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10 Characteristics in Philemon We Should All Emulate

  • Kathy Howard Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
10 Characteristics in Philemon We Should All Emulate

The book of Philemon may be short, but its 25 verses pack a powerful spiritual punch. Paul’s letter to his Christian brother Philemon gives us a window into Paul’s personal life and relationships, showing us how the apostle lived out his faith in real life. We see a side of Paul we sometimes miss. Paul wasn’t just the bold evangelist and fierce protector of the truth of the Gospel. This letter shows us Paul’s compassion for others and the joy he experienced in relationships.

Although the letter doesn’t give us all the particulars, we can grasp the basic situation. The slave Onesimus, after running away from his master Philemon, encountered Paul in prison and accepted Jesus through Paul’s efforts. Paul wrote to his friend and fellow believer Philemon to urge him to treat his slave in a Christlike manner. Although we cannot identify with the particular situation Paul addresses here, this brief book strongly demonstrates faith principles and personal characteristics we should emulate in our own lives today. Although not the only principles found in Philemon, the following ten characteristics will help us navigate our own complicated relationships in a way that pleases and honors God and builds up the Church.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

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    Sometimes we have an unbalanced view of the apostle Paul. We tend to focus on the much-needed correction and rebuke often found in Paul’s letters. Sometimes we miss or skim over the words of encouragement and affirmation he also liberally gave. Paul was indeed an encourager. In his letter to Philemon, Paul acknowledged the Christ-like qualities Philemon exhibited.

    “… I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints… For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philemon 5,7).

    The life of faith is not easy. We all need to hear that our efforts make a difference. The purpose is not to build self-esteem or instill pride, but rather give motivation to keep pressing toward the goal. Even a small amount of encouragement goes a long way. Let’s share an encouraging word with someone today.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    2. Prayer (verses 4-6)

    Slide 2 of 10

    Paul didn’t just pray for Philemon. He also told Philemon he was praying for him and what he was praying for him. Paul thanked God for Philemon and asked God to make him even more effective in his service. We see this principle again and again in Paul’s letters.

    Let’s follow Paul’s example. Let us faithfully pray for our fellow believers and let us also tell them we are praying. The knowledge of our prayers is not only another source of encouragement, but they can also anticipate God’s answer! 

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    3. Service (verses 8-10)

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    God can use us for His purposes no matter our circumstances. Paul was in prison. Yet his chains were not a problem for God. God still had work for Paul to do. Paul did not use his difficult circumstances as an excuse; He continued to mentor and evangelize. His obedience to God resulted in spiritual fruit, including the salvation of the fugitive slave, Onesimus.

    Likewise, our circumstances, no matter how trying or limiting, are not an obstacle for God. He can and will continue to use us, if we allow Him. Let us continue to seek His will and then step out in obedience. God will use our efforts to further His Kingdom, no matter how meager they may seem to be to us.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    4. Mentoring (verses 10-13)

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    Paul didn’t merely lead Onesimus to salvation in Christ. Paul also set him on the path to spiritual growth and helped equip him for service. The once “useless” Onesimus, was now “useful” to Philemon, Paul, and the Kingdom of God.

    As members of God’s household, we all have the same responsibility – to help others along in their walk with Christ. No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, there will always be someone who can benefit from our experience and encouragement.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    5. Relationships (verses 10, 16-16)

    Slide 5 of 10

    The reconciliation of the broken relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was a top priority for Paul. These two men – master and slave - had become spiritual brothers. Unity and peace were not only vital to their well-being and spiritual health, but it was also vital for the health of the church.

    Our relationship with Christ changes and impacts our human relationships. Being God’s child makes us brothers and sisters together with all other believers. We are family, with God as our Father. We have the responsibility of treating each other with love and respect. We are obligated to do all we can to heal broken relationships and lovingly rectify problems and disagreements.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    6. Equality (verse 15-17)

    Slide 6 of 10

    Onesimus was a slave and Philemon was his master. In that day and culture, Onesimus held the lowest status possible. Society viewed slaves as something less than fully human. Philemon had been inundated with this prevalent attitude his entire life. It would have been difficult to shake the influence. After all, he “owned” Onesimus.

    So, to Philemon, Paul’s request to receive Onesimus as “more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother,” was truly radical. This countercultural equality is based in our relationship with Jesus. And it is true for us today.

    In Christ, there is “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Our equality in Christ leaves no room for favoritism, racism, or prejudice. 

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    7. Forgiveness (verses 17-19)

    Slide 7 of 10

    Although we don’t know the specifics of the circumstances, it’s clear that the slave Onesimus wronged his master Philemon.

    Traditionally, scholars believe Onesimus ran away and by divine providence encountered Paul in prison, who then led Onesimus to Christ. But we don’t have to know the particulars to understand that Paul called Philemon to forgiveness. Philemon had every right by law to severely punish a runaway slave. Yet, Paul asks Philemon to set aside his “rights” and forgive.

    Forgiveness is rarely easy. In our human nature, we want to see those who’ve hurt us suffer in kind. In these cases, it’s helpful for us to remember the truth of which Paul reminded Philemon (verse 19) – we owe our very lives to the forgiveness of Christ.

    We did not deserve His forgiveness, yet it was freely given. We are to forgive as Christ forgave us. 

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    8. Grace

    Slide 8 of 10

    As a runaway slave, Onesimus had no legal protection, no rights. If he was caught, revenge and retribution by the slave owner was expected. The law and the culture gave Philemon the right to beat, brand, sell to hard labor, or even kill the captured slave. “Right” was on Philemon’s side.

    Yet Paul urged Philemon to respond with grace.

    Grace permeates Paul’s letter to Philemon from beginning to end. We see it in Paul’s relationship with Onesimus and in his appeal to Philemon. Paul set the example of grace for Philemon and for us. Onesimus did not deserve grace. But neither did Philemon. And neither do we. Yet Jesus freely pours out His grace to us, in salvation and every day.

    And He calls us to extend His grace to others. Let us be people of grace, in word and deed.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    9. Accountability

    Slide 9 of 10

    Paul boldly interjected himself into Philemon’s life and relationships. We may read this today and wonder why Paul dared to insert himself into a situation that wasn’t his business. Yet it was Paul’s God-given responsibility to help his Christian brother Philemon live a Christlike life that pleased and honored God.

    Likewise, as Christians today, we have a mutual responsibility to one another. Over and over, the Bible calls believers to encourage, exhort, and build up one another in our lives of faith. For example, we are told to warn each other of sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13); to “admonish the idle” (1 Thessalonians 5:14); and to judge sin in the church (1 Corinthians 5:12).

    Of course, accountability must be guided by love and grace. The goal is the health of the body and the spiritual well-being of the individual.

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  • 1. Encouragement (verses 5, 7)

    10. Peacemaker

    Slide 10 of 10

    We may wonder why Paul even cared about someone else’s relationship issues. Yes, he thought of Onesimus as a spiritual son and was concerned for his welfare. However, Paul’s concern reached further than that. Paul desired not only for the problem to be resolved and the relationship between the two be restored, he also longed to see them enjoy a deeper bond as brothers.

    We see Paul playing peacemaker in another situation. In his letter to the Philippian church, he calls the leaders to help two women resolve their conflict (Philippians 4:2-3). This is our responsibility as believers. Disunity, strife, and disagreement even between two impacts the entire church.

    God desires us to live at peace with others as much as is in our power to do so (Romans 12:18), and to be peacemakers.

    A former “cultural Christian,” Bible teacher Kathy Howard now lives an unshakeable faith for life and encourages other women to embrace real, authentic faith. Kathy is the author of 8 books, including “30 Days of Hope When Caring for Aging Parents”. Find spiritual encouragement and free discipleship helps on her website.

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