Salvation Silhouettes #2: Philemon

Bond Brothers was probably the most difficult book for me to write. It took a lot of research and I didn’t want to seem to be “adding to scripture.” However, that said, it is one of my favorite books, and Philemon’s conversion story is also one of my favorites! Here’s just a little bit of information that we know from the Bible:

Philemon was from Colosse, where he owned a servant named Onesimus. He had a family and had some contact with Paul who sent him a personal letter explaining Onesimus’ salvation. Most Bible scholars believe that Appia was his wife and Archipus was his son.

The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power,

and will not at all acquit the wicked:

the LORD hath his way

in the whirlwind and in the storm,

and the clouds are the dust of his feet.

Nahum 1:3

Angry words filled the air as Philemon and Appia walked across the deck. The winds had continued to build all afternoon and a cool breeze now filled the sails. As they approached the knot of men, Appia held back and let Philemon mingle with them.

         Philemon noticed an old man speaking frantically and pointing to the northern skyline. He turned his gaze in that direction and noticed a growing bank of storm clouds.

         “I told you it was not safe to travel today,” the man shouted at the captain, whose face was stoic but tinged with concern.

         “Enough of your prattle, Georgius!” He turned to the burly first mate, “Take him below and put him in chains.”

         The old man was seized by the strong sailor and nearly lifted off his feet. He cried out in pain, but no one seemed to pay any attention to his cries.

         Philemon approached the captain. “What was that all about, Lycos?” He had spent quite a bit of time with the young captain and liked the man.

         “That old fool is a thorn in my side every time he sails with me.”

         “What had he done?” Philemon asked, feeling sorry for the old man.

         Lycos grunted. “He predicts foul weather and turns my crew into a bunch of women with his outrageous tales of storms and sea dragons.”

         Philemon looked once again to the north. “It looks as though he might have been right, at least about the foul weather.” Philemon was a land lover, and the threat of a storm while sailing with Appia and his children did not bode well with him.

         “I have had my share of storms. Never lost a ship yet,” he boasted slapping Philemon on the back and moving on to bark out orders to the crew.

         However, as the sun dipped behind the bank of dark clouds, a foreboding seemed to fall upon the crew. “Sailors are the most superstitious lot on the face of the earth,” Lycos grumbled to Philemon, as he stood with his arms folded over his chest. He was a lean man; every muscle in his body was stretched taut across his sturdy frame from years of hard labor. He did not like the looks of those clouds. Their color darkened by the minute and the wind seemed to be driving them furiously down an unseen path across the sky. “There will be rough sailing tonight. I will need to have all passengers below deck,” he explained.

         “Is there anything I can do?” Philemon asked, hoping for no answer.

         “Keep everyone below deck. If I need you, I will send for you.” Lycos’ words were clipped. He looked Philemon’s way before heading across the shifting deck, and Philemon wondered if he had seen a touch of fear in the man’s eyes.

         As Philemon helped the women and children down the narrow steps to the hold below, he eyed the roiling clouds and then the busy deck. Sailors moved quickly, lowering sails and securing ropes. They looked like ants, whose hill had just been crushed beneath the heel of a careless passerby, not realizing his step had destroyed many of their lives. Were they being crushed beneath an unsuspecting Poseidon as well?

         “Is everything going to be alright?” Appia asked, the fear obvious in her voice.

         Philemon straightened when once beneath the deck and gave her a reassuring nod. “Of course. I just spoke with the captain. He is a fine man and knows what he is doing.” He hoped his words brought her the comforts he wished for. He needed to be brave and was hurriedly settling his family in their quarters when the ship began to pitch and roll, causing him to lose his footing. He was hurled across the area and came crashing down on several barrels. Cries were heard all over the hold as people who had been standing were tossed about like ragdolls. Diana’s cry drew Philemon from his dazed condition. He shook his head and crawled across the floor to her, where she sat in Appia’s lap. She reached out to him, straining to escape her mother’s restraints, but Appia held her back.

         “Shh,” Philemon hushed, as he pulled her into his arms. “It is alright. I just do not have the sea-legs of a sailor.” He smiled down at her as he spoke.

         “How can the sailors do anything up on deck when the ship pitches so, and the rain makes the floor slick?” Archippus asked. He was cradling Delphinia like a child, her face white with fright.

         Philemon shook his head in wonder. “I do not know Archippus. I suppose after a lifetime of sailing, they become accustomed to it.”

         Time seemed to stand still for the tiny band of travelers. The hull was mostly filled with cargo; however, passengers were the most profitable cargo, especially on shorter trips like this one.

         What little light had come from the hatch was suddenly snuffed out when the hatch door slammed shut. Cries once again filled the air as voices summoned the help of the gods. What good will that do? The thought brought images of the idols in Athens to his mind as well as images of their own god, Diana. These are no gods, my friends, but only wood and stone. Paul’s words came to Philemon through the darkness, only making the inky blackness drown his soul.

         The storm continued to rage and the shouts of the crew were swallowed up in its eerie cries. Philemon could stand it no longer. He shifted Diana to her mother and began to crawl across the floor in the direction he thought would take him to the ladder.

         “What are you doing?” Appia cried above the din, her heart in her throat.

         “I told the captain that I would help.”

         “But you know nothing about sailing,” she reasoned.

         He stopped momentarily. “I have got to go, Appia. I will be alright.” She continued to protest, her screams mixing with the cries of the wind or gods, Philemon was not sure which, but he had reached the steps and was determined to go on deck. When he reached the hatch, he feared it would be locked, but it was not. It protested his pushing, as though something or someone was sitting on it. He repositioned himself and pushed with his shoulder. Suddenly, it gave way and seawater poured down upon him. The force of his thrust upon the door drew him out onto the deck as much as the raging wind. He held firmly to the hatch ring, slamming it shut, lying on the deck. What he saw, he would never forget.

         The rain was pelting the deck in sheets of water, which washed over him as he clung to the ring. Timbers creaked and groaned. and ropes, which had worked loose, lashed the air like bullwhips, while ropes which were taut snapped and hummed in low voices. He tried to lift his head and see if he could see anyone, but the deck was deserted. That is when he realized his mistake. I will get you if I need your help, the captain had said. The crew was riding out the storm, safely inside their quarters.

         “Oh god, help me,” he cried, but even his own ears could not hear his cry. He lay, head down, on the sodden boards, willing the storm to cease, when he realized what he had just said. Oh god, help me. Oh god, help me. When had he ever cried out to god? Never.

Once again, he pictured his gods. They are only wood and stone. They can neither see nor hear. Paul’s words whispered in his mind as the storm raged on. He recalled his last conversation with the man. I am a Gentile, Paul. This is all so new to me. I can see my god. I can offer sacrifices. “And will those gods and your sacrifices assure you a place in heaven and cleanse your soul from sin?” Paul had asked.

         His hands were numb from the cold and exertion. His clothes clung to him as the rain pelted his back. I will wait out the storm, and then I will believe, he thought. Suddenly, as though a hand gripped his wrists, his hold on the ring gave way, and he went skidding across the slick deck. “No,” he cried, twisting and looking for anything to grasp, but there was nothing. He would die; being swept overboard and drown in the sea, and nobody would ever find him. He was lost.

         Just as he reached the edge of the deck, the ship dipped in the other direction. That is when he saw it—the ship’s railing! As the shifting deck caused his momentum to decrease, he reached out and grabbed the railing before he started slipping the other way. Slipping his feet through the rail and stretching himself flat against it, he wove his arms around the rungs and hung on, hoping the railing did not give way.

         Over and over again, the railing dipped into the water, and Philemon came up sputtering. Philemon, you can truly know the true meaning of faith. To believe only because He deserves our faith is true faith, my friend. Will you believe? Tears choked his eyes as the salty water choked his throat. He thought of the shepherd and the peace that laced his every word.       He tried to imagine a man on a cross—an innocent man. No, not just a man—the Son of God! He remembered the shepherd’s words, telling him to make sacrifices in his heart. At the time, it made no sense, but now, in the fearful darkness of this storm, everything was making perfect sense. God wanted his heart, his devotion, much like he wanted Appia’s heart. He pictured her beautiful face, awash with fear. He thought of Archippus, on the verge of a wonderful new life’ but what did it all mean without the security of eternity?

         He closed his eyes and wept. God of Paul, I believe. Those simple words suddenly stilled the raging storm in his soul. Jesus, Your Son, died in my place. Another wave nearly toppled him over, but he did not seem to notice. You allowed Your Son to die in my place! He thought about his sons. Would he wish them to be in his place right now, to perhaps die in his place? NEVER! And yet, God had given His Son to die in his place, a miserable sinner. Oh God, forgive my stubborn pride! Forgive my foolish thoughts. Thank you, for Your sacrifice for me!

         Philemon rested in the arms of his heavenly Father. As the waves continued to wash over him, the blood of Jesus washed over his soul. Though his life was hanging by a thread, his feet were anchored on the Rock! He buried his head in his arms, praying for strength and for the storm to stop. One giant gust of wind nearly sent him overboard, and the shrieks of the storm sounded like angry demons cursing their loss. And then it stopped. The storm moved on. The ship began to roll more gently. The rain ceased. Philemon looked up in amazement, half expecting to see a shimmering apparition of his new God standing before him, but instead, the clouds parted, and a brilliant moon shone down through the rain-washed atmosphere.

         His arms ached as he tried to straighten them, and his legs seemed to be permanently bent around the rails. As he pushed himself away from the railing, he lay for a moment on his back, staring up at the moon. “The God of the Universe,” he whispered. A smile broke upon his lips. “I am a servant of the God of the Universe.”

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