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Unto Philemon Our Dearly Beloved: Part 5

Philemon 1-2

featureAllow 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

 

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpts 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.

Included as a Brother: Part 4

featurePhilemon 1-2

When my wife and I moved to Montana to minister in a small church in a small ranching community, her mother wrote to us every week with all the news of farm, family, and friends at home. Can you imagine the eagerness with which we received and opened those letters? Well, transfer that excitement into the scene before us in Colosse when Philemon received a letter from the apostle Paul in Rome. After all, this was the man who had led Philemon to the Lord and established him upon the path of righteousness. By Paul’s faithfulness in preaching the Word, this saint of God had been lifted from an idolatrous lifestyle into the glorious heights of God’s grace.

As Philemon began reading the letter to the family, Paul’s name, of course, was presented immediately, but he also included “Timothy our brother.” Paul was the spiritual father of Timothy, and he could have spoken of him as such. However, he chose a wider relationship to highlight, for Timothy was a “brother” not only to Paul but to Philemon and, indeed, to all Christians. How gracious of this aged apostle to include Timothy in his salutation to this household! It was not unlike Paul to be generous in his recognition of young men in the ministry. Furthermore, it was a reminder to Philemon of that great brotherhood of all believers—the very spirit of brotherhood that Paul was trusting would work in his dear friend to bring about a kindly reception for Onesimus. Paul urged Philemon to receive with open arms the return of his runaway slave because they now belonged to the same spiritual family and were brothers in Christ. Oh that we, too, would receive one another as brothers and sisters in Him! — John Duty

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpt from Chapter Thirteen

(Onesimus has been taken prisoner and is being shipped to the prison in Athens. Angry with everyone and everything having to do with God, he lashes out at any hint of Christianity. One of the prison guards has an idea that will pour salt into his wounds, but little does this servant of Rome know that he is being used by God to draw Onesimus to the Truth.)

My strength is dried up like a potsherd;
and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws;
and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
 Psalm 22:15

Aegean Sea

The ship swayed and rolled on the open sea, and men moaned for lack of food and drink. Onesimus looked across the hull, his eyes half closed and his mind empty of thought. He had tried to do right—was on the verge of making things right. He looked down at the chains around his ankles, red and raw from the chaffing. This was only the beginning. What would become of him? If he could, he would somehow end it all, but Rome was a master of captivity. The chains were too short for strangulation. All he could do was sit in his own waste and rot away.

It seemed as though they had been traveling for many weeks; but in reality, they had been aboard the ship for less than a month. The mighty warship had weaved its way across the sea, picking up prisoners and tossing them in the hold like a giant feasting on human flesh. The soldiers were quick to remind them that they were less than the lowest of humanity and would regret the day that they had broken the laws of the land. Onesimus closed his eyes and wished for death.

Thoughts of family tried to push their way into his mind, and just as quickly, he pushed them out again. He thought of Philemon, sad that he would never be able to explain—make amends. Every so often, God would also try to overtake his thoughts, and Onesimus wondered if, at those times, his mother was praying for him.

On the thirteenth day, the call came that Rome was within view. As their shackles were replaced with a gang-chain, they were herded out of the belly of the mighty ship and into blinding sunlight. Shielding their eyes and stumbling, the prisoners cursed and swore until the lashing began. Quickly, their shouts of anger became cries for mercy.

The soldiers lined them up along the deck’s railing. As Onesimus’ eyes adjusted, he noticed buckets of water lined up before them. At the captain’s command, the soldiers moved forward and doused the prisoners with the salty brine. Cries of pain filled the air as the saltwater washed over their wounds and sores caused by the shackles’ constant rubbing and hours of sitting in filth.

More lashes and barking communicated their orders to make a line and proceed to the gangplank. Beside the open rails sat a barrel of tepid water. Each prisoner drank voraciously as much as he could gulp before being pushed ahead.

Onesimus watched the man in front of him, curious about his ability to keep silent. As though sensing a watchful eye, the man turned to glance at Onesimus when his feet hit solid ground. “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear?” He watched Onesimus reaction and continued. “Are you a believer?”

Something in Onesimus snapped. Anger and hatred filled his eyes. “Do not talk to me about your God!”

Pity filled the older man’s eyes. “There is nothing else to hope for, son. He is my rock, my shield, my…”

“Shut up!” Onesimus shouted before he realized what he was doing.

“What is going on here?” a soldier growled.

“Tell that fool to leave me alone,” Onesimus snapped.

The soldier looked at the old man. He knew that he was in prison because he would not bow a knee to the emperor, and it irked him. Was it not enough that Rome owned most of a man’s possessions and body? Must she demand his soul as well?

He cuffed Onesimus, nearly making him stumble and looked at the old man. Any casual observer would have missed the brief look of kindness in his eyes. He paused for only a moment, and then hurried away.

Something had changed within Onesimus. Disappointment and defeat fed the bitterness that hardened his heart, and he soothed his rankled soul by lashing out at everyone, especially followers of Jesus Christ. There were many in prison and more came every day. Their courage and limitless strength of character shamed him but fueled his anger as well. No matter how many lashings he received or how much food he was deprived, there was no controlling him, until the day Cassian came to his cell.

Cassian knew how to break a man and took pleasure in doing so. As he sat in the officers’ quarters listening to the others talk about the young man, he began to laugh. They looked at him questioningly. “You are missing his Achilles’ heel.”

“What do you mean?”

He leaned forward, placing an elbow on the table. “Who is he lashing out against?”

Silence.

“Us?”

He shook his head. Again, silence. He looked into their eyes, enjoying the riddle. “There is a group of people in here that he hates, despises almost as much as we do.”

A slow grin showed Livius’ missing teeth. His lips curled in disgust. “These Christians,” he spat.

Cassian’s eyes moved from one face to the next. “Exactly. So, let us eliminate our problem and make his life miserable.”

“That Paul fella,” another soldier answered.

“Yes. I will suggest it to Otho. He will make the necessary arrangements.”

Five days later, Onesimus was removed from solitary confinement. The guards came in, faces like stone, and unlocked the wall chains and shackled his legs and hands. He shuffled along, wondering if this was the end, hoping it to be true.

When they passed out of the inner gates, he grew hopeful, but when they entered the streets, he was confused. Where were they taking him? A cold chill ran up his spine as he realized there might be a fate worse than death.

When they entered a narrow stairwell, the soldiers sandwiched him between them, his chains clinking on the steps.

On the other side of the door, Paul looked at Tatius when they heard the sound of someone coming. They had been praying for the various churches before Luke came to continue Paul’s letter to the Philippians. They all stood as the threesome came through the door.

“Here’s another one for you, Tatius.”

Tatius remained standing at attention as the men removed Onesimus’ shackles and chained him to Tatius. They laughed. “Have fun, but beware. That one may try to slit your throat if he gets the chance.”

Without another word, they left the room. “It makes you wonder which one of us is the prisoner,” Tatius said to Paul. But Paul was staring at the new prisoner, unable to believe his eyes. He was nearly certain that it was Onesimus, but so much had changed about him, and he knew that most of the change was reflected from his heart.

“Onesimus?” he asked.

Onesimus had been staring at his feet, a stance he had found most helpful when he did not want to face reality. This all seemed so strange to him, but any thoughts concerning his future had long been crushed from his mind. When he heard his name from a voice that sounded vaguely familiar, his head shot up.

Onesimus focused on the face before him, trying to remember where he had seen the man before. Then he knew.

“No!” he cried, jerking the chain as he flailed his arms. His eyes were wild—he looked from Paul to Tatius, and then to the chains that bound them all together. His eyes were dark and menacing. “Is this some sort of a sick joke?” he growled.

Paul turned his gaze away from Onesimus and spoke to Tatius. Without a word, Tatius unlocked Paul’s chains.

“You know this man?” Tatius asked.

Paul looked once again at Onesimus. His hair was long and matted, and his beard was thick and filthy. His clothes were mere rags, and his skin held the sickly pallor of one who had been away from sunlight for too long.

“Yes,” Paul answered, never letting his gentle eyes leave Onesimus’ face. “Although I do not know his story. We met several years ago.” He paused. “I know his master,” he said with added meaning, as though questioning Onesimus.

Onesimus was calculating how much effort it would take to overcome the soldier and flee, but when he looked at Tatius, it was as though the man was reading his mind.

“We have a bit of an unusual situation here. I am not sure why they have brought you here, but Paul is under house arrest and is in my care. We have a measure of freedom, and I am not willing that anyone jeopardizes that.”

He walked toward the far wall where an iron loop was anchored into the wall. He unfastened his end of the chain and locked Onesimus to the loop, shoving a chair in his direction. Tatius then placed a basin of water before him with soap and a towel. “And if you are going to be staying here, you need to get rid of the stench that you picked up in the prison.”

Tatius opened a trunk, which stood on the opposite wall, and tossed him fresh garments. He then motioned to Paul, Tychicus, and Luke, and the four men left the room.

Onesimus looked around the area and sighed. It was certainly a step in the right direction, but the thought of living with the religious fanatic only infuriated him. He reached for the soap and was ready to hurl it across the room, but stopped, rethinking his actions. He was out of prison! Yes, he was still a prisoner, but he was away from the horrors of that place. A sense of hope that he had not felt since the day he boarded the ship tentatively crept into his hardened heart.

Slowly, he picked up the soap and began to wash. When had he last bathed? He could not even remember. He ripped the rags from his body and hurried to finish. Pulling the tunic over his head and poking his free arm through one armhole, he folded the towel and sat to wait.

Bond Brothers by Wanda MacAvoy

Salutation: Philemon, Part Three

featurePhilemon 1-3

Luther said, “We are all God’s Onesimus.” It is true that, in this incident, we have a striking picture of our lost condition by nature and practice and of the activities of divine grace on our behalf. This letter sets forth, most beautifully, the great truths of forgiveness on the ground of the expiatory work of Another and of acceptance in the Beloved. Harry Ironside makes a strong case for this truth in a short gospel article entitled “Charge That to My Account.” We are presented with an excellent example of what God could do within both a householder and a slave in bringing them to Christ and causing the love of the Spirit to be manifested richly through them.

What a story the name of the writer calls to mind—Paul! It is he who presents the picture of that which we have just spoken. Allow all that you know of this man to roll through your mind. It was William Ramsay who speaks of the “Charm of Paul,” and indeed, when we think of Paul, we cannot help but be reminded of him as preacher, pastor, and man of prayer. He is self-described as the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15), yet he was one who met Christ and had his life radically changed with sins forgiven and redemption received. God chose this man to pen a large share of the New Testament Scriptures. Paul wrote to numerous churches and individuals, giving us a wonderful view into the very depths of his own heart. When he might have “pulled rank” on Philemon as “Paul the Apostle,” he, instead, appealed to his friend and brother in Christ on the basis of “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ” (v. 1), preferring to entreat him (vv. 8-9) as a “prisoner” than as an “apostle.” Paul’s tact and appeal are consummate. — John Duty

Feature Bible Study Guide

Bond Brothers new coverExcerpt from Chapter One

Athens

The streets were crowded with an array of travelers and Athenians. Philemon put a protective hand on Archippus’ shoulder, and Onesimus flanked the boy’s other side, much to Philemon’s delight. Hagglers called to them as they picked their way through the filthy narrow spots, and Philemon was glad when the alley gave way to a wider street.

By the time they reached the Agora, it seemed as though every person in Athens was looking for something to eat! Philemon pulled several small loaves of bread from his sack along with a cluster of figs and handed them to his companions. The snack would hold them until their business was over and they were on the ship once more.

Philemon had decided on a small piglet for his sacrifice. It was not the biggest or most costly animal, but it was not the smallest either. The animal squealed as the young boy, presumably the merchant’s son, cornered it, picked it up by its hind feet, and handed it to Onesimus, who took the tiny creature and cradled it in his arms. Soon the squeals ended, and the tiny pig actually fell asleep bringing a smile to everyone’s faces.

Philemon watched his son’s face knowing exactly what he was thinking before he asked.

“Father, must we sacrifice it?”

Philemon only nodded.

“But why do the gods require a blood sacrifice?”

His father put an arm around his shoulders. “Our gods do not require it son, but the sacrifice lets them know that we are serious about our request.”

“Do some gods require blood?”

Philemon was ready to change the subject, but he knew he needed to answer the question. “Yes, Archippus, the Jewish God requires a blood sacrifice.”

“Is that why Simeon is a butcher?”

Philemon chuckled. “Well, I suppose that is part of the reason,” he replied, thinking of their neighbor and friend. The thought stopped him for a moment. He had never really given much thought to any god. Even this gesture of worship was for his wife, not him. At times he wondered if the gods even existed.

Another thought came to Archippus, and he looked at his father with alarm.  “Is mother ill? Is that what the sacrifice is for?” He had seen her outside one morning, relieving herself of everything in her stomach. She had brushed him off, but the memory came back in vivid detail as his mind whirled in all the wrong places.

Philemon turned and stopped their procession. He placed both hands on his son’s shoulders and looked him squarely in the eye. The boy had sprung up this past summer and was nearly as tall as his father. “No, Archippus, she is not in any danger. But you will have to ask her any more of your questions.” He knew the stern look would end all other inquiries.

As they drew near to the Areopagos, Philemon could see that a crowd was gathered. Someone was being pushed to the front. He was a short man, certainly not a Greek. Perhaps a Roman? No, his garments were more like that of the Jews. Philemon’s curiosity drew him into the crowd and the others followed.

“Tell us of this new doctrine of which you speak,” one of the elders of the city was saying. At the mention of doctrine, Philemon turned to go, but as the man began to speak, he felt drawn back. He turned and watched, now focused on the man’s eyes. There was something different about him, but Philemon could not understand what it was.

“Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious.” The man stopped and looked over the crowd as though seeing into the heart of every man. “For as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.”

The speaker was warming to his subject, and every person present stood silent, watching him as he gestured to the sky, urging them to pay heed. He hesitated for a moment, as though he knew that his next statement would not be well received. “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.”

Unknowingly, Philemon leaned forward, as though fearing that he might miss a word. The man’s voice dropped in volume, drawing even more attention from each listener. “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’” The statement struck a knowing cord among the crowd. Many were nodding their approval. This man is an incredible orator, Philemon thought. I have never heard such things! A yearning to know and understand gnawed at Philemon’s heart.

“Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

Somewhere further into the circle of people that were gathered to listen, a man laughed loudly. “You speak of the one they call Jesus, the Jews’ so-called Messiah,” the man mocked. He grunted and turned to walk away.

Archippus was turning to follow those who were leaving when he saw his father’s face. Philemon’s eyes were riveted to the speaker. It was as though their eyes were locked, sending messages that only those two could understand.

Dionysius watched the exchange, which was taking place between Paul and the man who had watched him so intently. He saw there the hungering that he himself felt in his soul. As the man turned to walk away, he felt an urging to meet him. Pressing through the crowd, he came beside him, not sure what to say; but as he considered his words, the man turned to face him.

“I could not help but watch you as our speaker shared his beliefs. They are quite unusual, would you not agree?”

Philemon could see the sincerity in the man’s eyes. He was obviously an elder of the city. “Yes, sir. I must say his words intrigued me.”

“I am hoping to have him to my home for the afternoon meal. Would you and your group care to join me? His words intrigue me as well.”

Philemon considered the offer. To refuse would be disgraceful to the man before him and a social indecency; however, if he accepted, it would mean an added night to their journey.      It was as though a war was battling within him. The greater part of his heart willed him to move on and forget what he had just heard, but somewhere in the recesses of his mind, the words UNKNOWN GOD vibrated over and over, creating questions that he ached to have answered. “That is very kind of you, sir. We have business in the city, but will be free by midday.”

“Good. Come when you are free.” He gave Philemon his name and directions and turned to find Paul.

Archippus looked at him questioningly, but Philemon ignored the look and hurried them to their task. As he passed the collection of gods and their altars, he decided upon Athena. After all, was not she one of the most powerful goddesses? To the Unknown God… Him I proclaim to you… Paul’s words continued to echo in Philemon’s mind, but he pushed them away. I must do this for Appia and our unborn child!

The priests were all too happy to accept and offer the little pig. Onesimus handed over the tiny animal, feeling some angst at the whole ordeal. As the priest chanted his incantations, the piglet squealed as though understanding its fate. However, it soon lay silent upon the altar, its blood oozing from its slit throat.  Philemon looked on, bowed his head and without a word walked away. It was done, but somehow, the entire scenario left him cold and empty. His pace quickened as he turned toward the Stoa.

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A Runaway Slave

The next few posts (8) will be a combination of two sources: the Feature Bible Study Guide put out by the Fundamental Evangelistic Association and Bond Brothers, a historical Christian fiction novel I wrote three years ago.

Philemon is such a fascinating book. It gives us an insight into so many facets of first-century Christianity at a personal level. If your curiosity is piqued, check out the book AND the devotional. I’ll warn you: the Feature Bible Study Guide is not fluff! The writers do an excellent job at presenting scripture in a straight-forward, applicable manner. And Bond Brothers… well, I’m a little partial, but I think you will find it to be inspiring, informational, and entertaining–at least that is my goal. 

featurePhilemon 1-25

Tucked away in the text of the New Testament, this short epistle of Philemon has been called the finest specimen of early private Christian correspondence extant. That should not surprise us, for it was given by divine inspiration and flowed from the heart of Paul the apostle. The contents center around the circumstance of a slave who had stolen from his master (v. 18), a wealthy householder named Philemon, and had run off to Rome where, providentially, he came in contact with Paul.

Philemon was a believer who apparently was led to saving faith in Christ some years before this letter was penned, perhaps during Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (v. 19; Acts 19). He was a man active in the cause of Christ, for Paul refers to him as a “fellowlabourer” (v. 1). It is obvious from the letter that he owned at least one slave: Onesimus, the runaway. During Onesimus’ contact with Paul, he became a Christian and began to live up to the meaning of his name—“useful” or “profitable” (vv. 11, 13)—and he quickly endeared himself to the apostle (vv. 12, 16). Clearly, Paul would have been delighted to have kept Onesimus by his side in order for him to minister to Paul’s own needs. However, a more pressing matter had to be rectified: Onesimus was a runaway slave, worthy of death under Roman law if his master should so choose. He had wronged Philemon, and now, as a brother in Christ, he needed to return to Colosse and make it right. The apostle encouraged Philemon to receive him back willingly and to recognize that they were now one in Christ. Forgiveness and restoration are prominent in this beautiful letter. May our hearts be profited as we explore it more fully. — John Duty

bookcoverpreview-2Chapter Eight: Ephesus

There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.
Isaiah 57:21

Onesimus watched as Solon [Philemon’s son] dealt with the greedy merchants, each one striving to outwit the young man but finding him to be a worthy opponent. The last of the business transactions was finished with a slap on the back, and Solon turned to walk away. Onesimus saw the relief on the young man’s face and was proud of his master’s son. It was then that he saw him—the man who had ruined his life: Leontios.

He was also making business dealings, arguing with a merchant and intimidating him. He watched as Leontios leaned forward and whispered something into the man’s ear. A look of unbelief spread over the man’s face until he pulled back to see that Leontios was not joking. Horror replaced unbelief, and he quickly finished his trading and hurried away while Leontios counted his coins, a greedy satisfaction curling the corners of his lips.

“Well, my friend,” Solon began, but stopped when he saw his servant’s face. “Onesimus, what is wrong? You look as though you just saw a ghost.”

Onesimus pulled his gaze from Leontios, but not before his former master saw him. As recognition dawned on the older man’s face, he started making his way toward the two young men, his face splayed with a wicked look, like a gladiator who knew he was about to best his opponent.

“Well, well, what do we have here?” Leontios said, his voice syrupy with condescension. His eyes were boring into Onesimus’ eyes when Solon spoke.

“Excuse me, sir?” Solon questioned, feeling the need to lead in the situation and affirm his authority.

Leontios turned his gaze upon him, his annoyance clearly visible. When he spoke, he addressed Solon as though he were a child. “I suppose you are also a runaway?”

Onesimus saw the anger roil up in Solon and feared what the young master might say, but what he heard surprised him.

With a calmness that Solon himself did not know he possessed, he answered his elder in a cool, controlled tone. “No, sir, I am Solon, son of Philemon. I do not believe we have ever met.”

At first, Leontios was taken aback by the young man’s self-control, a quality he rarely saw in young people these days—a quality he greatly admired. His look of condescension was slowly replaced with a reserved smile. “Ah yes, Philemon. Good man, although why he ever bought this one is a mystery to me.” He jutted out his chin toward Onesimus, who knew to keep quiet. After all, what were masters for, but to lead, even in conversation?

Solon showed no reaction, but simply smiled curtly as he formed a reply. No one could ever accuse his father of poor business affairs. “Well, I know not the details; however, this young man has served our whole family with great honor and ambition.”

Leontios allowed a chuckle to begin low in his throat before it burst forth into an obnoxious laugh. “Well, my friend,” he said as he placed a hand on Solon’s shoulder and squeezed more than would be deemed friendly. “Be forewarned that his ‘ambition’ may cause you great difficulties.”

The older man swung his gaze back to his former slave. A menacing grin spread across his leering face. “Have you heard from your family lately?”

Onesimus’ eyes grew steely, but he did not answer.

Leontios continued, “That young sister of yours is quite the little filly.”

Onesimus began to advance, but Solon restrained him. Leontios laughed and walked away, leaving the two young men to bore hateful holes into his back. Onesimus’ chest heaved as anger coursed through his veins. He clenched his teeth until his jaw hurt.

Solon watched his reaction, amazed at the intensity of anger he saw there. It frightened him a bit. What did he really know about this man? “How do you know him?” he asked quietly.

Onesimus never let his eyes leave Leontios until he was lost in the crowd. He took a slow deep breath, trying to still his rankled soul. “He was my former master,” he said with marked tones.

Solon wanted to ask more but was afraid of what he might hear. Hoping to rekindle their good moods, he placed a hand on Onesimus’ shoulder, squeezing it for emphasis. “Let us forget him and go celebrate our good success.”

It had been a good day. They had accomplished their tasks and worked as a team. Solon treated Onesimus more like a brother than a servant. Onesimus’ heart slowed its pace and a quick, appreciative smile touched his lips for one brief moment. He would try to forget Leontios’ comments, at least for the moment.

*        *        *

         As Onesimus listened to Solon snoring, Leontios’ words echoed over and over in his mind. Have you heard from your family lately? That young sister of yours is quite the little filly. What had he meant? He tried not to think the worst, but his mind continued to conjure up images of the young women who had been slaves of Leontios. He knew what the man did to them. He saw the fear in their eyes, saw them recoil from even the slightest touch from their master.

The moon was far into the western sky when Onesimus could stand it no longer. He looked around the room and spotted the bags of gold Solon had placed near his pillow. One lay a bit apart from the rest. Slowly, Onesimus sat up. As silent as the predawn breeze that crept softly through the window, Onesimus stole to Solon’s side and reached for the pouch of coins. Holding it securely so the coins would not rattle together, he lifted it from the floor, all the while keeping his eye on Solon. His heart raced and ached for what he was doing. His conscience battled with reason, but in the end, reason won.

With a heavy heart he slipped into the night, his conscience none the more silent even after it had lost the battle. They have treated you like family! Philemon saved you from that rascal and a life as a galley slave. Have you forgotten? “No, I have not,” he hissed, and then looked out into the vacant streets to be certain no one was lurking about. He made his way north through the back streets of the city, thankful for the early hour. He would be able to be far into the wilderness before he would be missed. With so much gold, he was tempted to pay the fare and travel by ship to Troas, but the chance of meeting Leontios or someone with a lot of questions pushed him to travel alone and on foot.

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Enoch Walked with God (Can we?)

If you are looking for a daily devotional that really digs into the Word and is full of Biblical truths, you may want to look at FEATURE – A Daily Bible Study Guide. This little booklet is packed with the Good News of Jesus Christ! Today’s reading starts a ten day series on Hebrews eleven.  (I thought I was reading the one for today, but this is actually Saturdays!) It was just too good to keep to myself!  Enjoy!

The patriarch Enoch pleased the Lord by his godly walk in the midst of rampant ungodliness (Gen. 5:21-6:6). The Bible does not say that Enoch had the encouragement of others who were of like mind or that he was in some way insulated from the wickedness that completely permeated his society.  No, the Scriptures only state that he “walked with God” (Gen 5:22). Enoch knew what conduct was pleasing to his Lord, and he had faith to believe that no personal sacrifice was too great to strive for that circumspect walk. [Emphasis added] Without doubt, conflict, and suffering resulted from such a forthright testimony, but just imagine the blessedness of walking in fellowship day by day, step by step, with the Almighty God!  How much better is the hallowed friendship of the divine “Friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24) than the fleeting favor of anyone else.  Yes, the Lord rewarded Enoch for his walk of faith, for God translated him up to glory so that he did not have to experience death (v.5).

What does this example mean for us today?  Can we walk in this present evil world and still please our heavenly Father at the same time?  By faith, we certainly can!  We see from the Scriptures that God still desires to reward believers who are willing to step out in faith and live for Him in an age that reminds us of the time in which Enoch lived.  Christian, one day we will stand before our Lord either to receive reward or to be ashamed of our actions (1 Cor. 3:8-15, 1 John 2:28).  Is our walk worthy of reward?  Does the world or the Word determine our course? [Emphasis added] Do we “diligently seek” (v.6) to walk by faith—as Enoch did?  If so, our Lord is pleased, and our reward is sure.

By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death;

and was not found, because God had translated him:

for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God.

But without faith it is impossible to please him:

for he that cometh to God must believe that he is,

and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11:3,4