Paul wanted to make a special request of Philemon. He had the right to demand that Philemon grant the request. Why? How can any believer, even a minister, demand that another believer do anything, especially if the believer differs or does not wish to do what is requested? There are two reasons: It is the right thing to do and it is a believer’s duty to do it.
A believer, no matter who he is, should do the right thing; he should do his duty. Therefore, Paul had the right to make a special request of Philemon, but notice Paul did not demand that Philemon grant the request. Philemon should, but Paul did not demand it. Instead he beseeched, that is, appealed, urged, and pleaded with Philemon because he loved Philemon. Paul based his plea upon three things that should appeal to the heart of any believer.
Paul based his appeal upon love: the love of Christ and the love of believers for each other. This should mean that Philemon loved Paul as a brother in Christ, loved him enough to grant the request.
Paul based his appeal upon his age. He was apparently in his fifties and no doubt his body was somewhat more aged than the average person because of the wear and tear upon his body from the sufferings that had been inflicted upon him through the years.
Paul based his appeal upon the fact that he was a prisoner for the cause of Christ. He had suffered so much in order to carry the gospel to the lost of the world, to people who were hopeless and lost just as Philemon and his family had been. Because he was a prisoner for Christ, Philemon should grant his request.
Paul was tired and worn, about to close his ministry and life upon earth; therefore, he expected his dear friends to heed his last request. What was Paul’s request? It concerned Onesimus, a former slave of Philemon, a slave who had run away to gain his freedom and had fled to Rome.
Imagine Onesimus having just returned to Philemon and having handed this letter to Philemon—and Philemon standing there reading this letter. What were his thoughts? What was the impact upon Philemon, the slave owner who had been converted to Christ? What would he do now? There standing before him was a former slave who had broken the law by running away, broken one of the major laws upon which the Roman empire was built.
Onesimus was a changed man, a man who had been “begotten,” that is, born again. Paul had led Onesimus to the Lord. Remember that Paul was in prison. How then did Paul come in contact with Onesimus? Was Onesimus recognized as a runaway slave while in Rome and imprisoned himself? No! He could not have been, for he was not in prison. He had returned and was moving about freely and was now standing before his owner, Philemon.
When Onesimus reached Rome, he had most likely run across some Christian believers, and they had introduced him to Paul. Paul then led him to Christ. Paul pulled no punches. He readily admitted the wrong that Onesimus had done: he had been unprofitable, that is, useless. The idea is that Onesimus had been absolutely of no use, just good for nothing. But now he was profitable. He had believed in Christ and he was of the greatest use to Philemon and to Paul for the kingdom of Christ.
Jesus Christ changes lives. He can take a useless, unprofitable, good for nothing person and make the most useful, profitable, and good person imaginable. Jesus Christ can take nothing and make something out of any person no matter, how low a person is, how far a person has sunk, how far a person has gone or what a person has done. Jesus Christ can change a person and make him the most useful person in the world. How? Jesus Christ takes a person and creates him anew. Christ gives the person a new birth, makes a new creature, a new man out of him.
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