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Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus . .
to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker . . refresh my heart in Christ . .
confident of your obedience, I write to you,
knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
I have plenty of warm childhood memories of my family,
memories that grew in number even well into my adult years.
As I was reflecting recently on shared experiences with Mom and Dad,
I realized something that had never come clear to me before.
I really don’t remember very many specific conversations with my family –
though a few still stand out, but I do remember the movement of their lives –
the manner, if you will, that they went about doing life.
My Mom encouraged by making time for others,
always glad to listen, ask questions, empathize, understand –
pretty much the opposite of anything and everything “stuck on self Facebook”
posting and posturing.
My Dad bent over backwards caring for my mom
during umpteen seasons of health challenges and limitation – he shopped for her,
drove her to the doctor, was ever-mindful of her physical comfort and safety.
My Aunt took me to the County Fair and the fudge counter –
way too many times to remember. My brother taught me the art of camping and fishing.
My Grandma prepared a hot lunch that I devoured next door
to my elementary school on a nearly daily basis.
The words spoken in the middle of these shared life moments
were likely mostly mundane, but not all . . yet most of those words
have slipped far away from my memory . . but the manner
in which my family revealed kindness, generosity, care and so much more
is etched deep in my soul.
We are not afforded a transcript of any the sermons preached by Philemon,
who was a house-church Pastor in the 1st century city of Colossae
(present day Turkey), but we know from Paul’s letter to him
that he regularly built up the faith of believers throughout the city . .
through words yes, but more prominently through exercised compassion
and selfless care for others.
Yet, for all the success and effectiveness of Philemon’s ministry,
there would come one test above all others that would define his legacy
and shape the forward movement of the Church.
His house-slave Onesimus deserted his duties and fled from Colossae to Rome,
likely with stolen cash and goods in hand and desirous of disappearing
into the busyness of a major urban area.
Wouldn’t you know it – in his efforts “to get lost”, Onesimus meets Paul . .
and “gets found by God’s grace” and starts down a whole new path
where his life is devoted to serving God.
No where is this radical conversion more evident
than in two key ways: 1) Paul entrusted his prison letters to Philemon
and the church at Colossae into the hands of Onesimus, AND
2) Onesimus himself returned (with letters in hand) to Colossae
to meet face-to-face with the very employer he had failed.
Paul’s request to Philemon?
Forgive the wrongdoing,
welcome Onesimus back as a brother and fellow worker for the cause of the Gospel . .
and last but far from least,
release him to return to work alongside of Paul in Rome.
Paul even offered to cover any and all costs and losses.
The genuineness of Philemon’s faith was being tested . .
the one who had been first set free by the love and grace of God in Christ Jesus
was now being asked “to set free” the very one who had horribly wronged him.
Church eyes were watching . .
and Philemon (who could have legally had Onesimus put to death)
would not fail the test . . and in embracing Onesimus
would preach his most memorable sermon ever.
Mercy, grace and love triumphed that day in Colossae . .
the gospel propelled forward even faster . . and God was honored . .
because one single pastor understood that . .
your manner is your message.
“Christ Jesus, just as I received you as Lord,
help me today to continue to live my life in You,
rooted and built up and strengthened in the very same faith
that first set me free, and to do so with
overflowing thankfulness and grace. Amen”
– Colossians 2: 6-7
How is God encouraging you today?