Dear Student of the Word,
I am off to Kenya later today, and wanted to get this study posted before I go. I know I have been inundating you with studies lately, and I promise this will stop soon. I am anxious to finish, for the next study will mean that I have competed the New Testament in this verse-by-verse format! In two weeks, you will receive the study for Jude and then I promise not to send anything in June to give you a chance to catch up. In July, I will begin to recycle my older studies, starting with Ephesians.
This short letter to a man named Philemon has a fascinating subject, for Paul was urging Philemon to receive back his former slave Onesimus, who was now a believer! This gives us great insight into Paul's view on slavery, for he did not urge Onesimus to return to his former life, but rather asked Philemon to receive the former slave back as a brother in the Lord. This week I wrote on day three of this seven-day study:
vs. 8&9 – This verse introduces a most interesting concept. Paul indicated that he could order Philemon to do what Paul was suggesting. It was the right action where the former slave was concerned, and Paul was obviously within his appointed sphere to order Philemon to comply. Yet Paul did not want to order Philemon; he wanted him to comply because he was motivated by love to do the right thing. So Paul presented his case, but he stopped short of ordering Philemon to obey.
This is such an important principle for both leaders and followers. Leader should not be so quick to coerce, bully, order or direct followers to do the right things. Even if the leader has right on his or her side, the goal should be willing and not forced compliance, and that not to the leader but to the will of God. There is an old saying that goes something like this:
"A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” – Sir Walter Raleigh.
Paul was older than when he first met Philemon and in prison for the gospel’s sake, so all he could really do was write and appeal to his disciple to do the right thing for love’s sake.
This principle is important for followers to understand because God is not simply after compliance, but after a changed heart. God can force you to do His will, for He has that kind of persuasive power. Yet He wants you to be conformed to the image of Christ and do things from the heart because the love of God is in you, motivating you toward good deeds and right actions.
If you are a leader, are you coercing people to do right things while ignoring their heart condition? If you are a follower, are you allowing yourself to be coerced, allowing others to make your decisions because your heart isn’t right or because you are not seeking the Lord for yourself?
v. 10 – In this verse we see that the slave’s name who had fled from Philemon was Onesimus. Paul identified him as a son, which probably means that Onesimus came to the Lord through Paul’s ministry while he was in prison. Or perhaps Onesimus had erved Paul so faithfully that they had a close relationship, like father and son in the Lord. In this short letter, Paul was making a statement about a runaway slave who had escaped from a Christian master and who had become a believer. The slave was returning to the scene of his escape and Paul was addressing how this redeemed slave – not redeemed in human terms but by the blood of Christ – was to be received and treated. This is important because Paul has been criticized by modern commentators for not addressing the issue of slavery in his life and writing.
v. 11 – This slave was useless to Philemon, perhaps because he had been a poor worker or maybe because he had escaped. Yet Paul indicated that Onesimus had value at that point both to Philemon and Paul. Paul had a use for him in the ministry and that ministry obviously did not include Onesimus returning to his role as a slave, unless Philemon insisted on it. By law, Onesimus was still the property of Philemon, unless Philemon would set him free. This is an interesting scenario, don’t you think?
As always, I welcome your comments to this week's study. For additional New Testament Bible studies, check out my website archive, which contains a complete collection of all my verse-by-verse Bible studies from Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1&2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1&2 Thessalonians, 1&2 Timothy, Hebrews, James, 1&2 Peter, Hebrews, 1-3 John and Revelation, along with the unpublished volumes of The Faith Files.
OPERATION PETTICOAT: I leave later today with $5,000 for the Sophia Fund and $3,000 for Operation Petticoat, after we purchased 1,000 more sets of undies (You can read about my underwear project at Operation: Petticoat.) I am toting 2,500 sets of undies and 550 bras to Kenya (I must pay excess luggage fees to transport them over to Nairobi; whatever I don't use to ship I will distribute in Kenya for feminine products). Thank you so much for your wonderful and generous response.
You can give through my website or send a check to PurposeQuest, PO Box 91099, Pittsburgh, PA 15221. Just let me know if your contribution is to be used for food or underwear and I promise to apply it where you direct.