Dealers of Hope

In the Book of Philemon, the Apostle Paul pleads the case of a man by the name of Onesimus.
Here is a little backstory to this letter written by Paul.  Please take the time to read the Biblical account of Onesimus’ journey. (Philemon 1-23.)

Philemon was a man under the apostle’s tutorage in days gone by.  Philemon had matured as a believer and had now a leader and was the head of the Church of Colosse.  The apostle had taken him under his wing and helped him grow as a godly man and leader.  Like all of the apostle’s students of the Gospel, Philemon and Paul were close in relationship.  

Paul was a remarkable mentor.  He valued this maturing art of discipleship very much.  After all, Paul been mentored by men named Barnabas. (Acts 9:27) and Gamaliel.  Gamaliel took Paul under his care soon after his conversion to Christianity. In fact, he studied with Gamaliel for approximately three years. (Acts 22:3-5)

Now, years later, a slave by the name of Onesimus came into contact with the Apostle Paul.  Onesimus had been under the authority of the leader Philemon.  History tells us that Onesimus stole something (we don’t know what) from Philemon and then he ran away.  In the process of escaping, he met the Apostle Paul.  Because of Paul’s compassion, care, and graciousness, Onesimus felt safe and subjected himself to Paul’s mentorship.  

Onesimus needed a large measure of grace.  Grace is defined as undeserved or unmerited favor.  Paul preached the message of grace to both the Jew and Gentile people the rest of his life.  Jews and Gentiles needed grace because all mankind is not capable of keeping all the laws or the statutes required in order to have favor with God, in those days, or today.  As the scripture records, Jesus Christ came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.  Which is why mercy and grace are foundational to these men’s stories.  

We are quite sure that Paul prayed and counseled Onesimus in regard to the guilt, shame, and embarrassment he struggled with because of his past behavior.  Now as Onesimus was getting healed and growing, he needed to reconcile with his former master.  So, Paul went to bat for him as an emissary and peacemaker.  The Apostle Paul was the perfect person for both Philemon and Onesimus and countless others.  

You and I also need people in our life who know us well enough to comfort us, encourage us, correct us, and keep us moving forward in making good life choices.

In verse 11, the apostle refers to Onesimus as now being a useful man to Philemon.  Interestingly enough, the name Onesimus, means useful.  Paul could see what was inside of Onesimus and he called it out.  Like Onesimus we can lose our sense of identity when we have made poor destructive choices and have followed unhealthy, unproductive paths.  Paul knew Onesimus had value and he reminded him in at a time in his life.  
We all need to know that we have value and that we belong to someone and somewhere.  Paul knew that Onesimus would be valued by Philemon as well, that is if Philemon was forgiving of Onesimus’ past offense.  Forgiving someone is easier said than done.  It can be a process.  To forgive means to cancel or erase a debt owed.  Had Philemon forgiven Onesimus, we do not know for sure?  Maybe there was a residual pain from feeling betrayed by a man he trusted.  Paul needed to remind Philemon of the grace that he himself extended to him during the days when Philemon needed someone to believe in him.  

Paul was pleading for Philemon to give Onesimus a second chance.  Do you have anyone in your life who is need of a second chance?  Are you holding onto an offense and having a hard time letting it go?  You are not alone.  All of us struggle with unforgivness at some point.  It is helpful to look back at our own life when someone had mercy on us when we did not deserve it.  We have all been there.   God is a God of second chances!  He does not give up when we fail, He does not wring his hands in anxiety and say, “what will I do with him or her?”  No wrong we have done or can do is going to alter God’s love for us.  Father God is always loving, and He always moves towards us with our best interest in mind.  He is always forgiving when we ask for forgiveness.  He holds us when we falter, and strengthens us, when we are exhausted and feel like we have nothing else to give.  

Note in verse 17, Paul said, “welcome him as you would welcome me.”  Paul was saying, take a chance to love him.  Take a chance to have your kindness rewarded.  Paul went on to say in verse 18, “if he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  The Apostle believed in Onesimus and in the healing power of the gospel enough that he offered to payback anything owed to Philemon.  That is love and mercy in action.  Love is defined as “moving towards someone else with their best interest in mind.”  Mercy is defined as “assuming the need on the part of him who is to receive it.”  Paul modeled these two qualities very well in this story.

Is there someone in your life who needs love like Onesimus did?  Is there someone who has failed you?  Have you forgiven them?  If not, you need to.  Jesus said, if we do not forgive other’s sins, he would not forgive us our sins. (Mt. 6:15) Is there someone in your life who needs mercy?  Maybe we need to step in to assume their need.  James 2:13 reads,” Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” 

Walking in a place of mercy and judgement can be complicated.  There are always lots of “what if’s” and “you do not understand the situation statements.”  A seasoned leader gave me advice nearly fifty years ago. “If you are going to err, err on the side of mercy rather than on the side of judgment.” Whatever judgment we extend towards others, we will reap back to ourselves! (Mt.7:2).  Consider modeling the Apostle Paul’s life.  Let judgment go and show mercy to someone needing it.  Encourage the Onesimus in your life to do the right thing.  Encourage the Philemon’s in your life to forgive and offer a second chance.  Who knows, they may be useful to you too.

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