ImmerseMessiah NLT - Page 215



IMMERSED IN PHILEMON
T H E B E L I E V E R S I N T H E C I T Y O F C O L O S S E (in
modern-day Turkey) first
heard about Jesus from a man named Epaphras. Sometime during the
years that Paul was based in Ephesus, he sent his associate Epaphras
to Colosse, about a hundred miles east, to share the Good News there
and in the nearby cities of Laodicea and Hierapolis. Many in Colosse
became followers of Jesus. When they later learned that Paul was a
prisoner (presumably in Rome), they sent Epaphras to help Paul on
their behalf. He would make sure that Paul was being properly cared
for in prison, bringing money and supplies from the church in Colosse.
During this time, Paul wrote the letters we know as Colossians and
Ephesians. He sent Tychicus and Onesimus to deliver those letters to
their recipients in the province of Asia. Paul gave them one more letter to deliver addressed to a man named Philemon—a leader among
the believers in Colosse. Paul calls him his “brother” and “beloved
co-worker,” noting that the believers gather to worship in his home.
Philemon once had a slave who had betrayed his trust by running
away, likely stealing money in the process. That slave was Onesimus,
one of the men delivering Paul’s letters. In this letter, Paul asks Philemon to forgive this slave, welcome him as a brother in Christ, and set
him free. Onesimus is returning to Colosse as one of Paul’s representatives. The runaway is about to see his owner again face to face.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul explains that he has become a “father in
the faith” to Onesimus. Just as Epaphras was helping Paul on behalf
of the Colossians, Paul wants to keep Onesimus with him on behalf of
Philemon. But given their history, Paul knows that he can’t presume
anything. So he sends Onesimus back to Colosse with Tychicus to seek
reconciliation with Philemon.
Paul uses a variety of strategies to persuade Philemon: community
encouragement (Paul addresses the letter to the whole church there),
sympathy (he mentions five times that he’s in prison), authority (“I could
demand it”), personal debt (“you owe me your very soul”), and most
significantly, the creation of one new unified family in the Messiah.
Even so, Paul is making a pretty audacious request. Philemon has
the authority under Roman law to punish Onesimus severely. Runaway
203





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