Read: Philemon 1:1-3
What does it say?
Paul begins his letter by greeting Philemon, a believer in Colossae.
What does it mean?
The letters of the New Testament typically opened with customary greetings. Although these seem formal and maybe even a little redundant, letter greetings give valuable insight into the nature and contents of what follows. There are two key characteristics of Paul’s greeting here that provide some insight into how to interpret the letter. First, Paul identifies himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus,” a reminder of the cost of following Jesus. Paul’s repetition of his imprisonment (Philemon 1:1, 9, 13, 23) is meant to emphasize to Philemon that following Jesus often requires sacrifice. For Philemon, this would look like forgiving and restoring Onesimus. The second characteristic is Paul’s address, not just to Philemon, but “the church in your house” (Philemon 1:2). Unlike today, the vast majority of the first-century church met in houses across the Roman empire. Paul addresses the church body to show how God’s church would be different from the typical Roman household. In Paul’s time, enslaved people could be exploited and harmed, but following Jesus often turns relational dynamics on their heads. In the church, enslaved people were to be treated like brothers and sisters.
How do I respond?
Paul reminds us in his greeting to Philemon that following Jesus will look very different than we might anticipate. Paul’s faithfulness to Jesus led to his imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. At any point, he could have chosen to walk away. Still, Paul knew the suffering of this life could not be compared with future glory (Romans 8:18). In the same way, God calls us sometimes to embrace inconvenience, difficulty, and sacrifice to serve Him. For Philemon, this would look like forgiveness and reconciliation towards Onesimus. For Paul, it looked like imprisonment and eventually martyrdom. For both, following Jesus meant denying themselves and taking up the cross of suffering. Like Philemon, you too may be at a crossroads of obedience, between choosing the hard path of following Jesus or the easy path of following your flesh. Pray that God will make you faithful in every season.
We would like to thank Thomas Road Baptist Church for providing this plan.