Christianity is a journey of faith. It is a journey that demands Christians to strongly hold on to their integrity and love for one another in the process of becoming like Jesus through loyalty to him. We put into practice what we have been commanded by King Jesus, and try to follow the example of other believers. As a result, Christians should be able to love and forgive one another unconditionally, reconcile as soon as possible, and hold on to their allegiance to Jesus as they seek to become like him.
As we begin this new series of lessons from Paul’s letter to Philemon, we are glad to invite and encourage you to be part of this journey. In this series, we are going to see how this letter of Paul to Philemon can help us live in unity in our communities of faith. Unity and reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel that Paul preached, and Jesus prayed for believers to be united (John17). It is, therefore, one of the aims of this series to cultivate a culture of unity, love and reconciliation in our communities.
As usual, in his letters, Paul greets with his trademark “grace and peace” which come from God the Father and the Lord Jesus. Philemon is a wealthy householder who has a church that meets in his house. The letter is also directed to Apphia and Archippus, who were probably part of Philemon’s household or church leadership. In the letter, Paul seems to be appealing to Philemon about Onesimus, Philemon’s slave. It is not clear what happened between Onesimus and Philemon that eventually led the latter to go to Paul in prison, where he received the gospel ad repented. Paul, therefore, writes to Philemon asking him to receive Onesimus back as a brother in Christ, not as a slave. Paul knew Philemon and believed that he will forgive and receive Onesimus. Paul hoped that he would be released from prison soon and went further to ask Philemon to prepare a room for him.
As we already see, this letter is permeated by appeals for forgiveness, reconciliation, love, unity, relationship. This is a letter for the community of faith, and it speaks to us even today. As much as this is the shortest letter in the New Testament canon, its significance is immense. We hope that the lesson will be of enduring value to your journey of allegiance to King Jesus.