A Correction

It’s a good thing to admit when you’ve been mistaken, especially if acknowledging the error keeps others from the same misapprehension.

I have always understood Paul’s Roman imprisonment to be IN a Roman prison cell. Either that’s what I’ve been taught, or a conclusion I assumed to be true.

Lately, I’ve heard, in conversation and in my reading, that Paul’s Roman imprisonment for two years, during which he wrote the Prison Epistles, was actually house arrest. So I began to search to find the truth, and I finally have it, to my satisfaction.

This is a picture from an article for which I’ll give you a link so you can read the information for yourself:

Paul's House Arrest in Rome and Our Home Isolation
One possibility of the type of quarters in which Paul may have lived.

Better yet, I found the scripture that states clearly that Paul had rented his own quarters for two years:

Acts 28:30-31.

30 And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him,
31 Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.

Ironic, I think, that Paul paid for the quarters in which he was imprisoned.

Maybe this is not news to you, but somewhere along the way, I missed it. You know how you can read through the Bible, and suddenly a passage pops off the page and hits you right between the eyes, as if you’d never seen it before? Yes? Well, that’s what happened to me with this issue. It certainly explains all the people that could come and go to visit, or to bring food, assistance, etc. And he was not forbidden to preach and teach the gospel while he was imprisoned, making excellent use of his time doing so as well as continuing to pen his epistles.

I hope you’ll take the time to look at the link under the photo above.

A Brother Beloved

Philemon 1:15-16.

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever;

Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord?

Still pleading with Philemon, Paul suggested here that maybe there was a reason Onesimus ran away that resulted in great good.

Someone along Onesimus’ journey pointed him to Paul. Almost certainly, that person was a believer, possibly through Paul’s ministry. There were so many slaves in Rome, and many of them had turned to Christianity during this period of time. One or more of them may have given Onesimus refuge and suggested he go to visit Paul.

Can you see how easily this whole story could be developed into an intriguing book? Had Onesimus, for instance, been falsely accused by another slave? Or had he been mistreated because of some laxity in his own service? How did he manage to escape? Who helped him along the way? There was a lot of distance for him to cover before he reached Rome, and surely he must have formed some sort of network along the way that led him to a place of refuge when he arrived in that huge center of population. His master, Philemon, was already a believer, so he’d been exposed to Christianity before he fled. Was his mind full of questions, doubts, guilt, fear? A little of all those things, I think. He knew the end for him could be terrible.

There is certainly suspense and drama here, right up to the very end.

But for now, Paul’s letter pleads with Philemon to consider that perhaps Onesimus was led to Paul so that Paul could lead him to Christ. Once Onesimus accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he became valuable to Paul as a helper, and a beloved son in the Lord. He was not Paul’s slave, yet his behavior was one of humble service.

Maybe, Paul suggested, this has all come about so that Onesimus will be a better servant; a servant with a willing heart instead of a rebellious heart, one who could be of great value to Philemon not just as a slave, but as a beloved brother in the Lord.

Not of Necessity, but Willingly

Philemon 1:14. “But without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly.”

The importance of Paul’s attitude in his appeal to Philemon is important. He is not demanding or commanding. His is pleading. He understands that Philemon has the legal right to do as he pleases with his slave.

I was doing a little more research into the whole topic of slavery in Paul’s day. Rome and its influence had pretty much covered the known world. In the city of Rome itself, and its suburbs, there were upwards of 60 million slaves! One of the biggest concerns among free citizens was the very real possibility of a slave uprising. Slaves were merchandise. They were worth more if they were young and strong, less if they were feeble in some way, or if they were old. They were expendable. They could be tossed into prison for far lesser offenses than running away. If they were caught, they could be branded with a red-hot iron on the forehead with the letter “F” for fugitive. Slaves were routinely crucified for what we would see as minor offenses.

With all that in mind, Paul pleads his case for mercy toward Onesimus, but he makes it clear that he wants Philemon to choose out of love and mercy, not out of pressure to please Paul.

Jesus chose to die for us out of love and mercy, not because He had to!

Good works that are forced, and not from the heart, lose their sweetness.

Onesimus, My Heart

Phm. 1: 12-13.

Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels:

Whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have ministered unto me in the bonds of the gospel:

Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon. His preference would have been to keep Onesimus with him, as he had grown to love him as a son.

This verse makes it clear that Paul deeply cared for Onesimus, and was asking Philemon to treat Onesimus with Paul’s love for them both in mind. Paul knew that Onesimus had the legal right to have Onesimus beaten, jailed, even executed. He was Philemon’s property. That idea is repugnant to us, but it was customary in Paul’s day. Note here that Paul is asking Philemon for mercy. He is not voicing his opinion as to the morality of owning slaves.

Remember, bowels in Paul’s day, used in this way, is heart today. I’ve heard grandmothers say that a grandchild is “her heart,” and we understand what is meant. It’s the same as Paul saying Onesimus was “his bowels.”

Paul takes it a step further in v. 13, saying that he would have kept Onesimus in Philemon’s place, to minister to him as Philemon would have if he had been there.

Paul’s love for both Philemon and Onesimus is clear in today’s passage. It has me thinking about whether we believers, in our crazy mixed-up world, have developed such a strong bond with the other believers in our lives. I’m not talking about family members here. I’m talking about people in the churches we attend, or in other organizations in which we serve. Paul loved whole-heartedly, without reservation. He sets a standard for us in regard to our believing brothers and sisters.

My Son Onesimus

Phm. 1:10-11.

I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:

Which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:

To beseech is to beg or plead with humility. Paul was not approaching Philemon in arrogance, counting on his great influence among believers to maneuver Philemon into doing something he didn’t want to do. He was pleading with him.

Onesimus was not Paul’s son by physical birth. He was Paul’s spiritual son, having come to a saving knowledge of Christ under Paul’s ministry while Paul was imprisoned. Verse 19 tells us that Paul also led Philemon to the Lord, so in that respect Philemon and Onesimus were now brothers.

Did Onesimus hear of Paul and visit him, hoping to find answers to his own confusion? Was he perhaps hoping that Paul would tell him that running away from Philemon had been the right thing to do? I can easily imagine a whole story being developed around this situation can’t you? I’m sure someone has already written such a story, perhaps an entire book.

In any case, Paul led Onesimus to Jesus Christ while he himself was “in bonds,” imprisoned in Rome.

Paul states in v. 11 that Onesimus had once been unprofitable, or useless to Philemon. A slave who ran away successfully was a sizable financial loss to his owner. It is also possible that Onesimus had been an uncooperative slave, unwilling to work for a man who owned him.

There was an ancient Greek law (inherited by the Romans) allowing any escaped slave sanctuary at an altar. The altar could even be the hearth of a private family home; then the head of the family was obligated to give the slave protection while he tried to persuade him to return to his master. If the slave refused, the head of the family would put the slave up for auction and give the price for the slave to the former master. Paul gave Onesimus protection, and now was working the issue out with Philemon.

Blue Letter Bible

The name Onesimus means profitable. Paul says that Onesimus, though unprofitable to Philemon, had become profitable to Paul. We don’t know how he was profitable, or helpful. Perhaps he acted as a messenger; maybe he helped Paul write some of his letters. Maybe he was physically serving Paul’s needs as he was chained both hands and feet, and would need assistance in his daily needs.

And now, since Onesimus had become a believer, he could also become profitable to Philemon.

Paul the Aged

Philemon 1:8-9.

Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient,

Yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ.

Years ago, I was taught that when a passage of scripture begins with a “therefore,” you need to go back and see what it’s there for!” Poor grammar, but the idea is very helpful. Wherefore is one of those words that refers to back to what had just been written or spoken. So, to paraphrase Paul, he is saying,”So, because of your reputation for love of the saints, and your love of God, and your benevolence to me personally, I have something to ask of you.”

Much bold in Christ: Paul was concerned that Philemon would think him much to forward, too frankly speaking, about Philemon’s personal business; Paul, however, reminds Philemon that he is speaking “in Christ.” He is speaking under the authority of the Holy Spirit.

To enjoin thee: To pertain to what is due, duty, as was fitting.

Paul, under the authority of the Holy Spirit, saw Philemon’s duty toward Onesimus as that which was his duty; that which was fitting for a man of God.

Yet for love’s sake: Better even that duty, what Paul was going to ask of Philemon was for love’s sake. Love of God, love of righteousness, love of mercy–and love of “Paul the Aged.” I wondered at first if Paul was trying to gain the sympathy of Philemon because of his old age, but that wouldn’t be consistent with the character of Paul. So, I looked it up. It’s what I do :). The same word, aged, can also mean ambassador. An ambassador is usually used in relation to one who represents someone else. Here, Paul is literally an ambassador for Christ.

And he IS old, probably older than his years due to all he suffered during his ministry. And he was a prisoner of Rome, waiting for his death sentence to be carried out. He was certainly speaking from a position of authority! His advanced age was regarded in itself as a sign of his authority.

He says that he is a prisoner of Jesus Christ; that is, he was bound, in bonds, chained FOR Jesus Christ’s sake. He seems not to have considered his bondage to be a burden, but a moment in time before he went to meet Jesus face to face.

Sunday Morning Coffee: Fear

This old world has often been shaken by fear. Maybe not every country, nation, culture all at one time, but there have been times when fear was pandemic. We’re in one of those time right now. We’re afraid of Covid. We’re afraid of the shot. We’re afraid of government intrusion. We’re afraid of lawlessness. We’re afraid of people like George Soros, who has been kicked out of his home country because of his nefarious activities, but who now is a naturalized American citizen. We’re afraid of having too little money. We’re afraid of people who have what we consider too much money. I could go on for a long time here, but you get the picture, right?

The thing we ought to fear is the absence of God. He has become obsolete, you see, and His Word teaches things that go against the vision of a peaceful one-world government, so He is being legislated out of existence, persecuted out of existence, and taught out of existence in our institutions of higher learning. All, of course, is ridiculous nonsense, because He is God, and He cannot be made to disappear because of what we, His creation, think we want.

What I want to tell you this morning is that God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (II Tim. 1:7). I want you to know that there are 365 instances in His Word in which we are told fear not, don’t be afraid. One for every day of the year. Do a word study. Ask Google to give you a list of Bible verses about fear, just to get you started.

Above all, trust God. This world is in for some very terrible things after He removes every single one who is a believer, and the Holy Spirit no longer is in the world. But if you know Him, don’t be afraid.

And here’s a song I’ve grown to love that says the very same thing: Don’t Be Afraid,

The pianist, Roger Bennet, wrote that song. He was waging a battle with Hodgkin’s Disease, and seemed to have won the first round. He actually did win the final round, because the Lord took him home to heaven. What some of us may consider a tragedy, Roger considered a victory.

Don’t be afraid.

Refreshing the Hearts

Philemon 1:7. “For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother.”

Philemon must have truly been an exemplary man. Paul says that he, himself, has been encouraged and comforted through Philemon’s love of God and other believers. Paul was well-known throughout the area of Colosse, having been instrumental in establishing several churches there. He was close to many believers who were very concerned for Paul’s welfare in prison. Paul understood their concern. Roman prisons were not luxurious in any sense, and for those sentenced to death, the prisons cells were particularly miserable. The only comforts Paul enjoyed, physically, were provided by those who came to visit him. Food, candles, an extra blanket, were all luxuries to Paul as he spent his days and nights chained on both sides to Roman guards.

Paul said that Philemon had been a refreshing influence to the bowels of the believers to whom he ministered. That seems to us a very strange thing to say, but it was clearly understood in Paul’s time. The bowels “were regarded as the seat of the more violent passions, such as anger and love; but by the Hebrews as the seat of the tenderer affections, esp. kindness, benevolence, compassion; hence our heart (tender mercies, affections, etc.)” (Blue Letter Bible, Guzik).

In the last 10-20 years, modern medicine has finally begun to catch up with what those ancient people knew. We have learned that the gut is the source of 80% of the feel-good chemical serotonin. Serotonin used to be considered a chemical unique to the brain, certainly not to the gut. In my years as a counselor, I learned to see that people who were depressed, or angry, or grieving, or fearful (anxiety) would often fold their arms around their middles, leaning forward and rocking as they spoke. They often had symptoms that sounded like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and were often on medication for it. People who are prone to worry also tend to have digestive issues. As we’ve learned more about such things, it has become clear that stomach problems often show up with emotional distress, and the production of serotonin in the gut is adversely affected.

Today, rather than the word bowels, we use the word heart. We all know that the actual physical heart is not capable of emotion, but we also understand what we mean when we say it. One of my favorite counseling verses is Proverbs 17:22, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” Along with that verse, I would use Prov. 23:7,  “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he”.

Those two verses take us to the crux of the matter: Our attitudes, moods, feelings, are all influenced by what we believe to be true. If we want happiness rather than anger and bitterness to reside in our hearts, it’s our thinking that needs to change. We need to get hold of Philippians 4:8,“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” 

It is what we think about, what we dwell upon, what we believe to be true, that affects us not only emotionally, but also physically.

Philemon refreshed the minds (thinking) and hearts (emotions) of those to whom he ministered.

Philemon’s Character

Philemon 1:4-6.

I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers,

Hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints;

That the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.

Paul didn’t need to take a course in administration, or go to a seminar on how to talk to people. He was led by the Holy Spirit in his words to Philemon, and he knew that a good way to get someone’s attention and listening ear was to sincerely compliment him. Paul was not being manipulative here. His words are sincere.

Philemon was a good and godly man, known as such by all who knew him.

Wouldn’t you love to know that a man like Paul prayed for you on a regular basis? Wouldn’t it encourage you to know that you were mentioned in the daily prayers of a good and godly man? And that you were mentioned for your love of God and of other believers with whom you had to do? To know that Paul was praying that the daily living (communication) of Philemon’s faith would be effective by Philemon’s recognition of all the good in himself because of Christ?

I would certainly be motivated to become worthy of such a wonderful opinion of a believer of Paul’s stature, or of anyone else for that matter. Many years ago, I heard a woman say that any time she received a compliment she would write it down as soon as she could, and add it to a list she kept at home; then she would pray that the Lord would give her the grace to truly be whatever the compliment was; that she would live up to that person’s opinion of her. I loved that, and have kept my own log ever since. Doing so has taught me that in myself I am weak and selfish, but in Christ I am a new person, dependent wholly upon Him to mold me into what He wants me to be.

It is quite humbling to see yourself through another person’s eyes, knowing that any good thing that person sees in you is only by God’s grace.

The Church in thy House

Phil, 1:2-3.

And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house:

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Of course, we don’t know what Philemon’s house looked like. It was likely spacious enough to accommodate a fairly large gathering, though. This was normal practice in the early church, and many modern-day churches have adopted this early pattern to a greater or lesser degree. The hope, in doing so, is that neighbors will be reached with the gospel, and closer relationships will develop among believers.

It’s interesting how we tend to go in cycles, isn’t it? The megachurch movement swept across America and other countries, as well, during the last thirty years of so of the 20th century. Then, realizing that a lack of personal relationships was one of the results of having thousands of people attending a church, we began this move back to “house churches,” under the direction of pastors and lay leaders.

In Philemon’s day, there was no option outside of the church house. He was a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, a man of some wealth and recognition in his community. Opening his home to believers around him was a natural thing for him to do.

Apphia, meaning that which is fruitful, is widely believed to have been Philemon’s wife or sister, a “beloved” member of his household and also beloved by Paul.

Archippus was either the son or brother of Apphia, a member of the household of Philemon. He was a fellow soldier, an associate in labors and conflicts for the cause of Christ. Tradition holds that Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and Onesimus were all stoned to death during the reign of Nero. I could find no absolute truth to that, but it certainly could be true that they were martyred.

Paul’s greetings to those who read his epistles often included the phrase grace and peace be unto you. These believers were living through dangerous, difficult times. No one understood that any better than Paul himself.