I tend to have a fascination with words. I am challenged by “Words with Friends.” Crossword puzzles are placed strategically around our house. I find words a real cure for boredom.
Words and the way we use them are strategic building blocks affecting the way we accomplish certain tasks. A nation can change its mind when influenced by the right words. Churchill motivated his nation to resist her enemies with the use of words.
Perhaps you have letters filed away that you have received at critical times in your life. On occasion you pull them out simply for the value of the encouragement that they still possess. My ninety-seven year old father-in-law has carefully filed letters that he has received over the history of his life. He’s even framed a few. Now, unable to move about as he once did, he often pulls out a letter of encouragement from days gone by, and his spirits are lifted.
Recently, I received a phone call from an old physician friend. Forty years ago, Dr. Castro, my family’s physician moved away from our hometown. Having enjoyed his friendship and care for several years, I penned him a letter of appreciation when I heard that he was leaving.
Imagine my surprise when just recently I received a phone call from Dr. Castro. And it had to do with the letter I had written four decades previously. “I remember you letter” he began. “In fact, I have it memorized. It has encouraged me over the years.”
The real purpose of his call was to ask for another letter. Dr. Castro was being hit by a frivolous law suit. He was asking for a letter of appeal to the courts. Of course, I was flattered, and soon had the needed letter in the mail.
My interest in Scripture rarely finds me running to the book of Philemon for encouragement. This interesting little letter is more like a post card. Paul’s message to Philemon was both brief and to the point. Philemon is a letter of appeal written from Paul’s prison cell. The apostles concern was for one of his young converts, Onesimus. Years prior, Onesimus, a runaway slave belonging to Philemon, found himself in the hands of Paul. Paul had led him to Christ, and led him in building a new life as a Christian. Sensing his responsibility to his brother in Christ, he writes to Philemon asking him to receive Onesimus back to his old relationship. He wanted to be assured the Onesimus would be received again into Philemon’s care without any threat of reprisal.
A couple of options were open to the Apostle regarding the handling of this challenge. As an Apostle, he could have exercised his authority in requiring the former owner to vindicate the runaway slave.
Consider the words of Paul’s appeal. “Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting. Yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—being such a one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I appeal to you for my son Onesimus whom I have begotten while in my chains. I am sending him back. You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart.” V. 8,9,10,12.
Why was this personal letter included in the canon? After all, it was not written to a specific church. The more I thought about it, the more important it’s purpose became. Paul’s attitude of forgiveness and restitution is a lesson for all of us.
Is there someone in your life who needs forgiven and restored by you? Could you be a catalyst between two others in this process. Paul’s appeal appears not only to be an appeal to Philemon, but to all of us.