Saturday, May 19, 2007

Philemon - A letter to a friend.

Do you know who Philemon was? I didn't.

A few days ago I found a personal letter that was written to him from a friend who happened to be in prison at the time and he wasn't requesting bail or visitation rights.

What's most curious about the letter - besides being almost 1,970 years old, is that its about someone, a run-away slave named Onesimus, who fled Philemon and who coincidentally found himself working in - of all places - a prison that housed one of his former owner's friends. This friend of Philemon was a guy named Paul who himself was a well trained and highly respected [feared] lawyer who - because of an incident years earlier on the trip to Damascus - found himself on the wrong side of the law. Simply put I found this letter to be a fascinating read and study of two (2) professional men and in the power and value of grace and its ability to alter one's heart, the course of mankind and history itself.

Further more beyond its prose and style I was struck by the position Paul took that simultaneously reflected his lawlerly background and their mutual love and faith in Jesus Christ - in resolving what could only be described as a bad situation for Onesimus. (Something today's politicians and civic leaders could well learn from.) And to add to the tension Paul asks Onesimus to a) quit his job at the prison and b) return to Philemon with the this specific letter. (Since it was common to kill run away slaves who return I couldn't help but wonder if Onesimus read this private letter? If not what must have been going on through his mind when he saw Philemon and handed him the letter.) It was not just Paul but Paul and the Holy Spirit which turned the entire situation around into an incredible WIN-WIN for all concerned by appealing to their mutual commitment, love and faith in Jesus Christ. Could you have imaged writing a sentence like the following.

"Perhaps the reason he (Onesimus) was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever - no longer as a slave, but better that a slave, as a dear brother..."(v15)

I would have said "Philemon, get me out of here!"

In early April TIME magazine ran an article about bringing the Bible back into the school's curriculum. Whether you agree or disagree with that idea, and regardless of your position on faith, after reading the letter a guy named Paul wrote to his friend named Philemon concerning a run away slave you would be hard pressed not to see at the very least the civic value the Bible has to offer our future generations. Is there any question in any one's mind that it would make worse the present situation?