Sunday, August 26, 2012

Philemon 1-3

Background on Philemon (Technically pronounced FILL – eh – mahn):

Philemon was a slave owner in the town of Colossae and he was also a Christian (In those days, slavery was a bit different and it was not uncommon for Christians to have slaves).  Onesimus was a slave that had run away from Philemon.  Paul came across Philemon and began to disciple him in the faith.  Paul encouraged Onesimus to return to Philemon and repay any debt that his absence incurred to him.  Paul wrote this letter to Philemon as a testimony to the faith of Onesimus so that Philemon would accept and be able to forgive his slave for running away.

Furthermore, since Philemon only has one chapter, the chapter number is omitted with respect to referencing it.  Thus, Philemon 1-3 means the first 3 verses of Philemon rather that the first three chapters.

Summary retelling of Philemon 1-3

Paul begins this letter by calling himself a prisoner as well as reminding Philemon that Timothy is with him.  Paul addresses Philemon as the recipient of the letter in addition to Apphia and Archippus – who were likely members of the church in Colossae.  He also addresses the whole church, which appears to be meeting in the house of Philemon.  Paul includes his traditional greeting of grace and peace from the Father as well as from Jesus Christ.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
We don’t know who Apphia and Archipus are.  There are some who suspect that Apphia is Philemon’s wife, and that could be likely.  If that is the case, then Archippus could well be the son of Philemon and Apphia.  However, they could equally as likely be leading members of the church that is meeting in Philemon’s house.  We don’t know.  What is important to realize is the inclusion of a woman in the greeting of this letter.  Remember that this letter is a letter to Philemon to help restore Onesimus.  Apphia and Archippus are likely being called out as witnesses to the letter in order to help Philemon “do the right thing” and respond to Onesimus in forgiveness.  So often Paul is painted as a male chauvinist, but clearly here in the greeting of the letter we see a place where the inclusion of a woman in the “power structure” of this process is desired.

What might be the point of Paul’s inclusion of Apphia?  Is he simply making a point that women can be a part of the leadership in the church?  What might a woman’s perspective bring to the case that Paul is hoping to bring before Philemon?

Second Thought:
Paul did not plant the church in Colossae, and he may have never visited there.  However, it is likely that this church was started by Epaphras, who was a part of the church that Paul founding in nearby Ephesus.  Thus, the people in Colossae would likely have a high opinion of Paul and his ministry.  This church in Colossae is evidence of the discipleship process.  When we make disciples, those disciples make other disciples.  Churches get planted and people start being obedient to God in places that we originally never went.  Following God and making disciples is all about empowering others to do the work of God.

Why is it important for spiritual leaders to empower others rather than to seek all of the control for themselves?  What happens when spiritual leaders try to possess power rather than distribute it to the whole people of God?

Third Thought:
The church in Colossae met in Philemon’s house.  They didn’t have a fancy building or particular synagogue to go to.  Philemon opened up his house so that people could hear about God.  It should not be our programs or our physical presence that brings people into relationship with Christ.  What brings people into a relationship with Christ is their ability to experience God through us.  It is the relationships and the fellowship among us that God will use to draw people to Him.

Is our culture a culture where relationships are stressed as important?  How many good, healthy, spiritual relationships do you have?

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 4-7
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