We come to Paul’s shortest letter; the one to plead for a brother’s life. I know it is short but my bible breaks it into sections, therefore, so will we. Paul begins this letter in his customary style with a personal greeting to establish his identity. He also greets, what appears to be, the full household involved in the matter he wants to discuss.
When first reading this greeting I felt Paul must have been very familiar with this family as he called out each by name. He doesn’t specify their relationship with one another for us though. Better scholars than me have assumed this is husband, wife, and probably son. I won’t disagree because it sounds very plausible.
I wonder if there were any more members in this household. Was the whole household believers or did Paul only address the believers, as they were brothers and sisters in Christ? Did he only address these three because they had the decision power? He did send greetings to the church that met in the house too though. Maybe he was counting on Philemon’s position in the church to help him act as Paul prayed he would.
After a couple more readings of this greeting, I began to wonder if Paul knew these people personally. His missionary work was most likely instrumental in their receiving the gospel but did he minister to them personally? I don’t know. I assume than the very object of this letter, Onesimus himself, could have shared the family history with Paul.
Both assumptions are borne out in the rest of this letter. The assumption of a longstanding acquaintance is seen when Paul “remembers” Philemon in his prayers (verse 4), when Paul says that Philemon owes him even his own self (verse 19), and also in his familiarity with asking Philemon to prepare a guest room for him (verse 22).
But each of these assumptions can also be taken another way. Remembering someone in your prayers could simply mean that Paul remembered to pray specifically for Philemon as a fellow worker in Christ. Apparently Paul had an EXTENSIVE prayer list! Paul could count Philemon owing him his own self as the fact that Philemon only received the gospel because Paul brought it to that area. He doesn’t call him his child in the faith like he does of Titus, Timothy and even Onesimus so maybe he wasn’t the one to lead him to the Lord. As for the guest room, Philemon’s hospitality for those preaching the gospel was apparently well established. Paul, expecting to be released because of the prayers of the saints, felt comfortable in making this request of such a giving brother.
I guess we have a new question for our brothers Paul and Philemon when we meet them in Heaven. For today we will simply be thankful, alongside Paul and Onesimus, for the relationship Paul could call upon for help. The shared relationship in Jesus. For Paul called upon God and Jesus Christ to intercede with “grace” and “peace” (verse 3). Who can stand against that?!
Father God, thank You for my brothers and sisters in Christ. Thank You for those I know, those I only know about, and those that I have still to meet. Our “family” is richly blessed by each of them. On this eve of Thanksgiving I want to give thanks for each of them. Thank You also for opening my mind and heart to look deeper into Your word. I KNOW I don’t exhaust all You have there for me but I enjoy seeing things from different angles. This too is a gift from You. Thank You for my curious spirit. Let it always be Spirit led!