Allow me to introduce you to Philemon, the primary recipient of this letter. W. Graham Scroggie makes note of the fact that “all we know of this man is contained within this epistle and one or two sentences in the Colossian letter.” He then produces a list of facts that emerge from those Scriptures: 1. Philemon was a Gentile. 2. He was a Colossian (v. 2; Col. 4:9). 3. He was married and had a son. 4. He was led to Christ by Paul (v. 19). 5. He was characterized by evangelical zeal. 6. He was large-hearted and generously disposed. 7. He was well to do. Suddenly, this man appears before us larger than life with his personality fleshed out so that we may look beyond just his name, seeing a bit into the soul of the man. Not only is he seen as a wealthy man of prominent social standing, but there is a special reference to his liberality and hospitality that had been extended to brethren even from a distance (vv. 5-7).
Paul is descriptive in his choice of words when speaking of this man. He was counted “beloved” by Paul himself, and, even more than this, Paul called him “dearly beloved” (v. 1). Philemon is obviously a brother in the Lord who was especially close to the heart of Paul. The apostle recognizes this love toward Philemon and will momentarily ask Philemon to recognize it toward his runaway slave, Onesimus (v. 16). Indication is given (at least in part) as to the reason for this love. They labored in a common cause, and it bound them together—Philemon was a “fellowlabourer” in the work of God. He worked in the same cause so dear to the heart of Paul. May our mutual love of the brethren carry us willingly into the cause of God’s work, together. — John Duty
Excerpts from Chapter Six
Excitement mounted in the traveling group the next day as they drew near to Ephesus, matching the unusually charged atmosphere of the city. Philemon did not have to wonder what caused the agitation in the air. He sat taller in his saddle as they neared the city. The temple of Diana rose before them and an enormous crowd was gathered on the exterior steps. All eyes were focused on the figure between the columns. Philemon strained both eyes and ears as they drew near. His furrowed brow caused Appia alarm.
“What is it, Philemon? Is there trouble?” she asked anxiously, but her husband did not respond. He urged his mount toward the far side of the group and quickly dismounted. Appia looked at Solon, who only shrugged and followed his father’s lead.
“Who is he?” Solon asked, a bit startled and embarrassed by his father’s reaction to the speaker.
For a moment, Philemon did not respond. His eyes never left the face of the speaker, and he was so in tune to what he said that he never heard Solon’s question. It was not until Solon nudged him that he was brought back to reality.
“I am not sure,” Philemon answered vaguely, but as he pressed forward the voice and face of the speaker were familiar. His heart leaped as he realized that it was Paul.
“They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusts in them.” (Psalm 115:6-8)
Solon heard a united gasp and the rise of mumbling voices at the man’s offensive words; however, a good majority of the audience was still intently listening, hanging on every word just like his father. He turned away in disgust, but Philemon never saw him leave.
As Paul scanned the group, his eyes fell on Philemon. At first, he could not remember where he had seen that strong face, so full of earnest desire, but then he remembered: Athens.
He had said enough for one day. He could sense that part of the crowd was getting angry at his words; however, there was much fruit to be gathered. He had learned that it was best to leave them wanting a little more.
Paul was soon surrounded by others, but he saw Philemon moving his way. One by one, the believers paired off with seekers, leaving Paul free to speak to Philemon.
“Greetings, dear friend,” Paul spoke as he placed his hand on Philemon’s shoulder. “It is good to see you! Do I remember that you are from Colosse?”
Philemon nodded, amazed that he remembered. “Yes, I am here with my family on business and then heading to Athens to see our son.”
“Ah yes, Archippus was it?”
Philemon shook his head. “I cannot believe that you remembered me, much less my son.”
Paul’s gaze grew intense. “The Lord has blessed me with a good memory, but I have also been praying for you since we last met. Have you chosen your way yet?”
Though his words sounded cryptic, Philemon knew exactly what he was saying. “I am still seeking the truth,” he said, his face clouded.
“Can you come back tonight? I will be speaking again after the dinner hour at the home of Aquila, the tent maker. He lives just down this road at the first crossroad,” Paul said pointing westward.
Philemon brightened. “Yes. We have business to attend to first, but then I will be free for the evening.” He nodded to Paul and turned to go. As he reached his family, he could sense their questions but once again chose to ignore them…
(later during the evening meeting) “Can you turn away from your idols and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the One sent by God to take away the sins of the world? For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” He looked at a group of Jewish men sitting right before him as though addressing them alone. “Certainly, you can see that He fulfilled all our prophecies. He is the Dayspring rising, the Daysman standing between the gap. He is Alpha and Omega; He died and rose again, conquering death. Shiloh has come, and He longs to gather you, my brethren.” Philemon could see the effect his words were having on the group, but they made no sense to him. That quickly, Paul shifted his gaze to the others. He scanned the room until his eyes rested upon Philemon.
“But Jesus has opened the way of salvation to anyone that will believe.” His eyes pleaded and his words were empowered by the Spirit of God. “Can you believe, my friends? Can you forsake all that you are holding on to and rest your soul upon Jesus alone?”
A woman on the far side of the room began to weep, and the one next to her leaned close. As whispered tones floated across the room, the two continued, bent in prayer. All over the room, the same scenario was taking place. Quietly, Aristarchus began to sing another of the songs of Zion. The words spoke of a God who was strength and light: The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
It made Philemon ache deep down in his soul. The longing was nearly unbearable. Slowly, he slid down the wall and sat on his haunches, burying his head in his hands, aching to communicate with the Unknown God. If only he could see Him, touch Him!
A tender hand rested on his shoulder, and he looked up onto the eyes of Paul. “Can you believe, my friend?” Philemon searched his face, as though he would find the answer there.
“How can I believe what I have not seen?”
Paul remembered what Thomas had recounted to him about the night that Jesus had visited his disciples after his resurrection. He knelt down beside Philemon. “One of the disciples said much the same thing.” Philemon’s eyes burned with desire to know. “Thomas had said some harsh things to the other disciples who had seen the Lord after His resurrection. He had not been there when Jesus appeared the first time, but the second time he was.” Paul smiled at the recollection. “Thomas had told them that he would not believe unless he put his finger into the holes made by the nails in His hands and thrust his fist into His side where the spear had pierced Him.” He stopped as though imagining the scene. Philemon ached to prod him on but waited.
“Thomas said that the look in His eyes alone was enough to make him never doubt again; but it is Jesus’ words that I want to share with you, friend.” He paused for just a moment, his eyes bearing down on Philemon. “He said, ‘Blessed are they that have not seen and yet believe.’ I am not in that group, for I have seen Him; and I feel as though I am missing something very special. But you, Philemon, you can know the true meaning of faith. To believe only because He deserves our faith is true faith, my friend. Will you believe?”
A silence hung in the air. The battle raging in Philemon’s heart was clearly seen on his face. He wanted to believe, but images of Appia’s face danced across his mind. He as much as called us fools. Solon’s look of disgust, Onesimus’ mocking remarks all taunted his pride and crushed the work of the Spirit. He shook his head. “I am a Gentile, Paul. This is all so new to me. I can see my god. I can offer sacrifices.” His words sounded shallow even to him.
“And will those gods and your sacrifices assure you a place in heaven and cleanse your soul from sin?” Paul asked quietly. Oh, how he wanted this man to believe and forsake his idolatrous ways!
Philemon sadly shook his head. “I want to believe, Paul. I…” There were no words, only frustration.
Paul pitied the man—like so many others! If only he could pour it into their heads and hearts!
It was a quiet Philemon who accompanied a chatty Diana and a curious Appia down the streets of Ephesus to the docks. The words of the believers continued to haunt him, tormenting his heart. He was torn between the comfortable world in which he lived and the world of the Unknown God that was growing more and more irresistible to him.
As they approached the dock area, Appia pulled on his arm, her eyes shining. “Oh, Phil, look.” His eyes followed her pointing finger to a table of statues made in the image of Diana. As though on cue, Diana also got caught up in the excitement she saw in her mother’s face.
“I want one, Papa,” she squealed as she pulled out of his hold and raced to the table, her eyes shining as she pointed to one of the smaller ones. “That one, Papa. I want that one.”
Can a piece of silver or gold hear your prayers? Does an idol stir your heart and draw you to it, to love it and respect it? Can you worship it in spirit and in truth? The words swirled in Philemon’s mind as he stared at the figures.
“Ah, your child has good taste,” said the man behind the counter. Demetrius smiled at the little girl and then up at Philemon. He loved his craft and enjoyed it even more when the children were drawn to it.