Would you return if you were Onesimus? - September 2021

by Pastor Pete Panitzke on September 24, 2021

In Philemon (read it here), Paul is writing to the owner of Onesimus, a runaway slave. Onesimus had run from Turkey all the way to Rome. Certainly he would be safe there!

In Rome Onesimus meets Paul who was under house arrest (see Acts 28:16, 30), Onesimus becomes a Christian. Now Paul is sending Onesimus back to his owner. Would you return if you were Onesimus? Would you welcome Onesimus back if you were Philemon? The letter to Philemon illustrates the challenges we face to live out our faith in Christ Jesus.
This is a great letter to pray over...

  • if you are a couple living together outside of marriage. It is hard to make the commitment. Perhaps you don’t want to move up the wedding date. Is the counsel the Holy Spirit gave Onesimus, “Doing God's will is just too hard"? 
  • if you are estranged from family members. It is hard to humble yourself, to ask for forgiveness, to give forgiveness. It is easier to just stay estranged. Is the counsel the Holy Spirit gave Onesimus and Philemon, “It is too hard to be reconciled”?

What is your conscience telling you, “This is God’s will for your life,” but your sinful nature is saying, “That is just too hard”?
Read Paul’s counsel to Onesimus and Philemon again. What would lead Onesimus to travel over 1000 miles to an uncertain response from his master? What would keep Philemon from treating Onesimus as he deserved as a runaway slave?  
“I appeal to you on the basis of love.”

Friend, you have experienced the love of the Savior. You have experienced forgiveness in Christ. It is in the hard times and the hard decisions of life that the power of the Holy Spirit is most evident in us.
Prayer: Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Give us the strength and courage to do the godly thing, the hard thing, to the glory of our Savor God. Amen.
The Savior God has the power to do the impossible...

Return seems impossible in our Old Testament lesson as well (read Isaiah 39-41 here). At the close of the historical bridge (Isaiah 36-39), the prophet foretold the exile to Babylon.

In Isaiah 40-66,

  • the prophet first speaks to his contemporaries who take the prophecy of exile in Babylon to heart. Will the exile into Babylon be the end of God’s people? Isaiah foresees that the LORD will bring back his people.
  • The Holy Spirit also speaks to us. As you read Isaiah 40-48, you will see the recurring assurance that ours is the God who foretells the future. 
    • Only the true God knows the future and could foretell both the destruction by Babylon and the return from Exile.
    • Only the true God could foretell the rise of Cyrus, the Persian Emperor, and how He would use Cyrus to accomplish the saving of His people.
    • Only the true God could foretell that his servant Cyrus was a picture of a greater Servant who will rescue his people from their sins (the focus of Isaiah 49-57).

This is a great reminder for me as I think of a conversation with a person who loves the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita. How do you know that the Bible is true compared to this Hindu writing? One of Isaiah’s answer would be “Prophecy and Fulfillment."
It is our God’s ability to do the impossible that led Onesimus to return. If our God can bring the Israelites back from exile, then our God can bring us back from death. Then our God can change our hearts. Impossible things happen:

  • Onesimus returns,
  • Philemon welcomes him as a brother,
  • Christians today live lives of humble obedience to God's will.
  • Christians today forgive each other 

Praise the LORD our God who does the impossible in us!


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