So Paul’s letter to Philemon comes to an end. He hasn’t mentioned the cross and the resurrection of Christ. It is the only letter where he doesn’t. Yet it is a letter regarding the outworking of what Jesus Christ did. This is the application of the gospel message. Will Philemon forgive and be reconciled to Onesimus not as master and slave but as a brother in the Lord?
“And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 22-25)
(The letter was written in Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome around AD59-62. He would be released and there are substantial reasons that Paul continued to travel for a few more years as far as Spain. He would then be captured around AD68 and be held in prison until his death where he writes 2 Timothy)
As he closes this letter to Philemon we find the following:
- He believes he will be released.
He is telling Philemon to make his decision about Onesimus and be ready because he could turn up tomorrow! He has hope to be restored to Philemon just as he hopes Onesimus will be restored also.
- He knows his release will be in answer to prayer.
Paul knows that his release would come not because the rulers of Rome showed clemency but in direct answer to the prayers of many people, including Philemon.
- He knows it will come as a grace from God
He is in prison waiting for justice from Rome and yet trusting in the grace of God to set him free. His letter to Philemon is appealing for grace where justice is expected.
What was the decision? Did Philemon set his slave free?
We don’t know. But let me share one ‘probably’. The reason why Philemon has made it into our Bibles could have been because of Onesimus. The bishop of Ephesus in AD 110 was a man named Onesimus. If he was in his teens or early twenties then that would have made him aged 70yrs which was a good age to be a bishop at that time. It’s a probably, but a nice one.
However, one final thought:
- Jesus has told us to get ready for His coming.
- He will come in response to our prayers, “Come Lord Jesus Come”
- Our lives are set in the community of believers (Philemon’s household of faith and Paul’s friends Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke.)
- We are to live in the light of that working out the grace of Christ in our forgiveness and reconciliation of one another.