By Mike Dawson
Pastor Emeritus, First Baptist Church, Columbia
Focal Passage: Philemon 8-21
Two ‘work crews’ can be observed in many churches. One is the demolition crew; they’re skilled at tearing down, ripping out, crushing, and trashing. They find fault, criticize, gossip and can pretty well wreck the place. On the other hand there’s the restoration crew.
These faithful souls seek to unite, make peace, and help restore broken hearts and broken relationships. In today’s study the Apostle Paul is shown to be a member—in fact a leader—of the restoration crew.
A few years ago a dear pastor friend ‘hit a brick wall’ emotionally, and found himself in serious trouble. He resigned his church, and could have easily faded from pastoral ministry. Instead, he went through an intense, honest, transparent time of restoration. I’m thankful to have served as a member of his ‘restoration crew.’ The brother’s marriage and family are stronger than ever, and he is pastoring again—very effectively so—and God is using him mightily.
Do you know someone who needs restoration? Today’s text gives some great insights into what to do.
At just 25 verses, the book of Philemon is the shortest of Paul’s letters recorded in Scripture. It seems more like a ‘post card;’ yet it tells a magnificent story.
Introduction: The Good Reputation of Philemon.
The Apostle Paul had a close friend and church-planting colleague in Colossae named Philemon. Along with Apphia and Archippus—perhaps his wife and son—Philemon had opened his home as a meeting place for the Colossian church. Paul greatly admired Philemon as a man of love and faith—a Christ-follower in every sense of the word. Note verses 1-7.
Our focal text, verses 8-21, might be divided into three parts:
(1) The Gracious Recommendation of Onesimus (verses 8-16)
Onesimus was a runaway slave of Philemon’s who obviously had been apprehended, put in jail, and there had crossed paths with Paul—who led him to faith in Christ. Paul believed in Onesimus and recommended that Philemon take him back, not as a slave but a brother.
(2) The Glorious Reflection of Christ (verses 17-18)
For me it’s easy to see a picture of the Gospel in these two verses. Christ appealed to God the Father to receive us runaway servants (who were once enslaved to sin) as His very own, and to charge our sin-debt to Christ’s account through His death on the cross. Notice throughout this letter how Onesimus’ status changed in Paul’s eyes: from a slave to a son to a brother and now a partner! That’s our story, isn’t it!
(3) The Grateful Request of Paul (verses 19-21)
This is Paul’s gentle ‘U O Me’ (not IOU) to Philemon. He uses ‘friendly persuasion’ to request Philemon as his brother in Christ to completely restore Onesimus to the household.
May we adopt Paul’s approach to seek the restoration of runaway servants!
Writer’s Note: It’s been a joy over the past six months to write Sunday School lessons from the Bible books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon; I’m deeply grateful to Lonnie Wilkey for his gracious invitation to do so. The B&R is a great news journal! We Tennessee Baptists are privileged to have such a positive and informative, Gospel-centered publication available to us, and I was privileged to write in it. B&R — Dawson is pastor emeritus at First Baptist Church, Columbia, and also serves as transitional interim around the state.