“For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me.”

Philemon 1:15-17

The Book of Philemon is so small that it becomes hard to find if you have not memorized the Books of the Bible. However, it is there, tucked between Titus and Hebrews. While it is small, it packs a wallop of a message.

A servant stole from his owner and then ran away. In the course of his travels he encounters Paul the apostle and then becomes a Christian. Next he begins to minister to Paul who is “aged and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus”. (v9)

Onesimus considers his past and obviously discusses it with Paul, who advises him to return to his master Philemon. Paul gives him a letter to give Philemon and others. Paul then relates the change that has occurred in this man’s life. It is so dramatic that Onesimus knows he must return to his owner, no matter the cost.

Paul after that draws upon Philemon’s background, praises him for his spiritual growth and uses this as an encouragement to show he “is no longer a slave, he is a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord”. Again he draws on the benefits of the future, “but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but now much more to you, both in flesh and in the Lord… accept him as you would me.” (v16, 17)

Sticking our necks out for someone who has come to Christ is always risky, but we do not do so until the evidence is there in abundance. A “time line”, which will automatically vary with an individual, is part of the measuring process. You may not bat a 1000, but in all probability, someone might well have done it for you or me.

The remarks of Paul are most noteworthy. “If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” He reminds Philemon of the efforts he, Paul, had put into his life and feels it is worth something. Then he comes back with a classic: “refresh my heart in Christ”.

The question is quite simple; how much effort have I put into people of two extremes, slave or owner of that slave, to be able to draw on my efforts to bring harmony between two extremes and do it through theirs and my relationship to Jesus Christ?

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