Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 18 October 2019

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.

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Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 17 October 2019

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.  Philemon 23-24. (EHV).

The closing of this brief letter gives it credibility.   Paul included the names of his friends in the letter to Philemon for a number of reasons.

It was a way to send their greetings; practically speaking, that’s the foremost reason.   In the first century, other than word of mouth, this was the only way to send greetings.

It was a way to give his bold letter some depth.   One can assume Paul wouldn’t have mentioned these men if they hadn’t known what he was saying in the letter.   With that in mind, it could then also be assumed that they likely concurred with Paul’s request (to free Onesimus).  Otherwise, they may not have consented to Paul even mentioning them.  By including their names, Paul was indicating that consent.

It provides historic reference.   Mark and Luke went on to write two of the four Gospels.   It is believed that Epaphras was a member of the young church in Colosse and would have been known to Philemon.  It is also believed that Aristarchas was a fellow Christian who, like Paul, was martyred under Nero.   As for Demas, it is thought that this is the man who later deserted Paul and went to Thessolonica, site of another new church.  Demas, it is believed, fell away from the faith.

Yet for Paul to mention these people in this small letter meant that he was providing markers in the historical timeline for Philemon (and us) to reference.   Indeed, it isn’t unusual for things like this to occur all the way through the Bible.   They make it one of the most referenced and historically accurate books from all of antiquity.   They refute those who would say the Bible is untrue.

And that could very well be Paul’s unwitting final reason for including the names here.   Paul probably didn’t think that people would be reading his mail two thousand years later yet here we are doing just that.   His inclusion of the names of his contemporaries provides proof that both he and they actually existed.   They are names God wanted Paul to include so that we might find credibility in the amazing request that Paul makes of his friend.   And they’re a lesson for us to learn when we’re so far removed from those ancient times.

For further reading:  2 Timothy 4:8-10, Philemon 24

Lord God, thank You for including the names of these men so that my questioning heart would not question Your perfect words.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 16 October 2019

And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.  Philemon 22 (EHV).

Audacious and bold:  is it audacious and bold for Paul to ask his friend, Philemon, to free his slave, then to ask for room and board?  Would you do it?   Would I?   Should we?

Fact is, Jesus ALWAYS calls us to be bold in Him.   Apart from Him, we can do nothing.   We can’t breathe.   We can’t plan for success.   We can’t feed ourselves, or fight off evil, or even get up in the morning.   Apart from Jesus, we are utterly lost in every way imaginable.

Yet in Him, everything is possible.  Those things we can’t do:   they’re possible.   Those things we can only dream of doing?   Possible.   Those things that seem impossible?   Completely possible, completely plausible, completely within our grasp.

The key is faith.   Ask in faith and He will grant what we need, which is always best.   What’s more, we should be bold, be audacious, in our faith.   We should boldly ask God for what matters most to us.   Boil away the dross of the world and most people will find that what matters most isn’t worldly, isn’t physical, isn’t material.   The things that matter most are the matters of the heart, where faith moves us.   When we ask Him for those things from our heart, He answers.

It mattered greatly to Paul that he be able to travel to see his fellow believers, one of whom was Philemon.   Paul earnestly hoped to be free from Roman imprisonment so he could return to Asia Minor to see the churches where he had served.   After boldly asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus the escaped slave, Paul, then, boldly asks Philemon to also open his home.  It wasn’t just Paul’s desire:   from the verse, it was apparently also Philemon’s.   So Paul ‘calls’ him on it, asking him to grant this additional blessing of personally sharing hospitality.

Bold?   You bet.  Yet it mattered because Paul was asking this in faith, not just for himself but for the spiritual enrichment of Philemon as well.  He had asked for the freedom of Onesimus not just for Onesimus, but also for the spiritual growth of Philemon, of everyone who would hear this amazing account.   In faith, anything was possible, even the unwarranted emancipation of a fugitive slave.  In granting that, Philemon would be demonstrating practical mercy and forgiveness in a way nothing else could.   It was something the Lord would have asked, or done.

You and I are called to show that kind of boldness.   In Him, even the boldest and most audacious things become likely.

For further reading:  Matthew 7:7, Matthew 19:26, John 15:5, Acts 4:13, 2 Corinthians 1:11, Philippians 1:24, Hebrews 13:19, Philemon 23

King Jesus, bless me to be bold in You and for You today.   Put words in my mouth to act out the love Your Spirit puts in my heart

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 15 October 2019

I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.  Philemon 20-21. (EHV).

Let’s get it out there:   Paul is NOT asking for money.   In the era of Clintonesque wording, it’s understandable that some would say “refresh my heart” would mean “send me money.”   But Paul wasn’t a shakedown artist.   He was an apostle of Jesus, asking a deep favor from a good friend and fellow devout believer.

So, instead of cynicism, how about we consider being refreshed in the Lord?   I’ll admit:   that’s a tall order for me today.   I’m tired after a wonderfully busy wedding weekend trip to Virginia.  But it left me physically tired; oh, and I caught a cold.   As I write this, I’m battling the cough and my urge to catch a few zzz’s.  Some refreshment would be wonderful, preferably NOT from the ‘fruit of the vine.’

Knowing that, it’s a beautiful thing to consider the faith of others, to consider how our prayers, thoughts and actions can build up others.   It’s even more beautiful to consider how others’ prayers, thoughts and actions build us up.   My wife and I left last Wednesday and drove all night to Asheville, NC.   We toured the Biltmore, then stayed the night and drove into Richmond the next day.   There, we met family, attended the rehearsal party and joined in the fray.   Saturday was the wedding and it was a GREAT time!   We got back to the house about 11 PM, got a few hours of sleep, and then hit the road at 0500 on Sunday.   That day, we drove to Indiana to do a quick visit with family there, to pick up some wine at a local winery, and then headed home.   Exhausting?   You bet.

But it’s AMAZING when I consider how none of it was possible without God’s favor refreshing our attitudes, clearing the roads, preventing calamities, and keeping us safe.   None of this quick, fantastic trip could have happened if God hadn’t refreshed us with His constant presence, His constant protection from the evil one and his forces of chaos that are always on the attack.   It’s amazing to consider that there were friends and even strangers in other places praying for us, praying that we would enjoy ourselves and make it home safe.

Which we did.   Because we were refreshed and made anew by Jesus.  Ailing, tired, or not, THAT matters more.

Today, when you’re going through your busy day, take a few minutes to consider how the prayers, love, and words of others refresh you.   And then pray a prayer of thanks to God for making it all happen.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:18, 2 Corinthians 2:3, Philemon 22.

Thank You, Lord, for refreshing my spirit through this life You gave me.   Thank You for the prayers and love of the people around me.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 9 October 2010.

I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.  Philemon 19 (EHV).

“I’m writing this in my own hand” is a strange thing to say in a friendly letter, but Paul says it anyway.   It was a way of personally verifying that the letter was, in fact, written by him.  If you think about it, in the first century, there probably wouldn’t have been any other way to say or do something, publicly and in writing, that would verify in such a way.  Paul often dictated his letters, but on this, most likely because he was asking such an unusual thing, he wanted personal authenticity.

Yet the most amazing thing about this verse is the second sentence.  “You owe me your very self” is a massive boast.  Most likely it goes back to when Philemon became a believer.   Biblehub reminds us that Philemon was a wealthy man whereas Paul was the person in need.  Yet in this extraordinary book it is Paul who assumes the upper hand, doing so on moral and spiritual (rather than financial) grounds.  It makes sense, then , since Paul was the person who first brought the world of Christ to Philemon, Paul would make such a claim as “you owe me your life.”

I suppose that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Can you make that boast to anyone?   Are you the Apostle Paul to someone’s spiritual Philemon?   People are always saying that we don’t always know the effect we have on other people.   We should live out our lives genuinely, not in two-faced or double-minded ways, so that people see Christ when they see us.   A friend of mine said (of his seminary years) that he and his fellow students often held second jobs when they were putting themselves through seminary.   Many of them worked in construction and blue collar trades.   One of his professors reminded them that they should live their lives in their second jobs so as to not make it difficult to believe they were studying to be pastors in their primary jobs.   Walk the walk and talk the talk because others are watching.

If we’re believers, it should show because what we say and do affects others.   We may just be the one person in someone’s life who brings them to Christ, who shares Jesus in such a way that it’s life-changing for them.  For me, that person was my uncle.   And my pastor-friend that I mentioned above (any of my pastor friends, actually).   And my aunt, who reminded me in a dark time, to keep faith and keep writing these blogs.  I owe them my very life, both in the spiritual and even physical senses.  I was once desperate too even when I didn’t know it.

For further reading:  1 Corinthians 16:21, Philemon 20

Lord Jesus, teach me again today to live in ways that show off my faith in You.   Others are watching.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 8 October 2019

If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  Philemon 18 (EHV).

Imagine going out of your way to take on the penalty for someone else’s wrongdoing.   That’s the practical basis of Christianity; we know this.

Now imagine going to a store (like Tyler Perry did) and paying off someone’s layaway debts.   Imagine getting your neighbor’s credit card statement, then calling their company to pay them off.  Imagine standing in front of a sentencing judge and saying “I’ll go to prison instead of the convicted.”  Imagine standing in the Ypres trenches in 1915 and telling your fellow soldier, “you stay here when we storm the other trenches.   I’ll go instead of you.”

Imagine being the Apostle Paul, writing to a slaveholder named Philemon, whose slave was returning to him.  Imagine Paul saying “whatever he owes you, charge me and I’ll pay.”   Or, “whatever punishment you (rightfully) want to inflict on him, inflict on me instead.”   Imagine thinking that through, then saying it anyway.

Just like Jesus.

Because that’s what Paul is saying here.    In a way, he’s doubling down on his request for Philemon to accept Onesimus as an equal in Christian faith.  Paul is putting muscle behind that request.   Yet then Paul makes the extraordinary statement guaranteeing Onesimus’ return and making himself vouchsafe for it.   It’s like Jacob sending one of his sons to Egypt (at his other unknown son, Joseph’s, request).   It’s like George Bailey putting up his own money as makeshift collateral during the bank run.   It’s like Jesus stepping in at the moment you’re judged for your sins and saying “not guilty.   I paid the price.”

Imagine that.

Can you imagine yourself doing something like that?  To be honest, I can’t.  I probably wouldn’t do it; I’m selfish.   There are many excuses, even reasons, I can give you why I wouldn’t do this.   But they typically boil down to my personal selfishness.  Kudos to you if you can say differently because you’re more like Paul & Jesus.

Yet Paul is calling Philemon (and you and me) to actually be more like Jesus.  He is calling us to be willing to do whatever we have to do to ensure someone else’s well-being.   It’ll likely be uncomfortable; it will probably cost us dearly; it may even take our lives.

Paul is saying, “I’ll do it anyway.”   Just like Jesus did.

Today, when you can help someone else by showing them a little grace, do it anyway.   Do it to help them because they can’t help themselves.  Do it for Jesus’ sake.

For further reading:  Genesis 43:9, Philemon 19

Lord Jesus, graceful Savior, help me to do this anyway, to serve someone else by assuming their burdens today.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon 7 October 2019

So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  Philemon 17 (EHV).

Here, in verse 17, Paul makes his most blunt, reasoned, and faith-filled personal appeal yet.   “If this, then that.”   He bluntly asks Philemon to treat his escaped slave the same as he would the most famous apostle in the faith.   “If you believe as I do, then do me this honor.”   “If your faith means to you what mine means to me, then forgive him.”  Having made groundwork arguments for why this should be done, Paul confidently asks what’s on his heart.

In welcoming Paul, Philemon would be welcoming both Onesimus AND Jesus.  Logically, that’s a stretch; it may even be a logical fallacy because C does not necessarily equal A if A equals B.   Yet, as a matter of practical faith, it IS true.   When Jesus lives through us, others see Him when they see us.    When we think, say, and do God-pleasing things, we are sharing Jesus, people are receiving Jesus, Jesus is being advanced, Jesus is at work.   Paul knows this; so did Philemon.

It was true then; it’s true now.  And it’s the best reason we can give to another person as to why they should do something for us.   It’s making the ‘Jesus argument.’

Paul wouldn’t have done this lightly.   He had received this famous introduction from Jesus, one on one, in the middle of the Syrian desert.   It shook Paul to his core, and it became the starting point on his faith journey that saw so many new churches planted.   Paul was known for his serious approach to matters of faith; it was a very real thing.  The epistles he wrote that are left for us testify to this.  This was a serious matter, one in which Paul put his friendship with Philemon on the line.

Perhaps you’re being called to do that today in your life.   Is there a relationship in your life that is suffering, or needs God’s help (hint:   they all do)?  Is there something bothering you that you need to talk about?   Is there a favor that you need to ask but you need Jesus’ strength, peace, and help to get it done?   In Christ all things are possible.

Bridge the gap; mend your fences; make the move.  Let go of the grudge and let God.   Be the peacemaker when peace has broken down.  If there is a relationship in your life that matters and there’s something about it that you need to address, then do it today.   First go to God and ask for His help, then go to the other person and say the words.   Do it in love; do it in respect; do it in faith and submission to the other person.   Do what Paul did.

For further reading:  Matthew 19:26, 2 Corinthians 8:23, Philemon 18

Lord Jesus, I need Your help today in my life in dealing with this relationship.   Help me today.