In my experience, the Book of Philemon is rarely used in sermons, Bible lessons or Sunday School classes.
It’s one of the shortest books of the Bible and, certainly, the shortest of the letters written by Paul. It’s not like the other letters that are written to church situations and it’s different from the ones that take on a pastoral tone.
This letter is personal and it’s specific. It has a purpose of encouraging Philemon to forgive Oneismus, a slave of Philemon who ran away.
This letter hits many themes — forgiveness, love, appeals to the heart. But it is also about renewing the heart.
Here are verses 20-22:
20 Yes, brother, I want this favor from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 I’m writing to you, confident of your obedience and knowing that you will do more than what I ask. 22 Also, one more thing—prepare a guest room for me. I hope that I will be released from prison to be with you because of your prayers.
It’s amazing how an act of love and forgiveness can change hearts. It’s easy to find yourself looking for the worst in others. It’s easy to believe that you will be let down, that others will hurt you, that you be stabbed in the back or that you might even be ignored. And you can experience pain, hurt, disappointment, sadness, anger and possibly darkness.
But then someone does something. They say a kind word, they affirm you, the give you a gift “just because,” or maybe they just acknowledge you and what you’re going through. Those actions have the ability to change the way that we see the world.
Maybe there’s that sense for Paul as he writes this letter. He has been appealing to Philemon (the master) to forgive Onesimus (the runaway servant). Paul goes so far in the request that he says he’ll cover any debt owed between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul calls for Philemon to take this action – to forgive – because of his love for Christ and not because he is being forced to do so. Acts of extravagant love and forgiveness are never forced but are freely given.
In his appeal, Paul says that Philemon’s forgiveness of Onesimus will “refresh” Paul’s heart (and, honestly, it will refresh the heart of Philemon and Onesimus). In the face of a tough situation (the reconciliation of Philemon and Onesimus), Paul is looking for a glimpse of Jesus.
Maybe it seems a little more like this:
- When we act in extravagantly loving ways, we show the world a glimpse of Jesus.
- When we act in love toward another, we produce a ripple of love and a glimpse of Jesus that spreads far beyond our own life.
- Our acts of kindness and love have the potential to change the lives around us.
When the people you encounter in your life see you, do they see a glimpse of Jesus? The challenge for today is to simply take the time to care about another person, to ask them how they are doing and really mean it.
Can you refresh the heart of another and, in the process, refresh your own heart?
For more from this series on the Book of Philemon, try these links:
- Biblical Approach to Conflict Resolution
- More appeals to the heart and less commands
- Seeing the value in others
- Seeing the bigger picture of what God is doing
- Forgiven people forgive other people
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