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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Grace and Peace

"Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:3).  Paul's words resound across the centuries from his imprisionment in a first century Roman jail to our hearts, as we read his epistle written to Philemon of Colossae.  Colossae was a city in the Valley of the Lycus River, which was a branch of the Meander River in the southwest region of ancient Phrygia (Asia Minor).  The occaision of the writing of this personal letter, was Paul's entreaty to Philemon to receive the fugitive Onesimus back to himself as a brother, rather than as a slave.  The motifs of forgiveness, discretion, and restoration ring throughout this short letter, which contained only 334 words in the original Greek text.

The epistle of Philemon was hand delivered to its namesake by none other than Onesimus himself, who was accompanied by Tychicus.  Paul identifies himself as the author, as he acknowledges Timothy as his brother and Philemon as their fellow laborer.  Timothy was Paul's spiritual son, as was Onesimus, as the apostle had led both of them to salvation.  The name Timothy means "honored or valued of God, or worshipper of God."  From the Greek, Philo, means "lover," Philemon's name translates to "friendly or affectionate man."  Paul describes Philemon as dearly beloved, as well as a fellow laborer in this book.  The Greek word sunergos, which is the root of the word, synagogue, is associated with leading together, an assembly or congregation.  This is exactly what verse two of this book says that Philemon hosted in his home, "And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house."  The name Apphia, is qualified in some translations as, "our sister."  The male equivalent of this name means "revivified."  Archippus means, "master of the horse," he was a Christian of Colossae, a close friend of Philemon, and most likely the pastor of this house church.

Paul characteristically offers a prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement as he praises Philemon for his love, faith, and care of the saints.  It is interesting that this letter was written in the early 60s by a slave of Christ in bonds of men, on behalf of a renegade slave, to another slave of Christ.  Each of these men had intimate knowledge of what is means to be constrained by bonds.  Each of these men had tasted the forgiveness that Christ's sacrifice offers.  Each of these men were responsible, as we are, to extend this magnanimous forgiveness to those who have wronged them.

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