Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow labourer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
[Philemon 1:1-3 NKJV]
The short New Testament book of Philemon, seems like a punctuation mark in the grand line of intensive spiritual truth around it. In my experience it is only rarely referenced by ministry. However, we know that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV], and Paul’s letter to Philemon is therefore no exception.
In its mere 25 verses, we get a valuable insight into the inner processes of Paul’s ministry. We see him building faith and confidence; encouraging and supporting; fine-tuning relationships amongst his ‘workers for Christ’ without condemnation or reproach.
We feel the genuine love and concern; not just for his pupil Onesimus (a onetime slave, deserter and thief), but for Philemon and the other names mentioned. Paul mentions not just Philemon and the small family church of which he is a part, but includes others that Philemon would know, reminding him that there are faithful brothers and sisters beyond his small circle. It is easy to feel isolated and downcast — we all need to know that we are not alone in the difficulty and the struggle. Paul shows that he has no doubt that love and forgiveness will win through, mentioning Jesus’ name seven times in this short message.
This is not the apostle preaching or arguing doctrine or laying out spiritual principles, but putting his belief into practice in a tender, caring and loving way. In many ways this letter speaks every bit as powerfully of Christ as does the great statement that is the book of Hebrews which follows it.
When you are brought face to face with something in God’s word, watch your circumstances: the tyranny of things will either imperil your faith or increase it.