A Prisoner of Jesus Christ
“Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellowlabourer.” —Philemon 1:1
The epistle of Philemon is the only book of the Bible that is, in reality, a private letter written by Paul to a brother in the Lord, Philemon. All of the other epistles are either letters to the churches or pastoral epistles of authoritative direction. The complete tone of the epistle is that of one brother writing to another brother.
The subject matter of the letter concerns Onesimus, the runaway slave from the house of Philemon. The institution of the horrible sin of slavery is ingrained in the history of both Eastern and Western culture. It is said that during the reign of the Roman Empire as much as two-thirds of the people were slaves. Though it would take many centuries for slavery to be eradicated in most countries, this short letter would be the first shot across the bow that would ultimately outlaw slavery in most countries. I wish I could say that slavery is completely eradicated but the truth is, it’s not. According to World Population Review, there are many countries in the world today that still have slavery. I won’t take the time to mention all the countries except to say that the majority of these countries are countries where Christianity is outlawed.
So, the Bible recognizes the existence of slavery in its time in both the Old and New Testaments, but through this short letter, the seedbed was laid whereby in the future, as the gospel went forth, and the Dark Ages gave way to the Reformation, we see the nations that embraced Christianity begin to call out for the removal of slavery. Christianity brings out the fundamental equality of all, in the regenerate human nature, in which, “there is neither Greek nor Jew … Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free” (Col. 3:11).
A Prisoner Of Jesus Christ
In Philemon 1:1, Paul begins by stating, “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ.” At the time of this writing, Paul was in Rome, a prisoner of the Roman Caesar Nero. As Paul was a Roman citizen, he was afforded the right, at his own expense, to rent out his apartment and not lodge in an actual prison. However, he was bound by chain to a Roman guard and not allowed to leave.
The point I want to bring out is that Paul refused to acknowledge Nero as his captor. He refused to be a prisoner to his situation. Now here is what I want you to grasp: You are going to have trials; you are going to suffer; you are going to walk through the valley of the shadow of death. In these times, you have to make the decision to be either a prisoner of circumstance or a prisoner of Jesus Christ. What Paul was saying to us was, “I don’t know why; I don’t know how long this will last; I just know that I am a child of God, and nothing can happen to me that God does not will or allow, so I am a prisoner then; this is where the Lord wants me, and I’m going to use this time to turn my hired cell into a place of worship.”
Paul is telling us that Nero could not have placed him in prison had it not been the will of God and, as well, Satan can do nothing to you that God does not allow or will. Now it must be understood that the Lord never wills for us to sin; however, if we exercise our self-will, then the Lord will allow us to fail; but He never wills it, it is always the end result of self will.
So why would God allow Paul’s imprisonment? I cannot speak for the Lord, and the Lord has not spoken to me a specific answer, but I do believe the following points are worth mentioning:
1. It is quite possible that the Lord willed this time in Paul’s life to serve as an example to us as to how we are to conduct ourselves in times of great conflict. Actually, in Ephesians 3:1, Paul uses the same term plus the addition of “for you Gentiles.” The Lord knows what each of us can endure, and He allows the more consecrated to serve as our examples.
2. Correction, even in the godliest of saints, is needed because motives can be wrong, improvements are necessary, and course corrections are, at times, critical. Is this event of which I write the “thorn” that Paul spoke of in II Cor. 12:7-12? It is quite possible.
3. To teach faith and dependence. It is, in these times of squeezing, that we are driven to seek the Lord for His help and His strength.
4. Last of all, the salvation of a runaway slave, Onesimus. Just think, Onesimus steals money from Philemon and makes his way to Rome, a distance of about a thousand miles. In Rome, he finds himself alone and then seeks out Paul (with whom he is very acquainted), and there finds the Lord, and for a season serves alongside Paul as a co-laborer.
What a story! What a testimony!
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