In his epistle to Philemon, the Apostle Paul challenges Philemon the slave owner to receive his escaped slave Onesimus back "not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved." Paul had encountered Onesimus in prison, leading him to faith in Christ, even as he had previously led Philemon to trust the Lord Jesus (Philemon 1:10; 16; 19).
Paul's intercession for Onesimus involved a great challenge to Philemon in the culture of his day. Slavery existed as an accepted institution in Roman, Jewish, and Christian cultures. Strict laws governed the practice, particularly involving the matter of wayward slaves. Philemon would have been within his legal rights to have received his property back with great harshness and even brutality. Paul appeals for Onesimus to Philemon's "better angel," as it were, namely, to the fact of who and what dwelled in Philemon because of his relationship with God.
"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 (joint participation and fellowship) of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus" (Philemon 1:4-6).
Paul calls Philemon to the monumental act of loving fellowship with Onesimus by encouraging and challenging the remembrance of "every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus." The Apostle appeals to the character qualities of Christ that dwelled in his brother through the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit. "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us" (Romans 5:5). In essence, Paul challenges Philemon to an act of loving obedience to God, but only after he illuminates and encourages his brother to the truth of who he was in Christ, and who Christ was in him. In terms of our current consideration, he beseeches Philemon to gaze into the mirror of God's truth in order to discover the swan he was (as opposed to the fleshly ugly duckling of his natural, earthly instincts).
We know that Philemon responded positively to Paul's request. In his epistle to the Colossians, the Apostle references Onesimus as a fellow worker in the Gospel, an office that could not have existed had Philemon received Onesimus as a slave rather than a brother (Colossians 4:9). Thus, Paul's counsel regarding "every good thing which is is in you in Christ Jesus" became the basis upon which Philemon walked accordingly. The same dynamic of truth exists for us. As we "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," we more and more discover the power that dwells in us for faithfulness and obedience. God's promise and provision always precede His commands. The order must never be reversed in our thinking, or in our practice of working out the salvation God first works within us (Philippians 2:12-13).
We do well to encourage each other and ourselves with the truth of "every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus." Thereby we discover ourselves to be capable - through Christ - of monumental acts of trusting and obeying God. Long ago, a slaveholder and his slave became brothers through Christ. Moreover, they lived accordingly and provide for us an ancient account of the reality that enables us in our day to soar as the swans we discover ourselves to be in Christ…
"His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue."
(II Peter 1:3).
Weekly Memory Verse
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."