Philemon 1:21

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. Philemon 1:21

Paul has made several requests, specifically stating in verse 8, that he might have been bold and commanded what is fitting, but instead, he appealed for love’s sake. It is as obvious as the nose on a person’s face that Paul is asking for Onesimus to be freed from his slavery, but yet he never states this. He only said that he would pay any debts (v. 19) and that he desired Onesimus to minister to him (verses 13 & 14).

It is these things that are referred to with the words, “Having confidence in your obedience.” Paul has made a set of requests, and he is sure that Philemon will comply with those requests. They are not commands, but they will answer the heartfelt desires of Paul when they are met by his obedient son. This is why he wrote what he had thus far. But then Paul adds on his next words; words which can only be seen as a desire for Onesimus’ complete release from slavery. This is what Paul is seeking in writing, “knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

What more could he do? The answer is threefold. First, he could forgive Onesimus completely, including any outstanding debts, and even not charging Paul for them. Secondly, he could grant Onesimus freedom from his slavery. And thirdly, he could then send him to Paul to minister to him. This is what would show a true and complete granting of Paul’s implicit requests, along with his explicit ones. Paul has said as much about slaves elsewhere, telling them that they are to serve faithfully as slaves, but if they can be made free, to accept that freedom (1 Corinthians 7:21). Paul wants this for Onesimus, and he is hoping for it from Philemon.

Life application: As has been noted in other verses of the book of Philemon, Paul is not speaking against the practice of slavery. The verses here and elsewhere cannot be used to say the practice is right or wrong. It is explicitly allowed in both testaments of the Bible. It may be true that it is not what was originally intended for man, but with the fall came many things we must accept as a part of the fallen world. In the case of Onesimus, Paul would have him freed because of his status as a Christian, and his love for both the master and the slave. The issue does not go beyond this. Be careful to not force into Scripture what Scripture does not say.

Lord God! Praises to You for what You have done for Your redeemed. We may be in unhappy situations in this life. We may have an unhappy marriage, we may be bound to a job which is highly displeasing; and some of Your people may be in bondage of one type or another, having lost all worldly freedom. But in Christ, we are the freest beings of all. We know that these trials and troubles are temporary, and so we can endure through them in the sure hope of something much better yet ahead for us. Thank You for this wonderful assurance! Amen.

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