Mar 22 2020

94. The Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon part 3

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The Epistle of St. Paul to Philemon

(Part 3)

Sections of the Epistle:

  • Apostolic greeting: (1-3)
  • St. Paul’s love to his friend Philemon: (4-7; sections 1 and 2 have been published).
  • St. Paul’s appeal with Philemon to accept Onesimus’ return: (8-21)
  • The Conclusion: Request, salutation, and blessing: (22-25)

 (3) St. Paul’s appeal with Philemon to accept Onesimus’ return: (8-21)

The apostle then focuses on the epistle’s primary objective. He started by saying that despite his boldness through Christ, “to command [Philemon] what is fitting,” yet Paul appealed to Philemon “for love’s sake…” since love obliges Philemon to accept Onesimus, especially as the request was coming from the Gentiles’ evangelist.  St. Paul also added to this attribute two facts compelling a positive response to his request!  Those were his old age, which he had reached having spent all his life evangelizing, and his suffering, since he was spending his days as a “prisoner of Jesus Christ.”  His final appeal was for the sake of “my son Onesimus.”

At that point, St. Paul changes the earlier perception of Onesimus as a slave.  Having been led by St. Paul to the faith in Christ, Onesimus is now the son begotten by St. Paul in his chains.  The returning Onesimus is different from the one who had erred and fled: “…. who once was unprofitable to you [contrary to the meaning of his name!] but now is profitable to you and to me.”  Put differently, having converted to the Faith and helped St. Paul in his evangelical endeavours, he would be helpful to Philemon’s service (hence, consistent with the meaning of his name.)  St. Paul then asks Philemon to receive Onesimus, that being much against St. Paul’s wish: “…. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel.  But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary [Put differently, the apostle did not want to keep Onesimus against Philemon’s will, ensuring that Philemon’s acceptance of Onesimus then giving him to Paul be voluntary rather than out of obligation].”  

Here, St. Paul sets the perfect example for dealing with service-related circumstances: it is improper for any situation to cause offence or to lead to strife or disputes – rather, resolution should be sought peaceably.  Servants should respect each other’s feelings, and the spiritual leader should not abuse his/her position by issuing orders uncaringly: love, gentleness and long-suffering should be the norm, thus ensuring that the prevailing loving spirit is neither degraded nor humiliated.

Attempting to underscore the positive aspects which God permitted throughout the incident of Onesimus’ escape and subsequent return to his master, St. Paul wrote to Philemon: “Likely, given that Onesimus has been transformed, and has shifted from his temporary position as a slave, to become eternally attached to you, under our Lord’s control, the omnipotent God, “For perhaps he departed [he did not say “escaped”] for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Our Lord referred to us, His servants, as “brethren,” (Mat. 25:40 and 28:10), and co-heirs with Him of His kingdom; by the same token, Philemon and Onesimus become two brothers under St. Paul’s fatherhood.

St. Paul resumes his message towards realization of his goal that Philemon agrees to accept the transformed Onesimus – he thus says: “If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.”  Put differently, St. Paul is asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as though he were receiving St. Paul.

On the other hand, St. Paul does not ignore the error which Onesimus had committed, inducing him to escape potential punishment.  He thus mediates with Philemon saying, “But if he has wronged you (wrong deed or words) or owes anything, put that on my account.”

In this way, St. Paul made himself a co-culprit with Onesimus – just as our Lord bore our sins.  He continues, promising to rectify matters: “I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay …”  I do not wish to say “that you owe me even your own self besides.”  Put different_ly, through St. Paul’s evangelization, Philemon was introduced to Christ and was thus saved from death.  St. Paul’s mediation is thus powerful, and Philemon is left with no choice other than accepting Onesimus as a brother, turning the page over the entire past, with all its slavery and errors.

Continuing to incite Philemon to accept his mediation, St. Paul says, “Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord [in other words, gladden my heart by a happy ending to this saga]; refresh my heart in the Lord [in other words, my plight suffices me: a shackled prisoner, impeded from any evangelical work other than writing letters].

Finally, he invokes Philemon’s positive attributes, emphasizing his trust in Philemon’s obedience: “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”  This makes it impossible for Philemon to disappoint Paul – he emerges successfully from the test.  The apostle thus affirms his trust in Philemon as a com_mitted servant of the Lord.

(4) Conclusion: a request, salutation and blessing (22-25):

St. Paul did not wait for Philemon to reject his request concerning Onesimus; rather, he proceeded, at the end of his short letter, to address other matters of the service.  He did not consider his imprisonment to be the end of the road.  He hoped that that trial would end, enabling him to resume his struggle, his evangelical work, and his outreach to believers and churches everywhere.  He therefore asks Philemon to “prepare a guest room” for him, that he would use as his headquarters for his service in Colosse, hoping that he would return to serve them, through the prayers of Philemon and the church.

The apostle concludes his letter by conveying salutations from his fellow evangelists being, at that point, headquartered in his Roman prison.  He mentions “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus,” referring to him as the Lord’s prisoner, as though he were chained to Christ through the tie of love, service, and blood of the New Testament.)  He furthermore praises his zeal, in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 4:12.)

He also mentions the names of other servants who had evangelized with him in Colosse and who had visited him in prison (he sent them greetings in his letter to the Colossians sent from prison.)  Hence, Mark (Col. 4:10, one of the seventy, who had evangelized Egypt and north Africa), Aristarchus, (whom he described in his letter to the Colossians as “my fellow prisoner” – Col. 4:10), Demas (Col. 4:14, who had forsaken Paul during his second imprison_ment – 2 Tim. 4:10), and Luke (evangelist and author of the Book of Acts, Paul’s companion throughout most of his trips, and who alone remained with Paul during his second imprisonment prior to his martyrdom – 2 Tim. 4:11.)

He concludes the letter by praying that “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” fills their life.

              (To be contd.)

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Starting from the next issue of “Short Notes on the Bible” the Fellowship, God willing, will be studying the “Epistle to The Hebrews” in more detail.  This Epistle is considered one of the most important books of the “Pauline Epistles”.  It consists of 13 chapters which makes it one of the four longest Pauline epistles.  But this is not the reason of its importance which rather comes from the subjects of the contents of these 13 chapters.  One of its most important subjects, especially in our present time, is the relationship between the two covenants, the old and the new.  From the first verse in it, it becomes clear that both are from the same single source, the One Eternal God.  This verse says,God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the Fathers by the Prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son”Then it continues clarifying the details of this topic.  May our most blessed God make us all benefit abundantly from this study.       

SMOF

urges you to study the Bible and Orthodoxy, and to encourage others to do the same. You may give us the names and addresses of whom you think may benefit from these studies and the Fellowship will send them this newsletter immediately by the method they would like, by regular mail or e-mail.

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