Today I read the book of Philemon. At first glance it seems kind of mundane. Paul is writing to his friend (Philemon) to ask him for a favor. It’s the kind of really short book you are tempted to skip over when you read the Bible. Maybe you haven’t heard of it at all.
But I read it today, and I could not get over all the good stuff in it. I’ve read it dozens of times, but never has it just burst with wholesome, living goodness before. Here are a few of my favorites:
“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vs. 3).
I just love this greeting. Paul uses it a lot. I think I might start using it. In my hectic days, the most I often muster by way of greeting is a high-pitched “hey” or a breezy “how ya doin’?”. Just think if I stopped my acquaintances in the hall outside classes and proclaimed grace and peace to them from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! Not only would it take a while, but I’d also probably come across as a tiny bit mystical. That’s a shame. In our really graceless and peaceless world, blessing someone like that would not be remiss. I might do it anyway.
“I thank God always when I remember you in my prayers” (vs. 4).
Have you ever felt like this? Right now I am in the fever of a new engagement and it’s very easy for me to thank God for Alex when I’m praying for him. But what about the times when someone is really hard to live with? It’s not easy to thank God for them. I’ve heard it said that it’s hard to stay angry at someone when you’re praying for them. That may be true, but it’s a heckuva lot harder to thank God for them in that situation. My prayer is that I will always thank God for the people in my life (hard to deal with or not) when I pray for them.
“…I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…” (vs. 8-9).
To me this is most significant. Paul is a pretty important guy here; an apostle, a prolific missionary, a high authority in the church, and a writer of most of the New Testament, and yet when he asks this favor of his friend he does not order him around even though they both know that he could. Instead, he chooses to appeal to him in love. Wow. If only we operated this way! If only we treated our fellow church members, co-workers, or family with such consideration! If our political, societal, and legal systems implemented this policy, I think that the world would have a lot more grace and peace.
Paul is not Christ, of course, and so of course he is not perfect. But here he shows the attitude of Christ, and he reminds us of Jesus’ desire that “all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13: 35). Sadly, the world does not know us by our love. Fellow Christians don’t even know each other by their love. We are known by our hypocrisy, our trite rituals, our foolish arguments and prejudice. Let’s change that, shall we? Let’s appeal to our fellow human beings, our fellow image bearers in for love’s sake. Let us thank God for each other in our prayers – let us pray for each other in the first place! And finally, let us bring grace and peace to each other from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
And for crying out loud, read Philemon.