I could not be more excited to begin our four-week study through this small book of Philemon with you. The last four weeks in Jude were truly a remarkable journey for me, and I imagine this is just going to keep getting better. Well, before I get too ahead of myself, let me begin by giving you some background information about this next small book we’re going to study together.
The apostle Paul wrote the book of Philemon around A.D. 60, just a few short years before he was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. This book is one of the prison epistles Paul wrote, meaning that he penned these words while in chains during the final years of his life. This is the shortest of Paul’s books and also the most personal as it is written to his dear friend in the faith, Philemon. The main purpose of this short letter is ultimately to address the issue of slavery, and more specifically to address one particular slave, Onesimus.
We will get into the specifics surrounding the relationship between Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus in the weeks to come, but for this introductory post, I want to focus in on these two verses right here:
“For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love.” Philemon 8-9a
At this point in Paul’s ministry, there was no questioning his authority as a primary leader in the church. He had written most of the New Testament by this point and was responsible for many of the existing churches at the time. He had completed his three missionary journeys and had led countless people to Christ, Philemon and Onesimus included. His impact was truly immeasurable and among the community of faith, he was greatly respected. He carried great authority, and he didn’t shy away from exercising it.
Perhaps, this is why I love these two verses so much. We see strength, authority, boldness, and confidence set aside in this moment of confrontation so that love could shine even brighter and speak even louder. Paul, as a figure of spiritual authority in the church, could have easily flexed this muscle in his communication with Philemon, all but demanding that he do whatever Paul asked of him, but Paul didn’t do that. Instead, he makes his appeal to Philemon “on the basis of love.”
This speaks volumes to me today. In one way or another, we all carry the weight of influence. In some capacity, be it great or small, we all have the ability to lead and influence those around us, and in those moments and opportunities that we are given to exercise this influence, you and I have a choice. We can be forceful in our boldness and authority that we’ve been given, which there are times and places when this is appropriate, OR we can, in humility, choose to set that aside and instead, influence and lead “on the basis of love.”
This is just so good, and I hope you all can see how timely and applicable this message is for us today. There are a lot of loud voices out there, shouting, demanding, and forcing opinions onto others. Part of being set apart or holy as Christ calls us to be includes sounding different than the noise of this world. We should be bold, and we should stand upon the truth of God’s Word with authority and without apology, but there is a way to do that in love.
I can’t wait to dive deeper into the Big message of Philemon with you all over the next few weeks. God’s Word is alive and active, which means it is always speaking. Lean in, listen, and let’s learn together.