Recently I completed an in-depth study of Paul’s epistle to Philemon. Philemon is a short book of about 500 hundred words and twenty five verses. In the month I studied this book, I have written over five thousand words espousing my thoughts about what this short little letter contains, both obvious and implied concepts. I had suggested to my mentor I write a final paper about Philemon, the after part of a before and after look at what I learned during my study. My first paper was based on a basic overview of the book built on a week’s study. This paper has the advantage of an additional three week’s study plus the review of all the words I have written to date concerning Philemon.
After prayerful consideration, I have been blessed with five benefits given to me through my guided examination of this personal letter of Paul’s assistance to another believer. This study has given me a new perspective. Of all the concepts, beliefs and ideas I learned from my study, I never dreamed such a concise letter would have such a deep impact on my life.
The most important question asked of me about this note of the apostle Paul was, “What five things did you gain from your study?” At first, I thought it would be simple to supply an answer. But like my study, the answer required deep and careful consideration. For the moment, the short answer is righteousness, brotherhood, courtesy, freedom and love.
Your responses may vary, naturally. I should add this is my first real effort at diligent biblical study. Even if I had begun my study of the bible in my twenties and spent the remainder of my life studying God’s Word, I would never fully learn everything contained within its covers. I can say studying the bible will change you from the inside out.
At first glance, Paul does not mention righteousness once in the entire letter. So where is the righteousness? It is contained within each word that was written. It is implied through his introduction, his plea, his suggestion and his conclusion. Even his style of writing breathes righteousness. One gains righteousness from the words from meditation, study and God speaking to us as He touches our spirit. Paul is like a lawyer pleading his case before a judge. He intervenes on behalf of a believer, offers his insight, makes a suggestion and trusts Philemon to do the right thing. From the first word to the last word, Paul shows everyone his faith.
If the book of Philemon was food (in a sense it is), you could probably eat of it your entire life. Paul masterfully winds us through righteousness to brotherhood. Paul is making a powerful statement of the benefits of living for Christ. He shows us through his careful choice of words how Christians should live their lives. Paul has a firm grasp of the concept that God loved us first, more on that in a moment.
When the apostle begins his plea for Onesimus, he wisely avoids mentioning the new Christians’ name until absolutely necessary. Paul knows once we believe in Jesus, we are a part of a unique and constantly growing fellowship. He is telling us not to live for the world and the things of this world, but to live for eternity and to be seated with our LORD and Savior forever. Is there anything better? I think not.
Paul artfully displays courtesy and freedom within the mere five hundred words he used to communicate to Philemon. I should be so concise. The text is dripping with courtesy for others and freedom to decide our own course of events. We should defer our decisions to the will of God. We should always be polite and caring towards those we encounter. In America, we enjoy a multitude of freedoms. Yet in a very real way, we are less free than our ancestors were. People were usually slaves to others and their created “gods.” Today there are so many different ways to be a slave. Among them include, people, money, technology, sports and almost everything else in between. If you “worship” it, you are a slave to it.
The law of love is the most important thing I gleaned from my study of Philemon. Paul’s words ooze love from beginning to end. He shows us his love for Onesimus and Philemon. The apostle patiently teaches us about this great commandment. He tells us we are to love God with all our heart, mind, body and soul. Once we are able to do this, living a Godly life is all we need to live for eternity. The things of the world will one day end, but eternity is forever.
A nearly five hundred word letter has given me an insight into righteousness, brotherhood, courtesy, freedom and love. Yet there is so much meat within this book, I have just barely taken my first bite. I shall be at the table of Philemon for quite a long time. Care to join me?
January 14, 2012