Scripture: Philemon 1
10-14While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.
Observation: God can take your hopeless situation and turn it into something marvelous!
Application: I encourage you to read the whole of Philemon, it is very short, only this one chapter, but its amazing what some biblical scholars have theorized about this little book. I am by no means an expert but I will try to relate it as best I can remember from how it was taught to me.
First there is the question of why this little book was included in the New Testament at all. There really isn’t much to it, it’s a personal letter of Paul to Philemon concerning a slave named Onesimus who had apparently ran away from Philemon at some time, and then came to be acquainted with Paul while he was in Jail; and consequently Onesimus had become a Christian and Paul had grown very fond of him. So Onesimus now returns to Philemon (apparently throwing himself upon the mercy of his master) with this letter from Paul which asks for kindness and forgiveness for this X-slave who is now a brother in the faith also.
There isn’t any major doctrinal statements made in the letter, and it has nothing to do with church structure or procedure. You might gain some theology of forgiveness out of it, but other than that it would seem to be fairly insignificant upon first glance. So why is it there? Why would it have been included among Paul’s writings to be considered scripture?
Well, the theory goes like this. There are documents of letters that were written later on, that speak of a Bishop of the Church of Ephesus named Onesimus. And we know that sometime after the death of Paul that someone compiled a lot of his writings together into what would be called the Pauline Corpus, and this is later used in the putting together of our New Testament.
So if the Bishop Onesimus was the same person who carried the letter from Paul to Philemon, and the same person who compiled the Pauline Corpus, then perhaps he would have wanted to include this significant letter which was instrumental in allowing him to live as a free brother in Christ, rather than being tortured or killed as a runaway slave. So what we may be seeing here, in a behind the scenes sort of way, is that without this little book of Philemon, the Pauline Corpus (the bulk of the New Testament) might never have been compiled. We might be glimpsing a beautiful transition of how God elevated a runaway slave to the office of Bishop in the early church and used him as an instrument to help spread the gospel throughout the world and impact future generations for thousands of years to come.
I will never forget when I first heard this theory explained to me in a Course of Study class by Dr. Brady Whitehead. Dr. Whitehead is who I consider the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to the Bible. He spoke of the American scholar who had first made these observations (who’s name I can’t recall) and with tears in his eyes he quoted the scholars observation, “Isn’t this just like God.”
Prayer: Lord God,
I thank you that you are able to take the smallest things and use them for wonderful works. Help me to realize that the little things that I take hardly any notice of, can lead to much larger significant things as time goes on. Keep me focused on making even those tiny moments of opportunity count toward your glory.
Yield: I surrender my dismissal of the smaller things.