Saturday 29th October 2022


This is another of Paul’s so-called ‘Prison Letters’ – probably written in AD 60 whilst he was under house arrest in Rome, under appeal to the emperor (Acts 28).  It is likely that it was sent at exactly the same time as the letter to the Colossian church, since Philemon was a key member of that church.  Both letters – together with the Letter to Ephesians – were delivered by Tychicus and Onesimus (Colossians 4:7-9); it was the latter’s presence which was key to the personal letter to Philemon.

Philemon was a Christian who was reasonably wealthy and owned slaves, as all men in his social status did.  Slavery in Roman times was not the exploitative and degrading lifestyle that it later became 1500 years later in America and Western Europe;  slaves were well cared for, could marry, own property, pass their wealth on to their children and run businesses.  But they were not permitted to run away – a crime that was sometimes punished with branding, with torture, or even with crucifixion!  For whatever reason, Onesimus, who was Philemon’s slave, had chosen to leave his master and travel from Colossae to Rome.  By the kindness and providence of God, he had met up with Paul and been converted to Christ.

Philemon was the leader of the church that met in his home, and it appears that his wife, Apphia, and his adult son, Archippus, were also believers.  Paul had been responsible for Philemon’s conversion too and had continued to disciple him thereafter.  Philemon was clearly a lovely guy and an effective minister of the gospel.  Paul’s letter was very diplomatic and persuasive, but ultimately, his request to Philemon was to forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus (whose name means ‘Useful’).  Forgiveness is the definitive mark of a Christian, the behaviour of one who has themselves been forgiven.  Paul’s persuasion took the following route:

  1. As your apostle and spiritual ‘father’, I could command you to set Onesimus free, but I would rather you did it from a heart of love
  2. Onesimus originally did not live up to his name, but later became useful to Paul and to Philemon
  3. Paul cared passionately for Onesimus, but nevertheless sent him back to Philemon for his decision
  4. Onesimus is now, most importantly, a brother in Christ and should be treated as such
  5. Paul will cover any outstanding debts that Onesimus owes…
  6. …However, Philemon should remember that he owes Paul his very life (hint hint!)
  7. Paul thinks it is now about time that he had some benefit (or ‘usefulness’) from Philemon.

So, for Philemon, forgiveness was the key, and forgiveness was what was required.  The same is true for each one of us – and we will not be forgiven by God unless we continue to forgive.  God’s people are forgiven forgivers!

The letter to Philemon makes one more basic point to us: if we have received life-changing spiritual help, then we should return the favour by giving some material help back.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit!

LAMENTATIONS 1, 2 and 3:1-36

Jeremiah, after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, wrote the Book of Lamentations, swiftly switching his prophetic style from WARNING to MOURNING!  (He is regarded as the most likely author of Lamentations.)  Its message, written just after Jerusalem was destroyed, is in the form of a funeral lament – each chapter’s verses beginning with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet (22 letters), except for chapter 3, where 3 verses at a time begin with each letter.  The key verses of Lamentations are 1:5, 2:17, 3:22, 3:39, 4:39 and 5:21. 

The middle Chapter, 3, provides a great ray of hope!  In particular, 3:21-23: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope. Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;  great is your faithfulness”. 

Hope is found gloriously in the midst of utter disaster!  Because of the Lord’s mercies!  The following verses, 24-36, encourage Judah to return patiently to God and await his mercy.      

Before all this, the prophet weeps over Jerusalem’s demise, just as 600 years later, Jesus himself wept bitterly over that same city, for their stubbornness and resistance to his Father’s will: “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace… but now it is hidden from your eyes.  The days will come when your enemies… will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19:41-44).  Jeremiah felt the same despair over a rebellious nation who had finally exhausted even God’s patience and had ignored countless warnings from his prophets to repent and turn back to their Lord.  As Jeremiah looked on, truly the glory had departed, along with the people and the wonderful architecture. 

And what of the false gods that Judah had been so devoted to?  “Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her!” (1:2).  Now the city is empty, the beautiful bride is a widow, and the queen is a slave – speaking allegorically of God’s people.  And no-one in the surrounding nations is concerned any longer, there is a ‘compassion fatigue’ that fills any likely helpers: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look around and see.  Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the Lord brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?”  These lines were used by the composer, Handel, in his great work: ‘Messiah’, except that they were applied to Christ himself who had taken this punishment upon himself, ‘bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows’. 

The words ‘rejected’ and ‘abandoned’ ring our time and time again.  Describing Judah’s state and confirming her guilt.  The key features of the Lord’s kingdom on earth had been removed: “The Law is no more, and her prophets no longer find visions from the Lord” (2:9).  Jeremiah ‘feels’ both the torment of the people and the pain in the heart of the Lord: “My eyes fail from weeping, I am in torment within; my heart is poured out on the ground because my people are destroyed, because children and infants faint in the streets of the city… What can I say for you?  With what can I compare you, Daughter Jerusalem…Your wound is a deep as the sea.  Who can heal you?” (2:11-13).  And all Judah’s enemies mock: “Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” (2:15).

The very centre of the Book is chapter 3 verse 1: “I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of the Lord’s wrath”.  It sums up the positions of Jeremiah, of Judah and of God himself.  The prophet is taking upon himself an intercessory role on Judah’s behalf, feeling what they feel and beginning to call on the Lord for them.  And so, we reach the passage of hope in verse 22.

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