International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending May 23, 2010
Purpose: To understand how a personal relationship with God changes all other relationships.
Scripture Text: Philemon 8-18 (NRSV)
(8) For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, (9)yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. (10)I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. (11)Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. (12)I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. (13)I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; (14)but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. (15)Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back for ever, (16)no longer as a slave but as more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
(17) So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. (18)If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.
My Thoughts by Burgess Walter
Paul's letter to the church at Colossae and his personal letter to Philemon were evidently written at the same time and delivered at the same time. Both letters were delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus.
Most theologians through the years have read this letter and believed that Onesimus must have been a run-a-way slave; however a few believed that Onesimus was Philemon's biological brother. The explanation for such thinking is that nowhere in the letter does it suggest that Onesimus belongs to Philemon, nor does Paul ever refer to Philemon as a lord or master. Verse 16 is where the assumption comes that Onesimus was a slave. (no longer “as” a slave but “as” more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.) The key word being “as” not “slave.” “As” indicates a virtual not an actual state of affairs, and in verse 17 Paul uses “as” in the same virtual way, “welcome him “as” you would me.”
For some scholars the issue is resolved in the last part of verse 16 “a beloved brother – especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” This would make Onesimus Philemon's brother by birth (in the flesh) and his Christian brother (“in the Lord”).
I think this line of thought gives more credence to Onesimus's worth to Paul, an educated individual might be of more benefit than a slave, either way, there was a need for reconciliation.
As I let my mind wander, I can almost see this as an Older Brother, Prodigal Brother Scenario, the prodigal finds Christ through the teachings of Paul and others as he is away from the duties and responsibilities he had in Colossae. Meanwhile Philemon stays home and also finds Christ through the teachings and preaching of Paul's disciples. One thing that could add some credence to the brother scenario, and the education of Onesimus is that late first century writer Ignatius, mentions Onesimus as the Bishop of Ephesus, which could explain how this personal letter was later canonized, if this was the same Onesimus. All of this is just for thought, the important part of this letter is how Paul, used his influence to help bring about a reconciliation of two people, and it sets a great example for us to follow in our dealings and ministering. I have always said Paul was Dale Carnegie before Dale Carnegie ever wrote the “Five Great Rules of Selling” or “How to Win Friends and Influence People”.
The power of a transformed life is the real message and we should never forget that message. Even the vilest sinner is capable of becoming a new person when he allows Christ full reign in his life.