To: Beloved, believing Philemon, Apphia (believed to be a leader, listed with the apostles and wife of Philemon), their son Archippus, and the house of prayer church that met in their home.
From: Paul and Timothy, our brother. When Paul wrote something he liked to have witnesses when he wrote it and around those who received it. He was versed in the law and established a pattern for his writings.
This book stirred my soul. I know some will disagree with my opinion on this book-that’s OK – because we’re all growing in the Word, learning along the way, with everyone else. My hope is that you will be stirred to study and that we all get closer to what the author intended. IF only perfect people researched or wrote, we’d all still be reading in Latin.
I saw a Facebook post this week, of a sheep on a rock between two mountains. Literally it was between a rock and a hard place. The caption above it said, “I’m just fine”. It reminded me of the women’s speaker at our church whose message exhorted us to be loving, transparent, and to receive others. She went on to say that although it is easier to stay isolated, it is not Gods’ heart. Matthew Wests song “Truth be Told” also carries that theme. Powerful words. I asked when I reposted the picture, what it looks like to have authentic relationships today – after a pandemic. It was quiet – no answers. Good relationships are built on covenant and that is rare in our society. We come and go as we please – like Onesimus tried to do. Note Paul didn’t pull a title card but appealed as a brother. Many resist the intimacy and accountability of relationships. You know who didn’t resist them? The apostle Paul and apostle Apphia and her believing husband Philemon – at least after they got Paul’s letter. Truthful, yet loving friends are rare. Imagine if Paul had not spoken the truth in love? Onesimus would have stayed hiding in Colossae instead of fulfilling his call.
These precious people wrote about important matters, and we’ll look at that in a moment, but did you know that this letter reached reach its destination (because we have a copy) and produced fruit? Did you know that Onesimus (saved and repentant) got welcomed back as a brother? This brother’s life mattered to Paul. He is sent back with Tychicus and possibly even stays in their guest room – that’s where you would have Paul’s son and very heart stay, right? Paul, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and their house of prayer transforms this man on the run, and history records he became a Bishop, proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ and later wrote about the beauty of celibacy – until he was killed for his faith.
Why have we not heard more of this amazing story? Maybe because we too looked at Onesimus’s sin instead of his potential fruitfulness. Maybe we judged him by his size, singleness, or family system instead of Gods’ calling on his life? Maybe we too doubt the power of a praying wife, a praying house or a godly couple because they’re not one of the name brands. Recently we saw someone come to Jesus that I never thought possible. When I saw the glory and freedom, I knew it was Jesus that had intervened. Our minds and faith are biased, finite. Our doubts are often bigger than our trust levels. We may wrongly think “that’s all that person could ever be” and move on – but God doesn’t, then or now because of this:
It’s a big fancy word for grace, and forgiveness. It is the action of declaring or making one righteous in the sight of God. “Just as if I’d never done it”, does not do the word justice because it’s more like Matthew West sings – God, “YOU already know, let the Truth be told”. Jesus doesn’t sweep our sin under the carpet. His way is full disclosure, full payment, and full grace. Acknowledging failure and completely fixing it – that’s the signature of Jesus. That’s why they call grace amazing – because it is. “Justification saves the soul from sin and Sanctification purges the carnal nature”. We trust that for ourselves and once and awhile, others in the pew beside us at church, but not often for those in the world of darkness and sin. Paul appeals to this couple (Apphia and Philemon) to remember him, though now aged and imprisoned. His life story speaks to sacrifice, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Who could deny him a favor after all he had been through, all he had done? Ultimately, we reflect on Gods saving grace and that He declares us justified because of the work on the cross. That is our reason for receiving others – because we first were received, though undeserving.
We love because God first loved us.
That is the anchor for opening up our hearts and homes to others – for being hospitable and Godly in relationships. Jesus is our example. Perhaps that’s why communion is not as popular as it once was -it is our example of a covenant keeping God who invites us to not only to His table but His eternal home.
This book is seldom preached. It cuts through all the “isms”. It’s short, but its message is mammoth, revolutionary, and eternal. The broken can come home, the sinner can be saved, the lost can be found. Reconciliation is possible because of the ONE who first reconciled us. To “receive” someone means to admit into friendship, show hospitality, take to oneself as companion, to take by the hand, to bring into one’s home with the element of food sharing, to give access to one’s heart. It is very different than the distant, tepid love we often see in Christians today. (I’m still humming Cory Asbury’s song In the Father’s House because I think it reflects Onesimus’ life). People change when they encounter the living Savior – there’s hope when Jesus comes in the room. The author of the next book seems to be very familiar with this thought and will call us to even entertain angels unaware.
Historical records tell us that when the local enemies discover sister, apostle, mother, wife, prayer warrior Apphia is having yet another one of her fiery prayer meetings- they riot in the streets. Prayer enrages the enemy. When the enemy came to their house – the people ran out– but she and her family remained. Hear the echo of John 15 – Lord give us fruit that remains! Their son is stabbed to death as they are carried out and Philemon and Apphia are martyred – buried waist deep and then stoned to death. The “fruitful one” and her husband the “kissing one” yield one more seed, the martyr seed which will continue on to build the church. What a sadness must have hit Onesimus to hear this news of his friends who welcomed him back –of whom the world was not worthy. Apphia and her son deserve to be mentioned also as the recipients of Paul’s letter. They are, like Philemon, Heroes of the faith.
Were you received by Christ in spite of your sin? Were you justified by Christ in spite of your brokenness? How will you pass that on today? Who will you receive in sacred offering to the Lord? They may be the seed of the church, a bishop or just a really lovely house guest.
The One who is coming– calls us to prepare. We wait in expectation, we wait refreshing others, we wait being hospitable. We pray for our hearts, our homes, our churches, and nation. To do any less would not do justice to the One who justified and received us- first.
The coffees on, RenaeRoche2022