With the courier waiting nervously, Philemon sits down to read the letter from his mentor and good friend, Paul. He misses him so much.
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus…
Philemon hates that this man, this brother, is imprisoned in Rome. He has given so much to so many, poured his life out to tell people about Jesus. Before Philemon reads any further, he stops and prays for Paul.
Strengthen him, Lord. Be with him. Open the way, God, for him to clearly tell others about you.
As Philemon reads on, he’s warmed by Paul’s prayers, his affirmation. But then the tone changes slightly.
Though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you — I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus — I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus.
Philemon’s eyes narrow. For my child, Onesimus. And he realizes why that courier looks familiar. Pacing in the adjacent room is his runaway slave, Onesimus. The long buried splinter feels as if it pierced his skin just yesterday.
As it begins to throb, Philemon battles his anger, breathes deep, and, by the grace of God determines to read what Paul has to say.
Philemon had a right to be mad. Onesimus stole from him, humiliated him, and ran away. He had a right to throw him in jail, make him pay back every last penny. He had a right to get even.
But his rights have become a hindrance and it’s time to trust the Surgeon and deal with the splinter buried deep.
And I’m wondering about you. Have your rights become a hindrance? Who has left you, stolen from you? Maybe it wasn’t property. Maybe it was …
or your childhood,
or your innocence.
My heart aches for you. For the disappointment, the loss, the violation. But I know that you and I, we can’t leave the splinter buried deep.
Remember Who You Are
I love that the first thing Paul does is remind Philemon who he is. Loving, faithful, a joy and comfort to others. People are refreshed through him. Though you’ve been hurt, abused, abandoned, violated … don’t let the splinter buried deep define you. Don’t let it control you. Don’t go there. Remember who you are.
Respond to Love
I imagine Philemon having to force himself to sit with that letter and hear Paul out. Paul didn’t command him, but appealed to him for the sake of love. If your splinter buried deep is beginning to throb, if your Onesimus is pacing in the very next room, resist the temptation to react hastily. For the love of God, for the love of self … don’t let your rights become a hindrance. Respond to love.
Run toward Life
As Philemon reads on, he becomes aware that he is no longer the same man he was when Onesimus ran off. God has changed him. He doesn’t see the world the way he used to see it. The man pacing in the room next door is not really a slave to him, but a brother. He could go back. Claim his property. Claim his rights. But that’s not who he is anymore. You’re not who you used to be. Rather than claim your rights, run toward life.
Have your rights become a hindrance? Do you have a splinter buried deep that has begun to throb? Perhaps today’s is the day to deal with the pain. Even if it’s not possible to reconcile, you can choose to forgive, to not let the pain define you, and run toward life. Would you invite the Surgeon to begin to cut away the calloused flesh and remove the splinter buried deep?
Life is waiting.
I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. John 10:10