Front Page
Meditations Contents
Series Theme:   Philemon Meditations

Meditation Title: Overview







Introducing a Prisoner






Grace & Peace



The Place of Prayer



What will I be known by?



Active Life Brings Revelation



Refreshing Love



Iron Hand in Velvet Glove






Depth of Relationship






One Heart



Personal Desires Sacrificed



The Way of Grace



The Mystery of Providence



The Value of People



The Responsibilities of Partnerships



Calling in Past Debts



Benefiting One Another



High Hopes for One Another



Open Hospitality



Team Players



The Grace of the Lord





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Meditation Title: General Introduction


Phile 1:1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother. T o Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker


Every letter in the New Testament has a different characteristic. For instance Romans is Paul's big theological treatise explaining the Gospel. 1 Corinthians is a letter to a church with a number of problems. James is a practical letter laced with spirituality aimed at a church that was now dispersed across the world, but needing to be focused. 2 Corinthians is an apologetic letter of a senior apostle justifying his life and actions. More than any of the others mentioned above, it has a very personal element to it. However, when it comes to the personal touch Philemon is unique. It is essentially a letter to a friend. Yes, most of us focus on the content of the letter which is all about a runaway slave who has become a Christian, but essentially it is a letter about friendship and as such it conveys a gentleness that is not seen anywhere else and a strong personal touch.


Now why should we want to follow a series of meditations in a letter between friends? Some of the other series' of meditations certainly have more impact – why the Cross, the effects of the Cross, God revealed in the Psalms, Jesus revealed in two of the Gospels – but sometimes it is good to meditate on the simple issues of life. The series ‘Walking with God' tended to have many more personal applications than most other meditations, but these meditations should have a simplicity about them which, hopefully, will minister to our hearts in a more gentle way.


It is a letter from the great apostle Paul when he was in prison, probably in Rome . He writes to a Christian friend of his, Philemon, who lived in Colosse. Slavery was common in those days but under a master who had become a Christian life for the slave could be like an ordinary servant. Onesimus, had been a salve of Philemon but had run away to Rome . Even in a now-Christian household a slave was still a slave. In Rome Onesimus had run across Paul and had become a Christian. As such he now wanted to put right his life and one of the things he felt he should do was return to Philemon and so this letter is Paul's appeal to his friend to receive this young man back. Does this sound like a story that has little relevance to life in the twenty first century? Well you may be surprised!


The thing about meditations is that they allow God to stretch our minds and go more widely abroad than a simple study would do. Some of the other meditations, such as that in James, have more of the elements of study in it, but in this set we intend to take very small snippets and allow the Holy Spirit to enlarge our understanding of many different spiritual issues. We thus hope you will find this series helpful and beneficial in completely different ways from some of the other ‘big' series of meditations you will find on this site.








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Meditation No. 1

Meditation Title: Introducing a Prisoner


Phile 1:1     Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother


In the 1960's there appeared on British TV a slightly quirky series called, “The Prisoner”, in which an ex-secret agent who had resigned from the Secret Service had been kidnapped and taken to a community of unknown destination where he was kept until he would divulge all his past secrets. The whole series was based upon his attempts to escape this unknown place and return home. Those who have been kidnapped by terrorists tell of how they fight against the dread of never being able to see their loved ones again. They longed to be free. Every now and then the news reports of someone who escapes from prison, and some prisoners tell of how they count away the days longing for their sentence to come to an end.


When we come to the apostle Paul, we find a description that is, in the light of the things we've noted above, quite strange. We find him describing himself as a prisoner, but nowhere in the letter does he feel bad about this. Perhaps we should observe Paul's history first of all. His first experience of the inside of a prison cell was with Silas at Philippi (Acts 16:23). This was merely an overnight stay, interrupted by an earthquake! He also spent a few nights' spell in a barrack's room at the beginning of a series of imprisonments, starting in Jerusalem (Acts 22:29,30), after which he was transferred to Caesarea where he was kept under guard (Acts 23:33-35) and left in prison for two years (Acts 24:27). Eventually he was sent to Rome to appear before Caesar and stayed under house arrest for two years, but freely preaching the Gospel (Acts 28:16,30).


So Paul knew what it was to be in prison for his faith but the significant thing is his description of that imprisonment. He does not say he is a prisoner of the State or of the authorities, but that he is a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Paul sees his circumstances as those under the control of his Lord and Master, and if He wants Paul in prison, then he will make the most of that. When he wrote to the Philippians he said, Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel . As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.” (Phil 1:12-14). You can't get more positive than this! Being in prison had enabled him to bring the Gospel to people who otherwise could not be reached and, more than that, it has encouraged Christians outside prison to speak out more fearlessly.


Can we really take hold of this at the outset, that Paul is at peace because he is confident that, despite what others would call ‘adverse circumstances', he is in the will of God doing what God wants him to do?. Now the question arises, did God put him in prison? No, in a Fallen World, sin in others and Satan in the background, are working against the saints and so things do go wrong. But the message is the same from one end of the Bible to the other. As Joseph said, You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20) Paul himself was to say, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28). Yes, the world may try to dump nasty stuff on us, but the Lord takes it and uses it for His purposes. Paul is completely at peace in this knowledge. He was completely assured that he was in his Saviour's hands and that he was safe there.


Explaining this further, in his letter to the Philippians, Paul, after giving all his credentials says, whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” ( Phil 3:7). There is more in this that just rejecting his credentials, it is also a willingness to give up everything for Christ. Earlier he had written, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1:21). In a TV sci-fi series, a fighter pilot explaining how they cope with the pressures of going out against the enemy says something like, “They teach us to consider that in every mission we will die. Therefore once you think like that it is no longer an issue.” Paul's teachings are laced with this sort of thinking. He teaches us to consider that we are dead to our old lives and only alive to God for His purposes. If we can truly come to this place in our thinking, then no adverse circumstances will bring us down. We will see whatever comes as coming within the will of God, where He will be there for us and will give us His grace to handle it – whatever it is.


My goodness! Who would ever have thought that in this harmless little letter we would be facing such deep and profound issues so quickly. This is the heart of the Gospel – we are saved by the blood of the Lamb that is Jesus Christ, so that we can become prisoners of God, at His disposal, to do His will. Put like that it sounds potentially hard and difficult, but the truth is that the One who holds us prisoners is a benign God, a God who is love. Therefore everything about His will for us, involves loves and goodness. If only people could see this they would come flocking with the cry, “Please take me, make me your prisoner!” for there can be no better ‘prison' in which to reside! Enjoy your ‘sentence'!







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Meditation No. 2

Meditation Title: Relationships


Phile 1:1,2 To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home :


Have you ever thought what a friend is? A dictionary definition is ‘one joined to another in intimacy and mutual benevolence independently of sexual or family love.' We need to think about it because it is an idea that is so common that we take it for granted. A friend is someone we are linked to, having built up a relationship where there are mutual good feelings. Even as I write I picture various men I know who instantly come into mind as good friends. There are ‘friends' – people we know fairly well and enjoy – and there are ‘good friends' or ‘best friends' and it is the latter who come instantly to our minds when we think about a friend. They are people that we have spent time with, and we have talked together, shared our hearts together, found we have common areas of interest, and we find we really enjoy each other's company – and there is no sexual element to it, just ‘friendship'.


It is believed that Paul wrote and sent this letter at the same time as the letter to the Colossians. Archippus is mentioned in that letter (Col 4:17). The focus of the letter is on Philemon and beyond what we are told here, there is no indication of the relationships involved. It is usually assumed that Philemon was the head of the household and that the other two were members of his household, Apphia possibly being his wife. In some senses it is a very manly letter – Paul addresses Philemon as a dear friend but Apphia only as ‘our sister' and ‘Archippus as a fellow soldier – there is not the same intimate closeness, it seems, with the other two. Paul seeks to convey this closeness because a) it IS there, and b) he wants Philemon to respond to it in what follows.


We need to keep on emphasising this point. This is a letter from the great church builder, Paul, and his assistant, Timothy (v.1), to a resident of Colosse, a man who Paul has come to know and who he now considers a ‘dear friend', a friend of great value. There is a close relationship here. Now we say all of this because in our inadequacies as human beings we tend to veer off in different ways. There is the introvert Christian who just isn't good at making friends, who is almost isolated. God made us for relationships. Everything about the human condition speaks of this. We need friendship, we need contact with someone else with whom we can share ourselves. The other extreme is the extrovert who seems to have so many friends but actually there is no one who is really close. We need those one or two people who are particularly close with whom we can share. My own belief is that our partner should also be our greatest friend. I certainly consider that my wife is also my greatest friend. It might be worth checking about your marriage relationship. Is you marriage partner your greatest friend? It's a shame if they are not, and it is something to be worked on. Remember, a friend is someone you spend time with and with whom you share your heart. I counsel young Christians entering into a relationship with the opposite sex, to ensure that, before anything else, they seek to ensure that their relationship is built on friendship and all that that means. So often relationships in the world are shallow, often based only on sex. It is no wonder that they fall apart so easily. If your sexual partner is also your best ‘friend' then there is strength.


But there is something else that comes out in this simple verse, the sense of corporate unity, to use a rather uncomfortable expression. The fact that Paul mentions all three people here speaks of his inclusive view of this household. We have had many church leaders come into our house over the years, a few of them, ‘big names'. I have observed something of great significance. Most of them were happy to come into our front room and relax with me, the church leader. One man and one couple were never content with that. The one man in particular always wandered into the kitchen and sat on a stool and included my wife in the conversation. There was a loving inclusion that said, ‘You are both important.' Now that may not sound anything important but I tell you that I found it blessed my heart and I know it blessed by wife's heart. It spoke of love and concern that included the whole household. In fact all three that I have just mentioned, all also included our children in discussions wherever possible and showed love and concern for them. This goes beyond just functional relationships that are so often the norm in church; this goes to heart relationships which are, I believe, what God wants for his church.


Paul's tendency in his letters to drag in the names of others, says that people were important to him. I confess I find this strange because in his conflict with Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:37-40), Paul seems a rather hard-nosed individual concerned for ‘the work' but in his letters we see this other side of him. He was in fact, a people-person! Indeed how can we grow and build the church if we are not? Church is all about people. Church is people and it's about people in relationship with God and with each other. Sometimes, where there are many people, it takes design and effort to ensure there are genuine relationships formed, and hence the need for small groups in a local church. But for leaders also, it is especially important that there are ones and twos with whom we have deeper relationship of sharing and mutual concern.


Did you notice that the designation ‘fellow worker' came after ‘friend'. The fact that Paul and Philemon ‘worked' together for the Gospel was secondary in their relationship to their friendship. It is easy to work alongside people in the Gospel, but often it is not so easy for them to be friends as well. For those of us who are sensitive or insecure, building friendships is never easy – but it is important! It is an important aspect of our Christian lives and service, and it warrants our serious consideration. Think about it in your own life situation.







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Meditation No. 3

Meditation Title: Grace and Peace?


Phile 1:3    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


It seems there is almost a cult of living with second best in the human race! We struggle with life, we sometimes cope, and sometimes not. Many people struggle with a whole bunch of negative emotions: fear, doubt, worry, anxiety, hate, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and upset. Plans go wrong, things don't work out as they should and, indeed, disaster sometimes falls and the emotional spiral can go down into a whirlpool of despair and depression. This is the dark side of life. Perhaps not quite at that low level, on a daily basis, people get snappy and irritable, respond harshly or angrily, make strong demands, lash out verbally or even physically. Many take drugs or use alcohol to try to lift themselves out of the mire of the mundane and unpleasant. Other buy things or eat things for comfort. It's a weird and messy world in many people's lives. From the spiritual viewpoint we say it is all part of the experience of sinful mankind. It is sin that drives us in these ways and seeks to destroy us. Indeed for many people life is a battle for survival.


Why, you may ask, provide a preamble like this to a simple verse such as we have above, a verse that appears in similar form at the beginning of so many of Paul's letters? The answer to that is, because the things Paul wishes for the recipients of his letters are the answers to all of the things we have noted above.


Let's take grace first. The old Sunday-School adage that grace stands for ‘ G od's r iches a t C hrist's e xpense' is actually not a bad starting place. Grace is all about “God's riches” or God's good provision for us, which comes to us because of all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross at Calvary . Because Jesus died to take our sins, our punishment, our guilt and our shame on the Cross when he died, when we come to God and allow that work to be applied to our lives, we are forgiven and cleansed and He imparts to us His Holy Spirit to live within us. From then on, in Him, we have every resource we need to cope triumphantly with this world. Him living in us, means we have the wisdom and power available to help us, guide us, direct us and empower us to handle whatever comes before us in life. This is God's grace – His provision for us to enable us to live like this.


Now think about this; if all of His wisdom and His power is there to enable us to cope with whatever comes, then we can be at rest and not worry about what tomorrow might bring. We need not get all fretful about how today will pan out because we know He will be there for us whatever happens. If we find difficult circumstances blowing up under our feet, then we can turn to Him and ask Him for His wisdom to know what to do and how to cope (Jas 1:5). Suddenly we find we know what to do. Ideas flow and as we act on them we find we are handling what is going on without stress. We seem to have too many things to do in one day. We turn to Him and ask for His help. Ideas flow, strength seems available and before we know where we are, we are at the end of the day and it is all accomplished! It does work like that! That is what grace is all about. And because we know it works like that we find we have an almost uncanny peace. We aren't stressed, we aren't fretful, we aren't anxious, and we aren't worrying. Peace reigns!


This is what grace and peace are all about. It is about God's wonderful provision or His ability through us to live and serve – at peace. We have peace with God because of what Jesus has done for us on the Cross, and we have peace as we live out our lives in this Fallen World with His enabling.


Now some of us may say, “Well this sounds very simple, but it doesn't seem to work out like that for me. I still worry and I still get exhausted and I still struggle with life.” The answer to that is in the latter part of this verse: from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We have to learn to live like this, we have to learn to let God be our Father, and we have to learn to let Jesus be our Saviour. When you came to Christ and were ‘born again' (Jn 3:3 and Jn 1:12,13) you started a new life. The very expression, ‘born again' indicates starting a completely new life. Yes, you were a new person empowered by God's Holy Spirit and you had a new purpose and a new direction, but you were also seeing life with new eyes and a new mind. It was like learning to live all over again. It was a major learning experience, and the thing about learning experiences is that you start from a place of ignorance and you allow your teacher to guide you into knowledge, understanding and new experience.


So, if you say you don't find this ‘grace thing' easy, is it because you have stopped learning or forgotten that being a disciple is all about learning? The biggest thing we can learn as God's children is to turn to Him with both the good and bad things of life. We can turn with thanks for the good, and for requests for help with the bad. The more we do this and the more we respond to what comes back from Him, the more we experience His grace and the more we experience peace. May you know, just as Paul said, the grace and peace that comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.







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Meditation No. 4

Meditation Title: The Place of Prayer


Phile 1:4     I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers,


The whole topic of prayer comes up again and again in the New Testament. On one side we almost take it for granted. It is something that ‘Christians do'. Other faiths also ‘do it'. Sometimes we ‘do it' in formal prayers in church, at other times we simply throw out a desperate cry to God. We do it with other people and we do it alone. It's something Christians down through the ages have done. Sometimes we hear of, or come across, great ‘prayer warriors', those whose life is filled with prayer, who seem to have an open door to heaven, but mostly I have concluded that most Christians struggle with prayer and feel guilty about it. We come across exhortations to pray: Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up,(Lk 18:1) and, pray in the Spirit on all occasions,(Eph 6:18) and, pray continually,” (1 Thes 5:17).

When we see these exhortations we feel bad because we feel we don't measure up to these things. We see Jesus example, often going out to pray: he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray,” (Mt 14:23) and, One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God,” (Lk 6:12) and, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray,” (Lk 9:28) and, He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,” (Lk 22:41). We read of Paul's prayer life, I remember you in my prayers at all times,” (Rom 1:9,10) and, Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again,” (1 Thess 3:10 ). We read all these things and feel bad.


Let's look first of all at what Paul says to Philemon before going on to consider this more widely. I always thank my God .” Now if we're careless we'll think that Paul was always thanking God for Philemon, but it doesn't say that. It says that when he prays for Philemon, he always thanks God for him. He is simply conveying to Philemon his high regard for him. When he does actually pray for him, it is with a glad and grateful heart. This is really more about what he feels about Philemon than about prayer. He is not saying that he is always praying for Philemon – although he no doubt did pray for him from time to time – but that on those occasions when he did, thanks for his life was always a part of it. When you and I pray for or with people, we can always thank God for their lives.


Whenever any one of my people ask me to pray over them, I almost invariably start by thanking God for them and thanking Him that He loves them. Whatever else follows, those two things are invariably things I find myself doing. If we love others, then it is natural to thank God for them. Giving thanks is perhaps the most natural thing on earth to do. There is so much in life to be thankful for. I like the comment that I once heard: an atheist is someone who is thankful but who has no one to thank. If you are looking for a reason to pray, then thankfulness is one of the best motivations.


Indeed thankfulness is one of the measuring sticks that reveal the sort of person we are. The apostle Paul knew this: For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.” (Rom 1:20,21). Spiritual blindness means we will not appreciate this world and the One who made it. The problem is that it is so very easy to take all of God's good provision for us for granted. We don't appreciate life until it is under threat. We take for granted so much of what we have, until we can no longer enjoy it. We plough through our lives with little thought until we come to a time of life when circumstances make us look back, and it is only then that we really start to appreciate the wonder of what has gone. How sad if our lives are characterised by complacency and indifference, with an absence of thankfulness. We almost need to purposefully make a point in the day when we stop and almost formally thank the Lord for whatever comes to mind. If we don't make it happen, it is so easy to not do it and we soon become those who take both God and His world (and our lives) for granted.


One thing I have observed when studying prayer in the Bible and that is that most of the recorded prayers of the Bible come out of a crisis. When things go wrong, people pray. That is natural. However life is full of problems to be overcome and difficulties to be dealt with. We constantly need God's wisdom and grace, as we considered yesterday, and if that is so, then it will be natural to pray. The only thing is that the enemy will try to distract us and break up our relationship with the Lord. A real relationship comes through communication. You never have a genuine relationship with anyone without talking to them. A relationship develops and continues through the means of communication. If we rarely communicate, then it is a very shallow relationship.


Jesus and Paul both knew that they constantly needed the Father's help in their ministries. The more we are serving the Lord the more we will recognise our need to communicate with the Lord. The more we recognise our need the more we will talk to the Father. That's why Jesus prayed, that's why Paul prayed, and that will be a primary motivating force that nudges us to pray. A sense of self-sufficiency stifles the likelihood of prayer. It's not a case of I ought to pray, but more I'm rather silly if I don't pray.







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Meditation No. 5

Meditation Title: What will I be known by?


Phile 1:4,5    I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.


One of the things about being human, is that so often we worry about what others will think of us. The peak of this seems to be in teenage years when we are ultra conscious about ourselves. All of us are concerned about how we look and some of us have worries about ears that are too big, noses that are too projecting – at least as far as we're concerned! Whether it is at school, college or work, we try to fit in. We don't like standing out. Yes, there are a few rare souls who don't care, but most of us do. When we get older, and I'm told this is especially true of men, we start becoming aware of the ‘big birthdays' the ones with a zero, which indicate the passing of time and a possible diminishing of capability. Many have what is called ‘a mid-life-crisis', a time of looking back and wondering what we have achieved, and looking forward with the realisation that our capabilities will be reducing. How long will we have left, what can we achieve to make life meaningful? An exercise I have carried out with people to help them focus on life goals, is to ask what they would like written on their tombstone. What is it you would like written on your grave stone that encapsulates what you have achieved in life? How will you be thought of when you die? What memories of you will stand out in the minds of your family?


For Paul and Philemon, they didn't have to wait until Philemon's death for something to stand out. Paul was quite clear in his mind; in fact every time he thought about Philemon and prayed for him, it was his faith and love that stood out in Paul's mind, in his memory of Philemon. This wasn't just Paul's judgement but it was also what he heard from those other travelling ministries he encountered, who had been to Colosse and who had met Philemon. Hence he says, I hear about your …..” Philemon clearly stood out in respect of these things. He was known for them and people brought reports to Paul about them.


Now there is, in one sense, a hope that each of us would be known for these two things because they are such key characteristics for a Christian. Let's examine them. When Paul speaks about Philemon's faith in the Lord Jesus, he doesn't just mean what he believes in his mind but also the life he lives that reflects this belief. (The NIV has swapped around the original wording to clarify it as shown above) This faith in the Lord Jesus means the clear belief he has about Jesus and the salvation and its outworking that he has received and is living as a result. There is absolutely no question about Philemon; everything about him shouts to the world that here is a Christian sold out for his Saviour.

Let's get personal. Can that be said of you? Do those who encounter you at school or college or work clearly know that you are a Christian? They will do if the latter characteristic, which we'll come to in a minute, has been so evident that it has opened up opportunities for you to share who you are and what you believe. The apostle Peter wrote, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15). If your life is clearly a demonstration of Christ, then you will find people asking you about it. Perhaps it will come as they open up their lives to you because they feel secure with the sort of person you clearly are. That is often the order of things: loving acceptance of them by you – and opening up of heart and sharing by them – a loving concern by you – a questioning by them – giving answers by you. That does come when we are genuinely living out lives of faith. The more we do that, the more the opportunities to share Jesus' love will come.


But it's not only faith, as we've already indicated, it's also love – love for all the saints, Paul speaks about. This is obviously Philemon's open-hearted concern and care and consideration towards everyone in the local church and those who pass by, such as Paul and others in the ministry. Note it's for all the saints. This is a wide open-hearted acceptance of all Christians. That's what Philemon was known for. Are we like that or are we those who gather in little groups only accepting those who are ‘like us'? Love, surely, has got to be a primary characteristic of our lives. Why? “God is love,” (1 Jn 4:8) and so if His Holy Spirit lives in us, we should be expressing Him. Jesus taught, A new command I give you: Love one another.” (Jn 13:34). Philemon was known for it and so should we.


These simple verses go to root issues. Are we living out lives that are faith in Jesus Christ being expressed? Are we filled with and expressing to those inside the church and outside it, his love? Key questions. Are these things the things we will be known for? When people look back on us after we are gone, will they remember us for these things? If not, it's time now to start working on these. Create a good sentence for your tomb stone!







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Meditation No. 6

Meditation Title: Active Life brings Revelation


Phile 1:6    I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.


There is a difficulty in Christian teaching. It is that it is often difficult not to fall into the Pharisees trap of legalism and say, “You ought to…”. Now the truth is that the New Testament is full of instructions, some of them direct, and some of them indirect, like the one implied in our verse today. The trouble with ‘ought' teaching is that it lays burdens and creates guilt when there is failure. Many Christians find it quite easy to share their faith – but many don't! If you were able to record on film in any one day those who are sharing their faith, you would probably find quite a high proportion are doing it out of a sense of duty, or out of guilt – ‘I ought to be doing this'. Within those we would probably see some very artificial sharing, pressing people who weren't ready to be pressed, and it's quite likely that they were not being inspired by the Holy Spirit at that moment to share. In other words they were doing it out of self-endeavour. Does that matter if the Gospel is shared anyway? Perhaps not, but if there is a better way, let's look for it.


Paul has just said how blessed he has been by hearing of Philemon's faith toward God and love towards people, but now we find him praying that Philemon will be a witness. The first obvious implication is that it is possible to be full of faith and love and yet not be sharing with the rest of the world. Jesus made two very clear statements before he left his disciples: go and make disciples of all nations,” (Mt 28:19) and, you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The role of the church is, therefore, to communicate the truth of Jesus Christ to the world round about – but how?


Is it just right to stop every person we come across and tell them about Jesus? Well, if we do that we'll probably find someone who is hungry and may respond, but is that how Jesus and the disciples did it? Jesus said, I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19) In other words he moved as he was inspired by his Father. He sensed what his Father was doing and joined in. How did the disciples do it? In Acts 2 they were clearly impelled by the Holy Spirit. In Acts 3 they clearly responded in the Spirit to the circumstances they found themselves in. In Acts 4 Peter was clearly filled with the Spirit to speak.


What is the fruit of ‘hit and run' witnessing? Well because it is artificial, and self motivated, it frequently doesn't meet people where they are. That says to them, “I only care about speaking to you to get my quota of witnessing slots today.” In sharing with non-Christians there are large numbers who have been offended by the church, whether it was because of how a church rejected them or how an insensitive Christian beat up on them. What I find is that there are many people who have a problem with the church and Christians, but not with God and spirituality. What this suggests is that we have been through a period of history where the church has not been very good at being a witness. So what is missing?


Very often, I am certain Christians witness in a defensive mode, which is really an attack. “You are a sinner and have got it wrong. You need to repent” is the message which is being conveyed. Isn't that Biblical, you may ask? Only if it is conveyed with the love of God and inspired by the Spirit of God. When Jesus preached, turn around your lives for God's power and love is here (Mt 4:17), he was speaking to a prepared people. The Jews were well taught – even if they didn't believe it – and they were the people of God. More than that, they were hungry because the land was spiritually dry. Now we have a people who fit the latter description, but not the former. Add to that the poor image and reputation of the church, and we realize that our witness has to include the love and good works of Jesus to open hearts to us and then, when people have realized we're good to be with, we can share detail of the Christian faith in ways they can understand. The opportunity today is immense, if we will go about it in the right way!


But there is something here we haven't touched on yet: so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Paul says that if we share our faith we will come to greater understanding of the wonder of who we are and what God has done. Now I believe this happens in two ways. First I believe that every time we take an opportunity to share our faith, the Holy Spirit witnesses within us to the truth of what we're sharing and sometimes we actually see things – as we're sharing – that we've never seen before. It seems He delights in blessing us with revelation as we share! The second way we come to greater understanding is when people respond and are born again, and we see again the staggering wonder of God's transforming power. There is nothing quite like sharing God's love with someone, seeing them receive it, and respond to it and be born again. To witness this life transformation is wonderful! To see someone, who has been struggling with life, come into a place of peace with God and joy in the Holy Spirit is truly wonderful! When we share with others and witness this happening, we're changed as well! We suddenly realize in a bigger way the wonder of all that God has provided for us. Good isn't it!







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Meditation No. 7

Meditation Title: Refreshing Love

Phile 1:7    Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.


I wonder how many songs have been written about love? I wonder how many songs are played on radio every day that include lyrics about love? Love is the thing young people dream about and long for. Love is the thing couples strive to hold onto. Love is the thing that seems so temporary in so many modern relationships, a thing which soon seems gone, which makes the couple wonder if it was ever really there in the first place. Yet love is the thing many old couples know has been the cement that has held them together all the years, through hard times and good times. Love is the thing that causes one of them an ache in the heart when the other has passed away.


Love, as Paul was to write elsewhere, is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:4-8). How we take love for granted, yet it is perhaps the most amazing characteristic in all of human experience. This feeling for others includes a willingness to lay down your own life for another. This feeling is not just a feeling but something that is translated into words and deeds. In fact love never stays just an emotion; it always expresses itself in some way. That is one of the things about it.


In one of the earlier meditations in this series I wrote about love that has been expressed through relationships in our home, love that has blessed us and transformed us. In fact I am certain that I have been more changed through loving acceptance than by all the sermons I have heard in my life. It has been those two or three special people who have come into my home and have loved me just like I am who have transformed me. It has been the loving acceptance of my wife, above all others, that has done most to make me the person I am today.


Watching love in action can be a real blessing. That is why Paul wrote, Your love has given me great joy and encouragement.” He had seen it, experienced it and now heard of it being reported back to him. This was a very practical outworking of Philemon's life that could be seen, and what was told to Paul lifted his spirits in prison and gave him great joy. It's always great to hear of someone who is really impacting the world by their love. There is sometimes a false activity in church where people do things because they are driven to achieve, but when you see lives blessing others with pure unbounded love, that brings a joy to the heart. It is great when the body of Christ is functioning in love like it should do. But it is more than just joy, it is encouraging as well. It's really great when you see that those you have taught or led are living out the life of Christ, full of love. It is really encouraging for you realize that all those hours were not wasted. All that you gave into their lives has born fruit, and that makes you want to continue doing it, so that others will love and love and love, and the world will be blessed and changed.


But then Paul's a bit naughty; he drops in an emotional pressure point – brother . Very quietly, very gently, he just reminds Philemon that he is a brother in Christ. This is about his spiritual relationship with God, not just his relationship with Paul. Paul wants him to be reminded of that for he is about to ask him something that is going to need a lot of grace, and that because Philemon is a child of God, a member of the body of Christ. It's just a little point but it all goes to preparing Philemon for what is coming.


But then he gives Philemon the reason he has been blessed. It is because you have refreshed the hearts of the saints. This love he has been referring to has had a very practical effect. It's sometimes tough in the kingdom of God . There is a war going on and Satan comes against us with doubts, fear, accusations, and even physical attacks that cause tiredness or worse. No, it's not always wonderful. There are times when we feel worn down and need picking up and encouraging. Then along comes someone who simply loves us. They take us as we are. They accept us just like we are and don't criticize us but instead bless us. Suddenly we feel lifted. It's like we have been refreshed, and we feel renewed. Such is the power of love.


Love takes people as they are – having a bad day, gritty and unpleasant – and just seeks to bless them. It doesn't, as Paul said, keep a record of wrongs . No, instead it looks to bless and encourage, and to pick up and restore. Love is at the very heart of God and because He's put His own Holy Spirit within us, it's at the heart of us, just waiting to bless whoever! Let's do it!







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Meditation No. 8

Meditation Title: Iron Hand in Velvet Glove


Phile 1:8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do


Authority in the world is a strange thing. Authority is about people who have been given a role in which they can direct others and have the support of the company or organisation or the Law, to back them up. Thus a manager in a company is a person of authority who can direct the people below them as to how to work, as to what to do. They have the company-given ability to require employees to work in certain ways and if they refuse reasonable instructions, to fire them. The police likewise have authority to uphold the Law and if they see you breaking the Law they have the power and ability to arrest you. In the church authority is somewhat different. The church is not a business; it is not supposed to be an organisation, more an organism. Yes we do see in large parts of the church authority that resembles a management structure in a company, but Jesus never meant it to be like that.


In church there are two sorts of authority. There is first the authority that is given to them by the people. It is the authority to teach, and to guide and to protect and to ordain elders and deacons (Titus 1:5) as they are raised up by God and recognised by the people. This authority, according to the New Testament seems to be able to include putting people out of the church and reinstating them when it is appropriate (1 Cor 5:5,13, 2 Cor 2:8) but note that it is instructing others to do it. Now this sort of authority only exists as long as the people give the leader it. By his teaching and general conduct he should have brought the people to a place where they can trust him and accept his leadership. However if the whole local church rejected him he would have no authority. It is a voluntarily given thing. The leadership authority within the church depends on being able to convey God's will in such a way that the people agree that is what it is.


The other sort of authority is God-given, the power to change things. We see that many times in the New Testament in respect of healing or of deliverance, and we have the frightful instance of Peter speaking words of judgement to two half-truthful people that resulted in their deaths. This is the ultimate authority given by God. It is likely that the person who is moving in this sort of authority will also be given authority by the church.


In one sense authority is earned and in another it is given. The apostle Paul earned his authority by his obedience to God, and then he was given it by God. We use this expression, ‘an iron hand in a velvet glove', meaning a strong character who uses his strength gently. That applies very much here to Paul. We'll deal with the velvet aspect tomorrow, but for the moment we focus on the iron hand inside the glove. The apostle Paul had the authority he had because he was a spiritual father to many. A father always has authority over his children and Paul had many of them. Wherever he went, the Lord first used him as an evangelist to bring people to Himself, and then as a master-builder (1 Cor 3:10 ) to put structure and endurance into the local people to form local churches. The fact that he had had this sort of ministry gave him the sort of authority whereby he said things and people paid attention.


Yet this sort of authority is always very fragile. If you are a strong character with a strong ministry, and people don't like that sort of leading, they will simply leave and go somewhere else. Because we have such ease of transport today and so many local expressions of church, it is easy to do. Even in Paul's day he was very mindful of the frailty of his relationships with churches sometime. His second letter to the Corinthians is the most diplomatic and sensitive of all his letters, appealing to the church at Corinth to recognise him, a very human letter.


With Philemon he has history and that history has created a relationship that is based on both friendship and ministry, and Paul is appealing to him at both levels. He has referred to their friendship and now there is this subtle note, like a low warning growl of a lion, which reminds Philemon that if he wanted to, Paul could exercise the authority that he has by being a senior church builder by requiring Philemon to do what he wants of him. Paul could, if he wanted, give strong spiritual reasons why he demands Philemon act in a particular way. He has that knowledge, that history with Philemon and the church in Colosse, and that authority to demand compliance with his wishes in this case – but he doesn't use it, and we'll see why tomorrow.


Can we note this particular point because it is so important? Church leaders do have authority and sometimes it does mean that they can demand compliance – but that is rarely the way for servant-hearted leadership. Leaders win over by love and gentleness – at least they do in the kingdom of God in the local church. The exception is where there is blatant sin and the demand must be sharp and specific, but for most issues within the church the leader seeks to flow with God's will and allow the Lord to pave the way with His people. Very often the role of the leader is to convey vision and that God-given vision stirs the people to respond to the gentle call of their leader to follow. There is an iron hand there under God's direction, but it comes again and again with then velvet covering of love. May you know it like that!







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Meditation No. 9

Meditation Title: Gentleness


Phile 1:9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus


It is often a hard world. In employment, if things go wrong and you blow it somehow, disciplinary procedures kick in and the force of law – or the firm's policies – convict you. If we find ourselves speeding and are caught by speed cameras, they are unforgiving – you get a fine! Justice is the state exercising its rights against us, is the firm exercising its rights, is whoever exercising their rights when we have failed. Justice is unrelenting making demands upon us. But it may not be only when we've failed; it may simply be when someone with power and authority exercises that against us. Here is an office or works manager giving instructions to you, the employee. In the giving of instructions, they can make you feel menial or they can make you feel good. They can demean you or respect and build you. Life is full of relational interactions, and often they are unequal relationships. An employer to employee, a teacher to pupil, a parent to child, and in every case there is the potential to demean or to bless. For many of us, as we look back on life, we see a series of relational interactions that left us feeling put down, demeaned, disrespected, marginalised, excluded, and generally made to feel a nobody. Relationships have that potential in a Fallen World. Whenever we speak of people with ‘a low self-esteem' we are talking about people who have been put down by other people.


If you have an unequal relationship and you are the person with the power, how do you deal with the other person? It can be with someone on a shop till, or a waitress in a restaurant, or someone on the other end of a phone when you have to ring in and complain. It can be the person who does something silly on the road in front of you when you are driving. It can be someone who is slow packing their items at the till ahead of you, creating a frustration in you when you are in a hurry; it can be a Mum who isn't controlling her children on the bus. There are lots of situations where you are ‘drawn in' to react in relation to another person. You have the power, you have the upper hand, you have the strong position of witnessing someone else not doing very well. You have the opportunity of exercising an iron hand rebuke because, yes, they were slow, they were careless, they were out of control, they were unthinking. Oh yes, how many opportunities we have to speak down to others.


So here we have Paul in a position where he could, if he wanted, speak down to Philemon. He's the senior man, the father figure, he's the one used to dealing with lots of people from a position of authority. Oh yes, he certainly has the iron hand if he wants to use it, but love doesn't want to use it. Oh dear, that suddenly exposes our harsh responses to those around us who don't do very well. It says they are responses lacking love, and we're called to a life of love! No, Paul comes with a gentleness in his approach to Philemon. He doesn't order him, he appeals to him on the basis of love. He exercises love in the way he gently approaches Philemon and he asks Philemon to respond to his request in a loving way. Love is the currency of the kingdom and Paul uses it and expects it. He doesn't come as ‘the great apostle', he comes as Paul , a very human being in need of help, and indeed he, somewhat surprisingly, refers to himself as an old man . Whether he is appealing from the grounds of maturity or is speaking from a place of weakness, is not clear. Whatever it is though, it comes with gentleness. He also comes as a prisoner, which we've considered before. Here is creates a sense of limitation and weakness on his part, and in that he is seeking Philemon's help. Everything about this suggests gentleness.


Now gentleness isn't one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) that we tend to hear much about. It suggests a tender and quiet and caring approach. If you had blown it, how would you like someone to approach you over your failure? Would you prefer the iron hand of authority or the velvet of gentle understanding? Go back to the beginning of this meditation and consider the variety of people or situations we covered there. If you need correction by the Law or by an employer or teacher, how would you like it to come? With the iron hand of authority or the velvet of gentle understanding? How would the person on the shop till, or the slow person in the queue ahead of you, or the driver pulling out in front of you, like to be treated by you? With the iron hand of harsh assessment, or the velvet of gentle understanding? You know the answer!


Paul could have used his authority. We could use our power. Paul chose not to for love's sake. Can we do the same?







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Meditation No. 10

Meditation Title: Depth of Relationship


Phile 1:10    I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.


The truth is that there probably have been bad relationships between Fathers and Sons and between Mothers and Daughters right the way throughout history. It is possibly also true that in the day in which we live, here in the West, there are both better relationships between Fathers and Sons than have ever been before, and worse relationships than there ever have been before. We suggest the better relationships because it does seem that where family relationships are working today, there is a much greater closeness and openness to one another now than in previous known generations. Likewise from reports from many dysfunctional families there seems to have been an abandoning of children by fathers on a far greater scale that known before as adult relationships chop and change in ways previously unknown. With the pushing of sex within society, there also seem more reports of child abuse that hitherto known. Now how accurate these generalisations are, only the Lord knows, but what they do say is that there is great potential for both harm and blessing within family relationships.


My wife and I are blessed to have good relationships with all our three grown up children. There is a closeness and a willingness to share and to respect one another which, as far as we are concerned, is a gift of God. We have considered relationships earlier in this series of meditations, but now we focus on that of parent and child. Paul now speaks of one called Onesimus and, indeed, the rest of the letter is really about him, and everything he has said so far, is to prepare Philemon to consider him. Paul knows that the moment he names Onesimus, Philemon is going to have strong feelings. It becomes clear that Onesimus was a runaway slave who had belonged to Philemon. If he had been speaking face to face with Philemon, Paul might have said, I appeal to you for my son, and then paused. Philemon would suddenly have been attentive, that his old friend had a son and he needed a favour from Philemon in respect of that son. Perhaps he would be asking Philemon to give him a home, who knew.


A son is a very special relationship. Fathers are known for wanting to help their sons on in life and perhaps seek to open doors of opportunity for them. If someone appeals on behalf of their son, it is a very personal appeal. The person in question is asking for a very personal favour; they are opening themselves up to the other and making themselves vulnerable. Once the other has granted a favour, you are in debt to them. If you grant a favour in respect of a son, that is a very special favour. In those days especially, the relationship of father and son, was likely to be the most special in terms of asking favours. The daughter would probably stay at home, as would the wife, so it is unlikely that any favour would be asked for them. The Son is the heir, the carrier of the family name and the one who will carry the name with honour. To appeal for a favour on behalf of a son was, therefore, of great significance. Thus Paul appeals to Philemon on behalf of his son. Philemon sits up and takes notice.


But then the son is revealed; it is Onesimus. What? Has Paul had a child he has called Onesimus? No, it's the slave I used to own who ran away! Suddenly the full import of the letter hits him. This is the crux point of the letter. At this point Philemon could throw it down and read no more, of hold it and read on. Have you ever had a letter that began with generalities and then suddenly came the point of the letter that jolted you? If you have, you'll know what Philemon felt like suddenly.


The whole issue is will Philemon forgive Onesimus and comply with Paul's request that is about to come, and take him back graciously. Supposing you had a son who had grown up, gone astray, badly abused you and then left home. Supposing a year or so later you receive a letter from a distant relative who explains they have come across this son, who has now become a Christian and wants to come home. How would you feel? This letter's heart has just been revealed. It is all about reconciliation, forgiveness and restoration. When Paul explains that Onesimus has become a Christian, for this is what he means when he says who became my son while I was in chains, it raises the challenge for Philemon and for all of us: will we see this person, whoever they are, as a new creation, for that's how Paul describes us: if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor 5:17 )


Whatever we know of this person in the past has gone. There has been a life change. They are now a new person. Can we let go the past and gladly receive this new person, can we rejoice with others that this person has been born again of God. If the past with them has been bad, we may need all the grace and help of God to receive them. Memories may be strong and the pain of the past may still be real, yet the call to reconciliation is there, whoever it may be and however bad the past was. From the verse we just quoted above, Paul continues, All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (v.18-20). As hard as it may be, this is our calling. That is what this letter is all about, Paul gently reminding Philemon about this calling, to enable him to be reconciled in a new way with Onesimus. It brings a challenge to each of us who know people from the past who have abused us in some way or other. Can we be reconciled when they come to Christ? May it be so.








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Meditation No. 11

Meditation Title: Transformation


Phile 1:11   Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.


If they wrote on your tombstone, “(S)he was useful to me” I suspect you might feel disappointed and wish something a bit more dramatic had been written. Well at least that is better than the retort, “You're useless!” Perhaps seeing the latter retort makes it a bit clearer. None of us ever wants to hear someone say that of us. It means that somehow we have missed the mark, we haven't been able to achieve anything, and a sense of achievement is something that is important to us. It goes with a sense of fulfilment although is slightly different. Fulfilment is about achieving potential. We feel fulfilled when we use our abilities well and achieve something good. Being fulfilled is about achievement of potential, and it feels good.


Perhaps some of us rarely feel that, or perhaps we do and don't realise it. The sense of achievement can come in a lot of ordinary mundane ways. After I've spent a day in the garden in the Spring, clearing away all the deadness from last year, there is a sense of achievement. Or clearing out an old shed and getting rid of the rubbish in the Summer. Perhaps you aren't a garden person. Perhaps for you it is putting up a set of shelves, or spring cleaning the house. At the end of it you step back, look at what you've achieved and feel good. Bringing order out of disorder is part of our mandate to ‘rule over the earth' (Gen 1:26 ) and as such it is very satisfying. When you've washed and polished the car, there is that same sense of achievement. As we said, it can be very ordinary things that can give us a sense of achievement.


But sometimes it is much bigger things. Teachers, I believe, have a very real sense of achievement when they bring their pupils through to exam success. Or the drama teacher who brings about a school production that goes well. Or the P.E. teacher who trains up a sports team or athletics team that does well. Or perhaps it is the entrepreneur who sets up their own business that succeeds. Or maybe it is someone who sets up a charity that helps many. Perhaps it is parents who see their children leaving home, getting married and having children and doing well in life. All of these things leave us with a sense of well-being. Yes, achievement is a significant part of life and it comes in so many different ways.


Now in the world of two thousand years ago, names had much greater significance than they tend to today. Onesimus, for instance, means ‘useful'. Ah, now you can see that Paul is playing with words. He quickly adds a light touch to what he is saying because he knows that Philemon is still taking in what Paul is saying about his ex-slave. Formerly he was useless to you . Well that's a bit of a sweeping statement, but perhaps that's how Onesimus had been, perhaps that is how Onesimus now feels about his past. The fact was he had run away, and that from a Christian master. Life could have been considerably worse. In a society with no welfare state, life could be very hard, and so even a slave had a sense of security in the service of his master. There would always be provision there, especially under the direction of a Christian. But Onesimus had not appreciated that; he had run away, ended up in Rome and run across Paul where he had received Christ.


When Paul says this about him, it is as if he is saying, previously he didn't live up to the potential of his name. We all have potential, we all have talents, or abilities that we can use and which give us this sense of achievement, this sense of fulfillment. Onesimus hadn't ever felt that, but now he has been changed, now he has been transformed. Sometimes people speak about the ‘Protestant Work Ethic' but all that really is, is a sense or realization that fulfillment comes with doing and achieving. Onesimus has taken on a new life, and now has a new purpose in life – to serve his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. Now he has the possibility of being fulfilled. Already he has blessed Paul and been helpful to him in prison, he has been ‘useful'! Yet Paul senses that for there to be completeness in his life, Onesimus has got to go back to Philemon and put things right. What happens after that will be up to Philemon, but as far as working out his life righteously, Onesimus needs to return to Colosse and Philemon. When he returns Philemon will find him a very different person. Now he will be one who will serve and achieve. Now he will be useful to Philemon.


On that tombstone reference we started with, will it be the Lord at the end of our life who will be able to say, “(S)he was useful to me”? Will we be able to look back as we near the end of our lives and feel, “That was good, I achieved some good stuff in my life.” and have a real sense of achievement as we go to be with the Lord? We can just meander through life, or we can go purposefully through life, seeking to do the things God has got for us to do, with the abilities He has given us. Self-serving is highly un fulfilling but serving God and working out His purposes in my life is truly rewarding. May you know it like that!







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Meditation No. 12

Meditation Title: One Heart


Phile 1:12     I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you.


Every now and then in history there comes a love story about a couple whose hearts became entwined, who thought as one, felt as one, acted as one. When we hear of such a tale we are moved in wonder that the human heart can do this, can join itself to another in such a way. Of course we don't mean the two organs that pump blood round the body; we refer to their inner person, their soul. We talk about losing one's heart to another, or to win the heart of another. When we speak of the heart of a matter we refer to the central core of the issue. When we speak of doing something with all one's heart, we mean with everything within us. If we share heart to heart, we share deeply.


Thus we find Paul referring to Onesimus as the one who is my very heart . Now that suggests a closeness that can't be beaten. To say my very heart suggests a very part of him. The Message Version paraphrases it as: it feels like I'm cutting off my right arm in doing so . Now is Paul just trying to make a strong point here to put pressure on Philemon to take Onesimus back? Is it possible to feel that close to people?


This raises the question, is all love the same? The answer would appear to be both yes and no! Yes it is the same in that for the Christian the source of all love is God Himself who indwells us by His Spirit. In that sense we all have the same ability to love, yet the truth is that we do experience love at different levels. Apart from God, my greatest love is for my wife. I cannot envisage life without her. Next is my love for my children. They are no longer so close because they are all married. If we lost one of them I would deeply grieve but would cope. Then there are those would I would call close friends and for whom I have strong affection and yes, I would be saddened if they passed away… and so on. What we are thinking about here are the feelings of closeness that love engenders within us, and we don't know how deep those feelings are sometimes until that person is no longer with us.


For Paul in prison, Onesimus had become very close. Having come to the Lord he now obviously came to Paul and served him, hence Paul's previous word play: he is useful to me. But he had become far more than a servant, he had become a ‘son', and there we come back to what we previously considered about fathers and sons.


The question of closeness for some of us may be a very difficult subject, because we don't feel close to anyone, and we wish we were. Some of us fear getting close to others, because we fear they will find out about us and reject us – to be unknown is better than to be rejected! Some of us struggle to get close to others but find ourselves rebuffed – perhaps we were trying too hard.


Coming close to someone means a mutual opening up of hearts and, for some of us who have been wounded by past life, that is not easy. We find it difficult to trust ourselves to someone else. The memories of past hurts rise up and scare us off – suppose it happens again? Yes, when we think about it, Paul's comments about Onesimus being his very heart, sounds quite alien to some of us. It is something we've never encountered and can't contemplate – yet it is there as a nagging challenge of a possibility. Could God so bring me to peace about my past and about who I am that I could indeed know such a similar closeness to that which Paul speaks about?


Such relationships need to come with a health warning because love and closeness can be painful when there is to be a parting of the ways. That is partly why Paul speaks as he does to Philemon, because if he sends Onesimus back to him, it is going to mean that Paul is going to lose one who has become very important to him. Can Philemon see that? This is going to really cost Paul and he wants to know that if he lets go this one who has so blessed him, will Philemon be able to receive him and come to know him in the same way? Is Philemon open to this? Is he willing to have an open heart to receive back this young runaway who has been transformed, and enter into a new relationship with him whereby he's not just a slave but a brother in Christ? Paul has known that, so now can Philemon know that? This requires a real heart and mind change in Philemon and perhaps he can only come to that place by realizing what has gone on in Paul's life and see how he feels about this young protégé.


Have you ever had one of those experiences where you have had a low view of someone else and then a close friend has started waxing eloquently about how wonderful they are? Suddenly you are on the back foot, feeling defensive. Suddenly you are having to reassess your thinking. Have I been wrong about this person? It comes as quite a challenge. It is a challenge to your integrity. Can I change my mind to see the good in this person that I have thought badly about? These are all the things that rise up in our thinking when someone like Paul suddenly starts talking about someone we had previously had negative feelings about. Challenging isn't it!