The book of Philemon closes with this section:
Paul Sends Greetings From Those With Him (Philemon 23-25)
"Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."
Paul sends greetings from Epaphras, a fellow servant of Christ. He also sends greetings from other prisoners who were faithful servants of Christ (at least at this time they were faithful; Demas later becomes unfaithful and forsakes the faith; cf. II Tim. 4:9-11). Paul closes by praying that the Lord's grace be with Philemon.
Let's spend the rest of our time trying to glean some lessons from this letter to Philemon.
MAJOR LESSONS WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS BOOK:
1. Repentance demands restitution (making things right) so far as it is possible for things to be made right. Onesimus, a slave, had run away from Philemon, his master. He had learned the gospel, and had become a Christian. His genuine repentance would compel him to go home, to go back to his master and to make things right with him. Onesimus had no knowledge of what Philemon might do to him upon returning. Would he be branded with an "F" for fugitive? He wasn't concerned about what was the safest course or what was best for him personally, he was focused on doing the right thing. This is character and courage!
An important application is seen here pertaining to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Many believe, contrary to the teaching of Matthew 19:9, that one can marry, divorce, and remarry for any reason and God will accept such a one who is immersed into Christ. It is true that baptism washes away our sins, but it does not wash away all temporal consequences of our prior actions. One who was a thief before baptism should make restoration after his conversion, as much as is possible. His baptism did not convert another man's property or money into his own! Likewise with relationships. If a man is in an illicit sexual relationship according to God's standard, then God will forgive him through Christ in baptism but the woman he is with is still not truly his! Such a one needs to seek reconciliation. If an unscriptural divorce has occurred, someone has been wronged. It may take time to mature to the point where it can be done, but the obligation to seek reconciliation still exists! The fact that Paul converted Onesimus and then developed a strong relationship with him would suggest that Paul didn't send him back immediately after he came up out of the water, but Paul was moving in that direction and eventually Onesimus went back to Philemon. Let us "convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (II Tim. 4:2).
2. This letter teaches us much about genuine Christian love, compassion, and concern for others. It also is a great example of personal evangelism. Though Paul was in extremely difficult circumstances himself, he was still thinking of others, and was still working constantly on behalf of others (first, to convert this precious runaway slave, and then, to assist him further). In a very special and loving way he was anxious to help his friend and fellow Christian, Onesimus.
3. Paul wrote to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. As Onesimus had Paul to plead his cause, likewise we have Christ to plead our cause before the Father. I John 2:1,2 teaches - "If anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Jesus is our advocate; He stands by us and pleads our cause. This is a tremendous blessing!
4. Philemon and Onesimus are exemplary in reconciliation. On the part of Onesimus, reconciliation would demand sincere repentance. On the part of Philemon, reconciliation would demand genuine forgiveness. The very theme of the Bible is reconciliation, namely the reconciliation between God and man. God has worked out and has provided the perfect sacred plan by which this reconciliation is possible. God is willing and anxious to forgive. And He commands all men everywhere to repent (cf. Acts 17:30). God has done His part, now man must do his part!
5. Paul said to Philemon regarding Onesimus - "But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay - not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides" (Philemon 18, 19). In a sense, Onesimus symbolizes all human beings. All persons because of their own sins have wronged the one to whom they belong. All men owe a debt to God, and it is a debt they cannot pay! Like Paul, our Lord has said: "Put that debt on my account! I will take care of it!" The Lord will take of the debt of each and every one who will believe upon Him and obey His will. He will make complete reconciliation a reality. What a glorious thought!
6. The book is a powerful testament to the reality that the providence of God may be working in the circumstances of our lives in ways we have not dreamed. This is an exciting truth! It reminds us all the more to trust the Lord in all things and not to lean on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5ff).
May the LORD bless us all as we seek to do His will in all things!