Monday in the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Philemon 1-25

The Emancipation Proclamation of the Bible

I hope my readers will forgive me if I take the books of the New Testament out of order on this one occasion.  Paul’s letter to Philemon is so closely related to his letter to the church at Colossae that it naturally follows in a study.  It is generally assumed that Philemon is last among Paul’s letters because it is shortest consisting of only one chapter.  But we shall take it after Colossians since Paul refers to “Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother,” in Colossians 4:9, who is the runaway slave of Philemon (Philemon 10).  And as Onesimus is described as “one of you” in Colossians, it is to be assumed that Philemon is one of the members of the Colossian church as well.  Thus, as we are still dealing with that church, it seems natural to take Philemon after Colossians.

I have said before that Paul’s letter to Philemon is the Bible’s “Emancipation Proclamation.”  Indeed, given the gospel’s natural tendency to tear down barriers and create fellowship among believers, as well as its focus on eternal matters over that of the world and the flesh, it is simply in the DNA of the gospel that slavery as an institution be destroyed.  And what is truly significant in America and Europe is not that slavery existed just a short time ago (as it has all over the world from time immemorial), but that it was abolished, and that because of the tireless efforts of Christian people.  Granted, Paul told slaves to obey their masters, but he also told masters to be kind to their slaves.  In doing so, the Apostle truly set the stage for the hideous institution’s ultimate demise.

One thing that makes Paul’s letter to Philemon different from all his others is that it is a personal letter.  He does address the church in verse two, but it is obvious that he is speaking to this one man throughout the rest of the letter.  Indeed, Paul provides us with a model of deference, discretion, and diplomacy as he charts his way to Philemon’s heart.  Onesimus had run away from Philemon’s service in Colossae and through God’s providence found his way to Paul in prison at Rome or Ephesus or Caesarea (we’re not sure).  He came to saving faith and was now serving Paul in the ministry.  However, knowing Philemon as a dear brother in Christ, Paul did not think it right that Onesimus should stay with him without Philemon’s blessing, which would have indeed been an act of deceit.  Apparently Onesimus agreed as he returned to Philemon perhaps carrying this letter.  Paul delicately urges Philemon to release Onesimus as a slave and to receive him as he really is, a brother in Christ Jesus, and to return him to Paul’s service.  We may assume that Philemon did so for in a later writing from about A.D. 110, a man named Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria, was being taken to Rome for execution for his faith.  On his way, he wrote several letters to churches in the empire, including one to the Bishop of Ephesus—Onesimus.  Was this the Onesimus in the New Testament?  It is impossible to say with complete assurance, but the conjecture is not improbable.  If so, what a wonderful story—an emancipated slave turned bishop long after the Apostle’s death upon his urging to a slave-owner.  The gospel truly changes hearts and makes miracles happen.

Author: The Reformed Baptist

My name is Stephen Taylor, ordained Baptist minister of eighteen years pastoral experience with a Ph.D. in Historical Theology from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Better than that, I am married to a godly woman, Karla, who has been very patient with me since 1989. I have two daughters, both of whom I homeschooled for extended periods of time, who became godly young women, and who ran off and married godly young men, all of which is very proper. The oldest daughter has even seen fit to bless me with a grandson and a granddaughter, and my youngest daughter with a grandson, all three of whom are bundles of exceeding joy. As you can see, I am quite blessed. This website is dedicated to helping people grow in the wisdom and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ through the gift of writing that the Lord has given to me. It is specifically about helping His people grow in godliness, the theme you see repeated above. I write devotions with this aim and hope that they might be of some help to God’s people. Full disclosure: I am of a Reformed bent, meaning that my understanding of Scripture is primarily informed by the Reformers and their successors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, as a student of church history and theology, I strive to remain true to that teaching handed down once for all unto the saints through every age of the Church. I like to think of myself as a “catholic” Christian, as the Reformers thought of themselves. At any rate, feel free to read, pray, and contact me if you wish, or correct me if need be. As you can see, I tend to follow the church year. Of course, I make no special claims about these devotions. I know very well that others have written better and plumbed the depths of God’s word with greater insight. But if my musings help someone draw closer to the Lord, well then, I have my reward. Blessings to you and may the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ speak to you that word which He knows you especially need to hear. Grace & peace, Stephen Taylor

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