And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to berestored to you in answer to your prayers.
- Philemon 22
Hi, there! It’s me, Paul. Sorry to flood your inbox, but I just remembered that I wanted to add something. How do these notes normally start?Grace and peace to you from the loving Father of our loving Savior who fills you with love by his Spirit. That has a nice rhythm to it.
You know how I just asked you to show kindness, forgiveness, and brotherly affection to Onesimus, your former slave? That went against every economic and social impulse in the unholy Roman empire. You’ll probably be teased and bothered mercilessly by your neighbors. Especially Newman.
Well, I know you well enough to know what you’ll do the morning after you read my first letter. You’ll throw swallow your pride and put an extra “Sugar in the Raw” in your coffee, then you’ll do what you can to live the way Christ calls you to live.
Something came to mind when I pictured you making coffee. “I really am overdue for a visit to Philemon’s neck of the woods,” I said to myself. I wish I could have come with Onesimus – escorting him home. Then, we could have talked this out in person.
What I’m saying (and it’s really not like me to beat around the bush … someday New Testament scholars will question the authorship of this email) is that I know that that other letter I sent you won’t be easy for you to hear.
Your practice of slaveholding and your privilege in society had little to do with your conscious deciding. You found yourself in it. If your starting places and backgrounds in life were reversed, Onesimus might be the master and you the slave. You’ve always done your best to act with kindness and love. There’s no fault in your having a great starting place in life and no shame in the success you’ve experienced.
I wouldn’t have written such a challenging letter to just anyone. I have confidence that Jesus is at work in you, telling you that you’re loved by him, wanted in his family, and completely secure. I know I poked at your behavior. I had to. You’re my brother and I care about you. And God has a special destiny for you as you work out what it looks like to leave slave ownership behind. Together with him, we might change the world.
I’m headed your way as soon as they set me free from this prison. I’m going to show up at your house and eat your food and do everything I can to show you by my actions that I love you and respect what you’re trying to do. You love Jesus more than your comfort and have the humility to listen for his voice, even when it’s being echoed by a broken instrument like me.
See you soon. Your friend, Paul.