Philemon was a wealthy leader of the first-century church, probably in Colossae. His slave, Onesimus, also a Christian, ran away from Philemon and ended up helping the apostle Paul, then being held prisoner in Rome for his faith in Christ. Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon accompanied by this short letter.
Paul is very shrewd here (and elsewhere). He never overtly advocates the end of the Roman slavery system, but he asks Philemon to no longer treat Onesimus as he would a slave, but as a brother in Christ, an equal in the eyes of God, differing from Philemon not in status but only in function.
Paul even offers to compensate Philemon for any financial damage caused by Onesimus running away. Then, he takes the extraordinary step--taken in only a few of his letters--of actually taking the pen from his amanuensis (the secretary to whom he was dictating this correspondence) to write the pledge himself:
I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. [Then this amazing statement:] I say nothing about you owing me even your own self. (v. 19)Christians believe that they have been saved from sin and death and given new and everlasting life by the grace of God given to all who trust in Jesus Christ as God, the only One Who can give forgiveness of sins and life from God. We're right to give thanks and praise to God alone for this great gift.
But no one comes to faith in Christ or to a growing, consoling, empowering faith in Christ, in a vacuum. No one wakes up one morning and says, "I believe in Christ." And no one's faith deepens without the help of mentors and friends in Christ.
There has to be someone--usually many someones--who share Christ with us. Otherwise, the human default mode, being to go it alone and to be our own gods without accountability to anyone else, we would never know about Christ and the forgiveness of sin and new life given to all who trust in this crucified and risen Savior.
As Paul puts it elsewhere:
How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)God saves people for eternal life with God through their faith in Christ. But God commissions people--people who gave perfect witness to Him on the pages of Scripture, Christians who share their imperfect lives and the perfect good news about Jesus with friends and family, and others--to "preach," proclaim, teach, and give away their best friend and Lord Jesus to others.
This morning, I'm taking Paul's words to Philemon as words to me.
I'm taking the time to think about all of the people to whom I owe my eternal life because, in the power of God's Holy Spirit, they took and they take the time to share the life of Jesus with me. This includes people from my past and people from my present.
I'm taking the time to name each one before the Lord and to thank Him for their witness.
I'm offering a special prayer for those who are witnesses for Christ in my life right now, asking God to bless and protect them and their families and to help them sense His loving arms around them today.
I'm also offering prayers of thanksgiving for those now with the Lord in eternity, the sainted dead, whose witness for Christ has built up my faith in Christ--people like Martha S, Bruce S, Ron C, Karen H, Great Grandma Henry, Uncle Carl and Aunt Betty, and Sarah S, to name just a few. I'm asking God, as I pray, to give them special embraces symbolic of my thankfulness to them and to remind them that I so look forward to seeing them again soon. My hope for eternity is one I possess because they and others have faithfully shared Christ with me and prayed to God the Father in Christ's name for me. How can I not be filled with thanksgiving?
It's not a bad idea to thank God for the people to whom we owe our connection to Christ, the life-giver. You may want to do so sometime today too.