The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Philemon 25. (EHV).
This is the end of the letter to Philemon. As the writer of Madeline might have said, “that’s all there is. There is no more.” There doesn’t need to be. We have sufficient information even as questions remain.
What happened with Philemon and Onesimus? To be honest, we don’t know if Philemon freed Onesimus. We don’t know if Onesimus actually went home. It is possible that he is the man who became a bishop and was later martyred either by stoning or beheading under the Roman emperor Domitian. Philemon, it is believed, also became a bishop, he in the church in Colosse. Again, these are things that are not factually known but are believed throughout the church tradition.
What about Paul? Not long after (within months, perhaps) he was martyred, likely beheaded at a spot just outside the city of Rome. Paul knew this was coming, knew it was the likely outcome of his confinement. Yet, knowing that, it’s profound that Paul ended his short letter by invoking the grace of Jesus to be with his friend. Break that down and consider what Paul was actually saying.
Dictionary.com says that “grace” is “a manifestation of favor, especially by a superior.” Paul invoked the favor of Jesus onto a man who he may have just alienated and angered. He did it knowing that he, himself, would likely soon die the ignoble death of a criminal. He did it knowing that Philemon might resent him, might reject him, might tell him to ‘butt out’ in spite of all the good things Paul had done in ministry.
Because that’s what love does. Love doesn’t fail. Love doesn’t give up, or live in anger, or harbor resentment. The ultimate love in the universe was expressed on the cross through the grace and bleeding, dying love of Jesus. It was in that love that Paul first wrote to Philemon, asking him to go beyond the world in which they lived and forgive a new brother believer.
As the final words Paul would ever share with Philemon, Paul chose to share Jesus’ grace, Jesus’ love, so that Philemon would know this above all else. No matter whether Philemon acceded to Paul’s request or rejected it, Paul spoke God’s love into his friend as the most important thing of all. Can you imagine what we could do in this world, today, if we always did the same?
And that’s where we’ll leave Philemon. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. That’s all there is; there is no more. And it’s more than enough.
For further reading: 1 Corinthians 13
Lord Jesus, all praise to You for Your divine grace, for inspiring Paul to share it down through these centuries, for inspiring us to share it today.