"What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'"
June 16, 2010
There is a book in the New Testament that is only one chapter long, and is often overlooked. Paul was in prison, and wrote a letter to Philemon, who was a slaveowner and member of the church of Colosse.
Onesimus was Philemon's slave, and had run away to Rome. While there he came into contact with Paul, who led him to Christ. A strong friendship developed between the two men. Paul reluctantly sends Onesimus back to Philemon, with a letter speaking on his behalf.
According to Roman law, a runaway slave could be punished by death. But Paul intercedes to Philemon to graciously receive Onesimus back as a fellow believer and as Paul's companion, with the same love with which he would receive Paul himself.
In verses 12-16 of Philemon, Paul writes, "I am sending him -- who is my very heart -- back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good -- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord."
Paul then goes a step further and continues, "So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back."
Onesimus did wrong by running away, but through circumstances he met up with Paul who led him to the Lord. Apparently, he and Paul became very close friends, and when Paul was imprisoned, Onesimus was there to help him and was beneficial to him.
The depth of their friendship is evident when Paul asks Philemon to welcome back the runaway slave as though he were welcoming Paul himself. He goes a step further, and offers to repay any debt that Onesimus may have owed Philemon. That's a strong example of "loving your brother as yourself".
In addition to writing the letter to Philemon, Paul also wrote a letter to the church at Colosse. In Colossians 4:7-9 Paul writes, "Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here."
I believe that possibly Paul had discussed with Onesimus how a servant should be obedient to his master. Thinking of Onesimus, the relationship between servant and master must have been on Paul's heart as he wrote the letter to the church at Colosse.
In Colossians 4:22 he wrote, "Slaves, obey your masters in everything and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism."
Although he had grown to love and appreciate Onesimus, he wasn't condoning running away. Instead he was telling slaves what their attitude should be when working for their masters. He told them to work as if they were working for Jesus, not for a man. Although slaves had no earthly inheritance coming to them, Paul reminded them that they would receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward of their loyalty and faithfulness.
But he didn't stop there, Paul continued and gave instructions to the slaveowners at Colosse as well. Chapter 4 begins, "Master, provide your slaves with what is right and fair because you know that you also have a Master in heaven."
He reminded them that there was a Higher Authority that they were answerable to. They may own slaves and be a master on earth, but they had a Master in heaven that was watching them and who they'd have to give an account to someday for their actions.
It's easy to read these scriptures and think that there is no application to us. While we are not slaves, and do not own slaves, we can still take this advice to heart. It shows us how to respect and treat others, and what our attitude should be in dealing with others.
It may be in business dealings or at your job. There may be those who are answerable to you, and you are to treat them right and fair. But also in your attitude towards those who are in authority over you, you are to work with all your heart, as working for the Lord, and not for men. We all know when we're doing our best, or when we're slacking off.
At times we may feel mistreated and think, "If they don't care about me, then I'm not going to care about them!" But there is a Master in heaven that is watching and knows our heart. When we work to please Him instead of man, then it changes everything.
This can apply to many every day situations where we may feel taken advantage of. As Paul wrote, "Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong." We're not responsible for the actions of others, but do have to answer for our own actions.
It's also easy to point our fingers at others and think we know what they should do. Paul could have told Onesimus, "You did wrong, you know you did wrong, and now you have to suffer the consequences and pay for your actions." Onesimus knew he had acted wrongly and didn't need Paul pointing that out to him. He probably felt that he deserved Paul and Philemon's condemnation and punishment.
But what a greater witness was the love Paul showed for him instead. "If this slave owes you a debt, put it on my account and I'll repay it when I next come." He didn't tell Onesimus that he needed to go work off his debt, but offered to pay it himself. That's a true picture of what it means to offer forgiveness and grace to someone.
That's the way that Christ looks at us. We all have made mistakes and have sinned; and continue to do so more often than we should. There are times when we deserve punishment and retribution for our actions. But instead of giving us what we deserve, Jesus offers us grace and forgiveness. We cannot do anything to deserve it, but He gives it to us anyway; just because He loves us.
Onesimus had to go back to Philemon and repent for running away. Even though Paul spoke on his behalf, he really didn't know whether or not Philemon would forgive him and accept him back. He knew that his actions deserved death, but he was being given a second chance.
None of us can be good enough, or work hard enough to deserve God's acceptance and forgiveness. Grace means the free and unmerited favor of God. That's what God is willing to extend to each of us. All we have to do is go back to God and say, "I'm sorry for messing up and sinning." We don't deserve God's grace and mercy, but when we are repentant, He gives it to us anyway. We deserve death and punishment, but God gives us eternal life instead. How awesome is that?!
"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found; was blind but now I see."
It's hard to imagine life in the Roman Empire. Slavery was normal. Not quite as normal as the employee-employer relationship now, but that's a start. Onesimus didn't have the option of quitting, or looking for a job somewhere else.
I don't really understand why he would risk the shame or the punishment for leaving. But if he was willing to take so much of a risk, there must have been some major hurt feelings. It could have been that Philemon was overbearing, or at least Onesimus thought he was. Or it might have Onesimus who was simply rebellious. Either way, it took a lot of courage for him to go back.
It could have been years between the day Onesimus ran away and the day he went back. Years of rebellion can be hard to give up. He first had to give up his pride. Or, he had to have a lot of faith in Paul's word that Philemon would treat him well. But he knew it was God's will, and the right thing to do.
When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach against their wickedness, where did he try to flee to instead?
Who was the only woman judge of Israel?
When Gideon led the people into battle against the Midianites he started with 32,000 but God told him that was too many and that Israel would claim glory for themselves. How many men did Gideon end up with when they approached the camp of the Midianites?
What "weapons" did Gideon have those men use when defeating the Midianites?
What was the first thing Samson slew where God's spirit came upon him mightily and he had great strength?
Black Forest Pie
1 chocolate pie crust
1 pkg. (4 serving size) chocolate instant pudding
3 1/2 cups Cool Whip, thawed
1 cup cherry pie filling
1 cup cold milk
Spread 1 cup whipped topping on the bottom of the pie crust. Combine milk and pudding mix together in medium bowl. Blend with wire whisk or electric mixer on low speed for 1 minute. Fold in 1 1/2 cups Cool Whip. Spread over Cool Whip in crust. Spread remaining Cool Whip over top, leaving a 1-inch border and forming a depression in the center of the Cool Whip. Spoon cherry pie filling in the center. Chill at least 3 hours.
Tarshish (Jonah 1:3)
Deborah (Judges 4:4)
300 (Judges 7:7)
A trumpet, and empty pitchers with torches inside them (Judges 7:16)
A young lion came at him, and he tore it apart with his bare hands without using a weapon. (Judges 14:6)
I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. Ecclesiastes 3:14
We love you!
Loretta & Jon