible to say how accurate they are when they begin with ‘probably ….’
But to those who read it and hear it being read they know the background story and they know the people mentioned in the letter.
“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philemon 1-3)
Paul is just Paul. This is one of those few occasions when writing that he introduces himself without a title. There are many times when we have to stop flexing the muscles and realise that we are not as important as the one who has the greatest title, “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” If we need people to see HIM then there are times we need to get out of the way. But neither do we want people to focus on how tough life is for us. Paul doesn’t say he is a prisoner of Rome, but a prisoner of Jesus. There’s a lesson right here: We don’t serve our circumstances, we serve Jesus Christ, in a set of circumstances whatever they may be. “Don’t look at my prison but look at the person I am following.” A victim mentality is reserved for those who are not disciples of Jesus.
Paul has a friend and worker. But first who is Apphia our sister? Was that simply because she was a believer or was she indeed a ‘sister’ of the household (some say Philemon’s wife)? And who is Archippus, our fellow soldier? The NIV has a hyphen which make it look like the church are meeting in Philemon’s house but maybe with no hyphen it was the house of Archippus and Philemon was the leader of the Church? Whoever these 2 people were it was important for Paul to mention them and to set them apart from the rest of the Church. (Some say she was Philemon’s wife and he was his son … another probably)
Important that those two are, our attention is drawn immediately to “Our dear friend and fellow worker”, Philemon. Some have friends who are not sharing the work. Some have workers who are not friends. Paul had both. If you have both then you know how blessed you are.
Paul has a prayer. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
How often we read right past this sentence which appears in all his letters so much so that it becomes known as just the way he opens or signs off his letters. And yet we miss important truths if we do.
- This prayer of blessing comes from God. Grace and Peace will not come from anything Paul brings but from God Himself. It is important to realise that if we are going to be blessed it will not be man blessing us but God. We need to remind ourselves of that whether we are the giver or the receiver.
- This prayer of blessing points to that wonderful blessing of Numbers 6, “May the Lord be gracious to you and give you peace.” Paul uses the Greek greeting of GRACE (Charis) and the Hebrew PEACE (Shalom) purposely because the blessing is to fall on all peoples whatever cultural ethnicity and background.
- This prayer of blessing comes from God and is found in Christ Jesus. There is no relationship with God without Jesus. This favour is because of Jesus.
May we discover important truths over these next several days.