In the book of Philemon (only one chapter long), Paul is writing to this guy named, you guessed it, Philemon, and to a lady named Apphia and the church meeting in Philemon’s home. I don’t know if Philemon and Apphia are married, but it doesn’t really matter for us.
Paul shares that he remembers them fondly because of the love they have, the faith they have, and the fact that they are sharing their faith. And his prayer is that they see fruit (lost souls becoming found) from their efforts.
The real reason Paul is writing, however, is to ask Philemon to not be upset with his runaway slave Onesimus. The words he uses seem to express that Onesimus was not a follower of Christ, but then he met Paul, and now he is a Christian and will be a much better worker for Philemon now that he has found Jesus.
Paul is appealing to Philemon because Philemon could be very upset with Onesimus and punish him severely for running off. Paul tells Philemon that he would prefer to keep Onesimus, as he has been a great encouragement to Paul, but Paul would not do that without Philemon’s consent.
Paul’s appeal culminates in this statement, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.”
Paul said to receive this runaway slave that has wronged you the way you would receive him. On top of that he says he will pay whatever Philemon may have lost financially. And then he says in essence, “you owe me.” Paul reminded Philemon of who he is now versus who he was before Christ.
The lesson? A lot of messy people and lives enter our church and family world. And God, I would suggest, is telling us to receive them as we would receive Jesus himself. And, just in case you forgot, or if you are thinking it sounds too messy or complicated, Jesus went through a whole lot more for us on the cross than we will EVER go through for someone else.
As you share your story with those God puts in your path this week, remember to receive them well because God receives you and me unconditionally.