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Philemon: The Power of Grace

The beauty of the sky and abandoned house remind us of just how beautiful God's transforming grace really is.
Photo Credit: Mark Shutt Images

January 10, 2024

Praying Friends,

The grace of God has the power to change your life. Your thinking, your affections, your desires, your behavior, your whole being can be transformed by grace. Little by little, as you cooperate with the power of God working inside you, you become the person God wants you to be.

The short, personal, one-chapter book of Philemon, authored by the Apostle Paul, is evidence of what God’s amazing grace can do. The 3 main characters of the book are Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon. Each of them reveal an aspect of God’s grace.

Firstly, Paul’s life was totally altered by grace. He was a radical first century Pharisee, and not just a regular Pharisee, but likely a Shummanite Pharisee, which was a hard-line, conservative, group that lived out the letter of the law and enforced it. 

Paul was the messenger of the good news of God. He was in prison because of Christ Jesus (Philemon 1:1). And he was being radically transformed by the message he proclaimed.

After God stopped him and saved him on the Damascus road, his life was never the same. He got to see and talk with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The One he was persecuting became the supreme object of his life. He later said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Further on in the book he says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).

Now, as he writes to his friend Philemon in Colossae, the grace of God had been at work inside him for over 20 years. He is a changed man. The hardness is gone and he acts with grace. The Pharisee that was in him has all but been eliminated. He has the heart of his Master. He writes from prison on behalf of the recently saved Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon, and says, “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 1:10). 

That’s the grace of God in full-blown transformation!

Secondly, Onesimus, who had run away from responsibility as a household slave, having met Paul, accepted Christ and was now willing to return to Philemon. 

Interestingly, in Greek, the name Onesimus means useful. It was a common name for slaves and is found in many ancient inscriptions. A nameless slave might be given this name with the anticipation that he would live up to it in serving his master.

As Paul sends Onesimus back with this letter, he says to Philemon, “(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me)” (Philemon 1:11). His life has been turned around from being unfruitful to being useful both for Philemon and for the kingdom of God. 

This again is nothing short of God’s matchless grace!

Lastly, Philemon, a convert of Paul, and a much-loved coworker with Paul, is faced with the decision of how to treat Onesimus on his return (Philemon 1:19). Will he treat him as Rome would and have him punished severely, or will he treat him as a brother in Christ, recognizing that it is all a part of God’s plan (Philemon 1:15-16)? 

In verse 21, Paul is confident that God’s grace will prevail in how Philemon will treat Onesimus. It is not natural to treat the person who has hurt you and robbed you with kindness and love. But it is spiritual!

God enables him to live out the gospel of His grace!

As you read this story and reflect on God’s grace that is so unmistakably apparent, allow that same grace to continue its mighty transforming work in you. 

Thank you for praying for our prodigals and for revival. 

Love in Christ,

Bryan and Rachel


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