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a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 62
January 1996


[Editor's note: In this Internet Edition, text that is indented twice represents the text of Philemon's written reply to the apostle Paul.]

Philemon, a follower of our Lord Jesus,
To my brother and friend, Paul; to Timothy, his son in the Spirit and fellow worker:


"I just heard he was back!"

His attention still on his thoughts and the letter being penned to his friend, Philemon did not even look up when his wife, Apphia, flew into the room. "What's that, dear?"

"Is it true? Onesimus has returned? Who brought him?"

"No one," Philemon answered, finally pulling himself away from his private thoughts. "He returned on his own."

Apphia was stunned into silence. How remarkable, that a runaway slave would actually return by his own choice! Onesimus was not ignorant; he knew that the punishment for running away could be harsh. This was all very inconvenient; as the woman of the house, and the one in charge of the household slaves, it would fall to her to address the situation.

"What did he have to say for himself?" She asked.

"Not much. He went through all the motions, said all the right words. He was suitably repentant, threw himself at my feet and all. But it seemed almost a charade; even as he clutched at my ankles, he could barely keep himself from grinning up at me!"

"Now we're going to have to do something about it," Apphia said with a sigh. "It was almost easier when he was still a runaway."

"But there's something else," Philemon said. "The situation's been muddied by this." He handed the rolled letter from Paul to his wife. "What's this?"

"Our runaway has been in the company of Paul."

Apphia lifted her gaze off the fresh papyrus scroll to stare at her husband. "Paul? But he's in prison."

"Yes, I know. Apparently, Onesimus found his way to him. He must have heard our discussions regarding Paul's welfare. Remember, the church has been lifting up prayers on his behalf; Onesimus must have overheard, and gone to him."

"Whatever for?"

"I wouldn't know why he went to him in the first place, but, according to Paul's letter, Onesimus has been of some value to him. As a matter of fact, they've become quite close."

"So instead of returning him to us," Apphia said incredulously, "Paul kept Onesimus as his own servant."

"Not quite." Philemon frowned as he turned back to continue with his reply.


Seeds Planted


Before our Father's throne we pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one, our comforts and our cares.

We share our mutual woes, our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again.

              John Fawcett




The sun was melting into the distant horizon, painting the garden in deep shades of burnt orange, when Apphia joined her husband for their usual evening chat--a custom they had kept since their second day of marriage. In this quiet moment, while the day reached toward it's end, Philemon and his wife would let the events of the day just past simmer into their conversation, while they looked forward to the new day approaching. Here they talked--quietly, simply--and patiently listened to no one else but the other.

The olive wood bench was nestled between two myrtle bushes, and the whole area was scented by their evergreen fragrance. The bench was hard, but its seat, nevertheless, had two distinct impressions from where the couple had ended many years of days.

"What are you going to do?" Apphia asked her husband.

"I don't know yet."

"Paul will be expecting your answer."

"I know that."

"He wants you to send Onesimus back to him, doesn't he?" She asked.

"Paul makes that quite clear in his letter. He stops short of saying it, but it's clear."

"So why don't you do it?"

"Send him to Paul?" Philemon stiffened, turned to his wife. "What will that say to the other servants? That will give tacit permission for all the servants to leave whenever they like and make another life for themselves. What will that do to my authority? And where in that does Onesimus meet his responsibilities to me?" He sagged down into himself. "No. It wouldn't be right."

Apphia nodded her head in agreement. "I hate to think of Paul going through this--but after all, he's not alone. His letter says that Timothy and Mark, Demas, Aristarchus and Luke are there with him.[1] Why would he need Onesimus?"

Philemon withdrew the small scroll from inside his robe. "We only have what he says: 'I would have liked to keep him.' And he says that Onesimus has 'become useful' to him."[2]

"Maybe you should send a letter back to Paul, asking for more details," Apphia suggested. "Then we can better make the decision."

"I suppose."

"Have you spoken with him yet?"


"Onesimus. He's been in his quarters since he returned." "I sent him there. I wanted time to let the anger wash out of me before dealing with him."

"And has it?"

"Has what?"

"Are you still angry with Onesimus?"

"Oh, I rather think I'm more angry with Paul, than the slave. In Onesimus' position, I suppose I'd have done the same thing. What I can't abide is that Paul didn't send him back to me immediately. That would have been the right thing for him to do."

Apphia gazed off toward the west, toward the orange ball now almost lost below the horizon. She sighed, and said, "It would be different if Onesimus were part of the family, instead of a slave. Then it would just be a family decision."

Her statement stabbed into Philemon like a hot knife. But of course, it was a family decision. How had Paul put it? 'I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you.' And later he had written that Philemon should think of Onesimus 'no longer as a slave, but ... as a dear brother.'[3]

Philemon turned toward his wife and said, "But Onesimus is a part of the family."



Psalm 119:63 Romans 1:11-12 Philip. 2:3-8
Matthew 5:16 Romans 14:1-4 1 Thes. 4:18
Matthew 18:20 Romans 14:16-15:7 1 Thes. 5:11
Matthew 20:25-28 1 Cor. 10:16-17 1 Thes. 5:14
Matthew 23:8 1 Cor. 10:24 Hebrews 3:13
Luke 22:31-32 1 Cor. 10:31-33 Hebrews 10:23-25
John 13:33-35 1 Cor. 12:13 Hebrews 13:1
John 17:11-23 2 Cor. 4:5 James 5:16
Acts 2:42 2 Cor. 8:9 1 Peter 2:17
Acts 2:44-47 Galatians 6:2-10 1 Peter 3:8-9
Acts 20:35 Ephes. 5:19-30 1 John 4:7-8
    1 John 4:11-12

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord
Close binding all mankind.

Join hands then, brothers of the faith,
Whate'er your race may be;
Who serves my Father as a son
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West;
In Him meet South and North.
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

              John Oxenham

Our God has made us one--In Him our hearts unite.
When we His children share His love,
Our joy is His delight.

Our God has made us one--His glory is displayed.
For as we build each other up
Our love becomes His praise.

Our God has made us one--In sorrow and in joy;
We share the cross of Christ, our Lord,
In Him we now rejoice.

Our God has made us one--One church to bear His name;
One body and one Bride of Christ,
And with Him we shall reign.

              Niles Borop


The Interview

It was the one room of the house in which none of the slaves were permitted. It was here that Philemon conducted his business affairs in relative solitude and quiet. Here was the one room in which he could call upon all of his well-practiced abilities to make the deals that kept him and his family wealthy.

This too, since Philemon had become a believer, was where he came to commune with God and worship his Savior. In this quiet place where no others were allowed, he could focus all of his thoughts and adoration upon the one who gave His life that he might live.

It was upon the heavy, wooden door to this room that the slave knocked.

"Come in, Onesimus," Philemon answered. The cedar door swung out slowly, and Onesimus stepped inside. "Sit down here, next to me."

The slave, with head lowered respectfully, crossed the room and perched nervously on the low stool that was positioned next to where Philemon sat waiting.

Onesimus was a rather ordinary-looking man, somewhere around twenty-five or thirty years of age--although no one really knew how old he was. He had been purchased by Philemon five years earlier from a passing caravan that included a group of prisoners from Crete. Philemon had selected him for his strong back, but soon Onesimus' unique brand of earthy intelligence won him a position of trust within the household.

He kept his gaze lowered, as if studying the floor, while Philemon chose his words.

"I've read Paul's letter carefully," he began. "He speaks most highly of you."

"Yes, master."

"Tell me why you ran away. Did we treat you unfairly?"

"Oh, no, master."

"Then why?"

Slowly and methodically, after a moment's thought, Onesimus began, "You never invited me into your meetings, but I could hear what was being said. At first your discussions were confusing, and your prayers were foreign to any experience of mine. But little by little, I came to be curious about these things. Then my curiosity became something more--I wanted to understand." He took a breath, as if gathering courage to go on.

"You and the others spoke often of the man Paul. I do remember the time he was here, but nothing else. You spoke of him as you would a leader--yet he wasn't actually here. You gave his words great weight. They were important to you."

"You never said anything to me," Philemon interrupted.

"It would not have been proper to share my feelings with you, my master."

"I've always treated you well."

"Yes, you have," Onesimus quickly agreed. "But there is a fixed distance between master and slave. I could not share it with you."

"But you could with Paul?" Philemon said, only partially hiding his disappointment.

"Paul is not my master."

An awkward silence fell over them for a few moments. Then Philemon said, "But why did you leave?"

Onesimus thought carefully before answering, and when he did, it was with his face once again to the floor.

"I know it was wrong to leave, and I ask your forgiveness. But I don't know if I can put into words why I did."

"Try. Speak freely."

"I was not leaving here--but going there."


"Not a place, but an idea. I was filled with a desire to know more about this Jesus you spoke of and prayed to."

Philemon blurted out, "I would have told you."

"Forgive me, master, but I did not feel comfortable bringing it to you."

"Go on," Philemon said, sadness creeping into his voice.

"From what I had overheard, I knew the city where Paul could be found--and I still had his face in my memory. It took me many days, but I finally found the jail he was in. For awhile, after that, I did nothing but sit at his feet, listening to his words about Jesus.

"Slowly, after many more days, I began to ask my questions. He always answered them--sometimes with words that needed explaining, but he always answered them. What surprised me was that he never concerned himself with who I was, or why I was there. Oh, in time he learned that I was of your house, but he never pried into the reasons for my being there with him. He just accepted me."

A small smile spread over his face as Onesimus continued. "After awhile, I began doing things for him. Small things--sometimes just sitting with him after everyone else had left. He seemed to take comfort in having me there with him. I don't know why. He spoke often of you and mistress Apphia. He remembered you fondly, telling me about the many things the two of you had done for the other believers--in your church and elsewhere.

"One day--it was late, long after everyone else had left--he turned and looked into me, and said, 'Onesimus, I've told you much about Jesus. Now I want you to tell me what He means to you'' It took me a long time to find the words, but I told him that I believed that Jesus was really God--God in flesh; that this God was the only true one, that all other gods were false; and that when Jesus died on the cross, my sins died there with Him. I told him that because of Jesus, my many sins were forgiven.

"What I said pleased him, but he said, 'You still haven't told me what Jesus means to you' What I told him was that I now felt part of something new and different, that I now had a new master--one who would always care for me and love me. But more than that, I knew that I would never again feel alone, that I would always have brothers and sisters who would support me--just like those who were there supporting Paul. I knew that my past life no longer mattered. What really mattered was my new life, and those who would share it with me. The next day, Paul had John Mark take me to a nearby stream, where he baptized me."


Though Philemon stared at Onesimus, his eyes were unfocused, his gaze distant. As images of Paul and his servant together played over and over in his mind, he struggled to suppress the feelings of jealousy--even betrayal--that surged in him, trying to accept the events and changes that had transpired. He fought against the anger he felt from being helpless--from not having any control over what had taken place between his friend Paul and his servant Onesimus. At last, he spoke.

"Why did you come back?"

"I guess there were several reasons. First, because Paul wanted me to. I owe him a great debt, and I felt that by serving him, I am serving my Lord. I also felt the need to ask your forgiveness. I was wrong to leave, I know that. You are my master, and I am to obey you.

"The real reason I returned, well--it's harder to explain. I don't know if I have the words for it. Being there, with Paul, I came to understand that living a life with Christ is more than just believing. At first, when he spoke of having a personal faith, I thought that meant that our faith was to be kept separate from each other--that the only thing that mattered was what was between us and Jesus.

"But then I learned that the truth is quite the opposite. Before Christ, we were separate; living under him, we are all connected--members of each other.

"While I was there, I could see with my own eyes how important it was for others to encourage Paul in his work--and especially in his imprisonment. He would have days when the reality of his situation would press down on him like a heavy weight. He would think that all his work for the Lord had been in vain, despair would creep up on him, and he would begin to lose hope.

"But then would come word of victories in Perga, or a great Spiritual revival in Miletus, or he would receive a personal letter from a dear friend that just said how much they loved him. What a difference these would make! After being there, I know that these words of encouragement literally kept him alive. Without them--and the brothers and sisters who were there in person--Paul would have lost all hope.

"So--and I'm not sure I can explain this well--I realized that I had to return, to bring his letter to you, to keep that connection alive. I can't read--you know that--so I don't know what his letter says. But I know that you are dear to him, and that if he needs you, or he needs me, we should do everything we can for him."

Philemon looked upon this man who had changed before his very eyes. Or was it he who had changed? Onesimus had entered the room a slave; he would be leaving a man--a brother. What miracle had transpired in that Roman cell?

After a long silence Philemon, his voice heavy with emotion, quietly said, "Thank you for being honest with me. You may go now."

Onesimus rose from his stool and left the room, shutting the heavy cedar door behind him.




O Thou, in whose presence my soul takes delight,
On whom in affliction I call,
My comfort by day and my song in the night,
My hope, my salvation, my all!

Where dost Thou, dear Shepherd, resort with Thy sheep,
To feed them in pastures of love?
Say, why in the valley of death should I weep,
Or alone in this wilderness rove?

O why should I wander, an alien from Thee,
Or cry in the desert for bread?
Thy foes will rejoice when my sorrows they see,
And smile at the tears I have shed.

He looks! and ten thousands of angels rejoice,
And myriads wait for His word;
He speaks! and eternity filled with His voice,
Re-echoes the praise of the Lord.

Dear Shepherd! I hear, and will follow Thy call;
I know the sweet sound of Thy voice;
Restore and defend me, for Thou art my all,
And in Thee I will ever rejoice.

              Joseph Swain



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Issue No. 62
January 1996


[1.] Philemon 1, 24. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Philemon 13,11. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Philemon 10, 12, 16. (return to footnote 3)


All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1996 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1996 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.


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