God’s Providential Purposes: Philemon, Part Two


Philemon 1

As we saw yesterday, Paul opens his letter with these words: “Paul, a prisoner” (v. 1), and he strikes that same note again three more times (vv. 9-10, 13). His tact and consummate skill in communication make it nearly impossible for Philemon to refuse his request. We are provided with evidence here that asking will often succeed where commanding will altogether fail. And note that Paul does not speak of being a prisoner of Nero or Rome, but of Jesus Christ. It is striking that Paul is a captive who is pleading for a slave. He, in speaking of his captivity to Jesus Christ, reveals his faith. His eyes are shut to all secondary causes. Paul is well aware that his imprisonment was allowed and guided in the all-wise providence of God, just as Joseph, long before this, saw as well: “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life” (Gen. 45:5). In the same manner, God controlled the circumstances so that Paul was in the right place at the right time to lead Onesimus to Christ and then send him back to Philemon.

For Paul, it was as though Christ Himself had placed the manacles on his wrists and chained him to a soldier. He wore them lightly and proudly, for he understood and believed God’s purpose for this situation. He knew that the events in every believer’s life have both human and divine aspects, with both primary and secondary causes. He was “a prisoner of Jesus Christ”—he was there according to the will of God and because of his loyalty to Christ. Paul saw the divine aspect of his afflictions and rejoiced in being a vessel in the Potter’s hand on the wheel of circumstances (Jer. 18:3-4). — John Duty


bookcoverpreview-2Excerpt from Chapter Twelve

60 AD

 So, as much as in me is,
I am ready to preach the gospel
to you that are at Rome also.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ:
for it is the power of God unto salvation
to every one that believeth;
to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
 Romans 1:15, 16

“At last we make the final leg of our journey,” Luke said as he stood next to Paul and Tychicus on the deck of the Roman vessel. Since their shipwreck at Melitta, and the healing of Publius’ father, the Roman soldiers and sailors alike looked upon Paul with awe. Many had secretly come to him seeking to know more about his God, and some had even ventured to place their trust in Jesus, the Son of the unseen God. It was a courageous step, and Luke was not surprised that many kept their conversions to themselves.

         When there was no reply from his companions, he looked at Paul and wondered at the great man’s expression. Tychicus watched from the other side of the apostle. It was not a look of fear nor dread, but perhaps burden. Luke placed a hand on his arm, stirring Paul from his reverie.

         Paul smiled weakly and breathed in the briny air. “Yes, before us lies Rome.” A dark line could be seen in the distance, barely visible to the naked eye. He sighed, “I wonder what our Lord has in store for us there. Rome is a dark place, but it also holds many brethren.”

         “So I have heard. How good it will be to break bread once again,” Luke said. The statement brought a softened look to Paul’s face. “Yes, and may our Lord give us the opportunity to break the bondage of many more souls!”

         Tychicus smiled and shook his head. What other response would he have expected from the apostle? “Yes, indeed.”

         As they entered the port city of Puteloi, the day was clear and merchants were busy about their business. The prisoners were herded off the ship and into a corral of sorts, where they would be kept until arrangements were made for them to travel across land. All were bound except Paul and his companions.

         As the soldiers guided them through the gate, one pulled Paul aside. “You have the freedom to walk about, as long as Tatius accompanies you.” The soldier nodded toward one of the men who had made a rather bold profession of faith.

         Paul nodded and turned toward Tatius, who was waiting just beyond a tightknit circle of sailors. As he drew near, he heard several taunting remarks toward the young man; however, Tatius ignored them and stood tall with his jaw set and a light in his eyes, which many of the sailors envied.

         The little group of believers fell into an even gait, enjoying solid ground beneath their feet. “You are a good man, Tatius. Already you have found the way to be difficult?” Paul asked.

         Tatius looked his way and smiled. “No, sir, I have found that nothing can dispel the light that shattered the darkness of my former life.”

         Paul just smiled as they continued their way through the market area. As they followed the curve of the road, Paul’s face brightened. Before them was a fish market, and on the post, for all to see, was the carving of a fish—the symbol for followers of Jesus Christ! It was as though all three men saw the symbol at the same time, and they moved in unison toward the booth. An old man appeared from within but recoiled when he saw Tatius, dressed in his Roman uniform. He looked suspiciously from face to face until his eyes rested on Paul. He studied Paul, who could not conceal the Owner of his heart, and a smile spread across the weathered fisherman’s face.

         “Welcome, my brother, welcome. I see the love of our dear Savior clearly in your eyes.” He reached out and clasped Paul’s arm warmly; however, his gaze was still wary concerning the others.

         Paul laughed. “These are also believers, my brother.” First, he turned to Luke. “This is Luke, the beloved physician who has done me great service. Tychicus is also a faithful follower.” Then looking fondly at Tatius, he continued, “And Tatius is a new believer who has also served me well.”

         The old man nodded to the other men before looking back at Paul, staring for a moment before he put his hand to his mouth in surprise. “You are Paul, the great champion for our Lord!”

         The others smiled at his reaction, but Paul merely shook his head. “I am the least of His servants, my friend.” He pointed to the fish, hoping to change the course of conversation. “You are a bold one to post this sign so openly. God will surely bless you. Are there other believers in this place? And forgive me for not asking your name.”

         The old man smiled broadly, showing several gaps where his teeth expired long before their owner. “My name is Caelius, and yes, there are several believers.” His face brightened. “Will you speak to us?”

         “It would be my joy.”

         Caelius spoke excitedly, “I will make all the arrangements. Can you be here after the evening meal?”

         Paul looked at Tatius questioningly. “I will arrange it,” the young soldier replied.

         Caelius raised his hands to the heavens. “Praise Jehovah!”

         Several folks passing by looked at him in disgust and then hurried on their way. Paul slapped his back, and they moved on. Caelius could be heard humming an old tune from the Psalms. “What a wonderful testimony he has,” Paul commented.

         “Let us hope it does not cost him his life,” Tatius countered.

         “Just the opportunity to see our blessed Savior that much sooner,” Paul replied.

*        *        *

         For seven days, Paul met with the believers at Putioli before all was arranged for their departure to Rome. Like every believer who knew of Paul’s future, the small group sorrowed to see him go to Rome. They, as well, urged him to be careful, but Paul knew that his life was not his own. He was going to Rome because his heavenly Father was sending him there.

         By the end of the week, the weary prisoners were entering the gates of Rome. Paul eyed the massive walls, admiring their strength and enormity. Rome was like no other city! As they passed through the streets, the bulwarks of the prison rose before them. Some whimpered while others openly wept at the thought of what lay ahead.

         Paul and the others were at the end of the caravan with Tatius. As the others entered the prison, the commanding officer came to stand before the small group. He was glad for this voyage to be over. It was undeniable that this man, Paul, had strange powers unlike anything he had seen before, but he had more important things to do than to muse the miracles of a Jew.

         He looked sternly at Tatius. He had heard of the soldier’s choice to follow this prisoner’s beliefs. Weak! What a shame. The young man could have had a prosperous future, he thought. “Tatius, you will be keeping this prisoner under house arrest. If he should escape or cause any disturbances before his trial, you will be held directly responsible. Is that clear?”

         “Yes, captain,” Tatius barked as he saluted his commanding officer. The captain handed him a scroll.

         “It is all explained here.” He looked at Paul, showing no emotion on his face, and then turned away, walking briskly into the prison. The doors swung closed and clattered to a halt as they were barred and latched.

         Tatius unrolled the scroll and read his instructions. His face showed his surprise. “There is a house down the street and across from the prison where we are to live together.” He wondered if the great leader would frown at the notion, but the look on Paul’s face put his heart at ease.

         “Praise Jehovah! I do not mind telling you that the thought of living in a prison again was not appealing to me.” His face beamed at the young soldier. “God is already using you, my son.”

         The four ambled down the crowded street, each silently thanking the Lord for going before them in such a remarkable way. “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear,” Luke quoted.

         “Isaiah 65:24,” Paul replied as Tatius looked on questioningly.

         “Is that a quote from your holy scriptures?” he asked.

         Paul smiled, “Yes it is.” He could see the longing in the young soldier’s eyes. “That promise is for you too, Tatius. Soon we’ll have you quoting scripture like a Hebrew rabbi!”

         Luke chuckled at Tatius’ look of surprise.

         As they neared the house, Luke looked further down the street as Tatius unlocked the door. The road began to slope down as it narrowed and curved out of sight. Houses seemed to be built on top of each other, and some looked like a strong wind would topple them, as though they were built in great haste. The stench from raw sewage and trash wafted up the hill, and the ragged condition of many of the tenants made Luke wonder if sickness and disease was an accepted part of these people’s lives. Living so close with filth all around, he was certain it would not take much to have an epidemic.

         Tatius entered first, walking up the rickety steps that led to the second floor. The smell of bread baking from the bakery below made their stomachs rumble. “Well, we will not need to go far for our food,” Tatius said over his shoulder as he reached the landing at the top. He opened the door and stepped into the first of two rooms: one faced the street and the other a courtyard behind the building. As they all walked into the back room, they were pleased to find a porch, which extended the length of the room and allowed them to look down into the courtyard. The sun was nearly set, casting long shadows across the ground and buildings.

         “Jehovah be praised,” Paul whispered, drawing the attention of his companions. His face was radiant, as though he had just seen a vision. He closed his eyes and bowed to his knees. Luke, and then Tychicus and Tatius followed his example. “Thank you, Father. Truly, You have filled our lives with every benefit this day. Only You could provide this place. Only You would allow our new brother to be with us, and only You would even give me a porch which faces east. Oh, we long for Your return, Lord Jesus! Oh, to see the true Son rising in the east to deliver us! But until that day, may You find us faithful!”

         Tychicus murmured a soft ‘amen,’ and when Paul finished his prayer, he was surprised to find tears streaming down Tatius’ face. The young soldier’s eyes were still closed, and with the faith of a little child, this strong soldier added his own words of praise. “God of heaven, thank You for bringing this great man of faith into my life.” He still could not bring himself to speak Paul’s name. Quietly, he continued. “Thank You for all the miracles which You have already done, but most of all, thank You for this privilege to stay with this great one. Keep him safe, and may I be strong enough to remain faithful to You, my Lord.”

         The others also prayed, and they continued in prayer until the sun had set. Then Paul, Tychicus, and Luke led Tatius in a simple song of praise written long ago by another worshiper in another place and another time.

For there they that carried us away captive
required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth,
 saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

         Their voices rang and echoed across the courtyard, and those below stood still, listening to the beautiful canticle. When they had finished, a holy hush hovered around them sending messages of peace and comfort to their souls. Though weary in body, their spirits soared to the highest heavens, and the angels seemed to echo back their praises.

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