Over the years in ministry, the Apostle Paul had begotten many sons and daughters in Christ. Among them were Philemon and Onesimus. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, but he ran away from Philemon, and in his flight he ran into Paul, became saved, and became useful to Paul and very dear to him as a spiritual son.
And as it happened, Philemon was Paul’s spiritual son as well.
Paul would have loved to keep Onesimus, but had to do the right thing and return him to Philemon. But knowing how angry Philemon must be with Onesimus, Paul decided to write a letter to Philemon about Onesimus.
In his running, Onesimus ran into Christ, who transformed him into a better person.
His name means ‘useful’, but as a slave he had been useless to the point where he even ran away. But after finding Christ, he became a useful person! He now could fulfill his destiny as a ‘useful’ person.
=> LESSON: Like Onesimus when he ran away, we are all runaway slaves: Running from the devil and from all manner of issues that we need to rid ourselves of!
And like him we ran until we found Christ, who now gave us the power to go back and face our slave masters and become free from them!
Some of us are running right now! Running from sin, from your background, from bad associations, from what people think about you… You’re running because you don’t want to be a part of those associations anymore; you don’t want to be known by your background anymore; you don’t want to dwell in that sin any more…
CHRIST, who turned Onesimus’ destiny around and restored it into what it was supposed to be, will turn yours around for good as well!!!
In the letter Paul basically put Philemon in a dilemma where Philemon couldn’t really do to Onesimus what he might have wanted to do him because in the letter Paul pointed out to Philemon that even though Onesimus was once his slave, he is now his brother (in Christ)!
So Paul put Philemon in a situation where his Christianity was tested!
He told him: Yes, I know he did you wrong; and he might have even done something that cost you money. WHATEVER it was, I’ll pay for it. Just forgive him and take him back AS YOUR BROTHER!
=> LESSON: Every now and then we find ourselves in situations where our Christianity is tested in so many areas. In this story we see 3 main areas:
1. FORGIVENESS: When we find ourselves confronted with the need to forgive someone who did us wrong in a big way. ESPECIALLY if that person is now a brother or sister in Christ! Either way, we must forgive them and move on!
THIS IS GOD WORKING ON YOU TO HELP YOU RID YOURSELF OF A BAGGAGE THAT YOU SIMPLY CANNOT CARRY AROUND AS A BELIEVER WHILE HERE ON EARTH, AND CANNOT CARRY INTO HEAVEN WHEN YOU DIE!
Also when you’re asking God for mercy and second chances, He’ll remind you, or put you in a situation where you need to forgive and give someone else a second chance, as a seed for you to sow into the request that you yourself are making of Him for a second chance.
2. BROTHERLY LOVE: Onesimus used to be Philemon’s slave. But now he was Philemon’s brother in Christ. Would Philemon still only see him as a slave, or would he accept him as a brother?
=> As Christians, do we still hold people captive to the way we used to know them? Do we still just see the former prostitute for who she used to be, or do we now see a sister in Christ, blood-washed like ourselves, and called into the same glorious light, freed by Christ to become a great person! Do we go around feeling holier than others, instead of humbly recognizing that we are all saved by grace?
3. FREEDOM IN CHRIST: Philemon ran the risk of jeopardizing his relationship with Paul AND WITH GOD, if he failed to forgive and accept Onesimus! So by forgiving and setting Onesimus free, he would have done the right thing by God and would have not only been setting Onesimus free, but he’d be setting himself free as well before God.
=>By forgiving someone, it is not just that person that you would be setting free. It is you yourself as well! Because as long as you refuse to set that person free in your heart, you are chaining your own self to the sin of unforgiveness and rebellion against the will of God.
Why did Onesimus run from Philemon? Because he felt that he was better than being a slave! And you will agree with him that he was indeed destined to be greater in life than he could ever have been as a slave! HE COULD NOT have fulfilled his destiny if he had remained captive to Philemon!
=> LESSON: SOMETIMES YOU HAVE GOT TO RUN FROM WHAT’S HOLDING YOU CAPTIVE IN ORDER FOR YOU TO MAKE IT IN LIFE!
===> Paul himself acknowledged this to Philemon:
“15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.” (Philemon 15-16, NASB)
Note that I said ‘sometimes’. Because we don’t always have to run from every tough situation we find ourselves in. After Joseph was sold to Potiphar as a slave, he could have run away and run home to his father. But he did not need to run from Potiphar to fulfill his destiny. In fact he had to stay there in order to do so. BUT HE HAD TO RUN FROM THE CAPTIVITY THAT HIS JEALOUS BROTHERS WANTED TO KEEP HIM IN!
So we always have to be careful to know what’s ‘good’ captivity, and what’s bad captivity. Good captivity is when God Himself puts us in situations that we hate, and from which we might wish to be freed from. So be careful about wanting to escape from tough and unpleasant situations. If it’s God who’s keeping you there, STAY! Stay there and grow spiritually by patiently learning the lessons that He seeks to teach you by placing you in that situation. But if the captivity is of the devil, or of people who don’t want your progress in life, the first chance of escape that you find, RUN!!!
SOMETIMES YOU NEED TO RUN FROM WHERE YOU CAME FROM! Because the people there will forever want to hold you captive to how they know you.
YOU NEED TO RUN FROM BAD INFLUENCES; FROM BAD FRIENDS, from those people who want to forever hold you captive to the kind of friends you all used to be together, and keep on doing the foolish things you used to do together.
YOU NEED TO RUN FROM BAD BOSSES who have been limiting you, who do not see your potential, and have no plans to help you grow in your career!
This is why when you become a believer, it’s imperative that you change your entourage! That you change the friends you keep! Stay away from those who would tempt you to keep on sinning. From those who can hinder your spiritual growth. From those who can hinder you from fulfilling your God-assigned destiny in Christ!
SO RUN AWAY! FROM ANYTHING OR ANYBODY THAT SEEKS TO HOLD YOU CAPTIVE TO THE WAY YOU USED TO BE, THAT SEEKS TO KEEP ON LIMITTING YOU! There’s greatness in you that needs to come out, and you need to carry that greatness and run to where you can be free to develop that greatness and be great for God!!!
Remember what Paul told Philemon in verses 15 and 16. Onesimus needed to get away from Philemon, who was limiting him as a human being, in order for him to go and become somebody better, who could be far more useful not only to Philemon, but to God and the Church as well!
Likewise we all need to get away from the people who limit and hinder us, so that after we have gone and grown in the Lord, we can come back and help to make their own lives better as well!
Apart from the fact that Paul wanted to do the right thing and return Onesimus to Philemon, Onesimus himself needed to do the right thing and return to his former master as well! There’s that thing called RESTITUTION! When a person becomes saved, sometimes he must make restitution for wrongs that he had done as an unbeliever. God could not have allowed Onesimus to go around preaching righteousness when he himself had a wrong that he had done to his master, and that he needed to make right. So Onesimus needed to go and ask for forgiveness and receive freedom and blessing from his former master in order for God to be willing to use him.
=> LESSON: GOD CANNOT USE YOU AS LONG AS YOU BELONG TO SOMEONE OR SOMETHING ELSE! If you have restitution to make, you’re not free. You’re still captive to the issue for which you need to make restitution, and this will stand in the way of your relationship with God and prevent Him from fully using you!
THE POWER OF FAVOR! So Onesimus had to go back to Philemon. But in doing so he faced a serious risk: Philemon could have had him killed! That’s how it was in those days. A slave’s life belonged to the master to do as he willed, and runaway slaves were summarily killed, or at least severely punished, to make example and deter others from thinking about running.
HENCE Paul’s letter, by which he basically told Philemon: I am sending your former slave back to you, and I am asking that the favor that you have for me, show it to your former slave, whom surely has no favor before you.
=> LESSON: Sometimes God will touch the heart of somebody who has favor with Him, but with whom you have no favor, and set that person up to show you favor!
SO THE ONE THING THAT SAVED ONESIMUS’ LIFE WAS THIS LETTER!
Because of this letter, HE WAS ABLE TO BE FREE TO FULFILL HIS DESTINY!
It is said that he went on to pastor Timothy’s old church. HE WHO WAS BORN A SLAVE ended up a great pastor! All because of a letter that freed him from captivity, and made it possible for him to become the great person that God had purposed for him to be!
Onesimus couldn’t be useful to Philemon while he was a slave because Philemon was only using him then; A PERSON CANNOT BE FULLY USEFUL AS A SLAVE, because as a slave he can only be used and abused. BUT AS A FREE PERSON, HE CAN SERVE WITH ALL HIS HEART AND MIGHT AND GIVE OUT HIS BEST!
FROM PAUL’S ACTIONS IN WRITING THIS LETTER, we can see that love is:
1. A PEACEMAKER; A TRUCEBREAKER.
In this story we see that Paul had found himself caught between 2 of his sons who were at odds with each other, and he had to step in to broker peace between them. A bad father would want to keep the 2 sons at odds, so he can profit from their division. But that’s not the way of love! It’s not the way of God. Love unites; love makes peace.
2. A TRANSFORMER: Love will allow you to change for the better. A master who loves a servant will allow the servant to grow and flourish as a person, and not seek to limit the servant in order to be able to keep on exploiting him.
As slaves in Egypt, the Israelites were severely limited by the Egyptians in what they could and couldn’t do. They had to be prevented from growing in power so they could be easily exploited. When the Israelites left Egypt, they left as runaway slaves. When they got to the Red Sea, they did so as runaway slaves, with their masters in hot pursuit behind them. And when they got into the Red Sea, they did so as runaway slaves. But once they got to the other side of the sea, they were free!!!! The sea had swallowed their captors and closed up behind them. They knew that no one was coming after them anymore! Thru their crossing of the water, they were transformed from captives to free people!
=> LESSON: This is what happens at baptism! You go into the water as a condemned sinner, but come up from it a free person, with old things passed away! You go in as an estranged child of God, and come up from the water restored as a child of God!
=> That’s what Paul sought to accomplish in the lives of both Onesimus and Philemon. He sought to set them free from the animosity that kept them apart and hindered their ability to be free to grow into the sons of God they were supposed to be!
3. AN EMANCIPATOR: An emancipator works to set captives and slaves free! AND PART OF WHAT THEY DO IS THEY NEGOTIATE FOR THE FREEDOM OF SLAVES! There was no way Onesimus could have gone to Philemon on his own and ask to be set free. Paul’s letter served as the letter of emancipation! Through that letter, Paul negotiated the freedom of Onesimus by actually offering to pay for it.
From all this we can see one powerful thing: Paul’s letter is a representation of Jesus-Christ! ALL MEN SINNED AND WERE CONDEMNED TO BE CAPTIVES OF THE DEVIL UNTIL JESUS CAME AND PAID THE PRICE FOR OUR FREEDOM! JESUS IS THAT LOVE LETTER!!!
For God so loved the world that He sent…Jesus His love letter to set men free!!!
You see, what we’re supposed to do is to simply take the LOVE LETTER that is the Word of God and present it to Satan and declare to him: Look! This Letter from God says that my sins have been paid for!!!! Satan you have no choice but to set me free!!!!
NOW GET THIS: As the words of a letter are carried inside an envelope, so did God’s letter of love unto men come wrapped up in the person of Jesus! So IF THE LORD HAD SHUT UP and not shared the word that He carried inside, you and I would still be lost today! But PRAISE GOD that the Lord opened Himself up as an envelope, and released ‘His contents’ in 2 major ways:
1. By spreading the word of love from God
2. By being transpierced on the cross, which released out of His body (out of His envelope) the blood which cleanses us of sin, and the water by which the Church was born.
Paul’s letter carried the words of the letter, and also a promise of payment. Likewise within the Lord’s envelope, he carried the word of God, and the payment for our debt – His blood, which, once He spilled it, declared that IT IS FINISHED!!!
==> LESSON: YOU AND I ARE NOW THE CARRIERS OF THIS WORD!!! We are the envelopes that carry God’s love letter to the world!!!
YOU AND I NOW CARRY THE LIVING WATER THAT GUSHED OUT OF THE LORD! That’s why He declared unto us in John 7:38 that “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” (KJV) It is by that water that the Church was born, and we are to go about this world releasing that water upon people, thus multiplying the Church.
SO MY BELOVED BRETHREN, DON’T BE CLOSED ENVELOPES! RATHER SHARE GOD’S LETTER THAT HE HAS PLACED IN YOU TO SET THE CAPTIVES FREE!!
GO AND TELL PEOPLE THAT CHRIST HAS PAID THE PRICE FOR THEIR RELEASE!!! That He has paid for their salvation from sin; for their healing; for their prosperity; for their wholeness in every area of their lives!
SET PEOPLE FREE BY SPEAKING WORDS OF LOVE TO THEM! Tell people words that will encourage them in life; words that will build them up and help them grow in life; words that will help them see how important they are to God!
What would have become of Onesimus and Philemon if Paul had neglected to play this role in their lives? Their lives would have been hampered by the presence of the conflict that set them at odds with God’s plans for their lives.
So brethren think about this: How do you think the Lord will react when we show up before Him after going thru this life not opening ourselves up to pour out His words of love, of liberation, of transformation, of empowerment, of beautification, upon the people around us who badly need it?
It shouldn’t be hard to imagine that He would say “DEPART, YOU UNFAITHFUL SERVANT” to any such believer. Let that not be you!!!!
Now get this: No matter how battered and tattered an envelope may become, as long as the letter inside remains intact, that’s all that matters. Likewise you and I have no excuse for not sharing the word that we carry, because no matter how imperfect our envelopes (our bodies), what matters is that the word of God inside us “is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV)
No matter what physical limitations we might suffer from, let us endeavor to find ways to share the love of God with others! So long as we are willing to be used, God WILL find a way to use us! He will make ways for us to release his water that we carry within us! That’s why He put it there in the first place!
May God bless you richly as you open yourself up to be pour out unto others, to His glory! Amen!