As recorded in Acts 19, Paul spent about two years in Asia Minor, ministering to the people in Ephesus and the surrounding cities. Many came to saving faith, including a wealthy slaveowner from Colossae named Philemon. They became very close, as Paul called him a beloved brother, and a fellow worker in the Lord—on par with Paul’s traveling companions.
These were the team Tychicus and Onesimus had only recently left in order to courier Paul’s missives to the region of Phrygia, four stalwart co-campaigners, weathered and seasoned in the work of the Lord.
Now listen, before you start grumbling about the woodenness of this translation, what I want you to see is what I finally—after having read this letter many, many times, studied it, went through commentary after commentary, for a good forty years—finally saw tonight.
Many, including myself, have complained the tone of Paul’s letter, even the wording, seems manipulative. How could Philemon make an honest decision, sprung from God at work in his heart, with Paul first complimenting him (ego strokes), then talking about Onesimus in such affectionate terms (pressure) and finally referring to himself as a mere elder asking permission (which seems to pluck the strings of guilt and shame)?
did Onesimus lead the way, full of hope, confident both in Paul and Timothy’s letter, and in the Spirit at work in Philemon? Was it Onesimus who handed Philemon this personal note, and told him, “This is from our brother Paul,”?
I give thanks to my God every time I pray for you, when you are brought to mind, because I hear of your love and your faith to the Lord Jesus, and to all the believers. And when I pray, I ask that the fellowship of your faith (with Jesus, and with the saints) would be powerful and effectual in discerning every good thing in us from Jesus, and every good thing to Jesus as well (for he is in us, and we are in him).
My passion for the Bible began when I was eight or nine years old, somewhere in there, when on occasion my dad would take me to synagogue, where he sang. I remember watching the men in synagogue pray the words of scripture, murmuring and weeping, lovingly touching and kissing the Torah, and I wished I could read what they were reading.
Imagine, then, my wonder when I was given a Bible of my own!