For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant,
as a beloved brother – especially to me,
but how much more to you,
both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Sometimes it helps our hearts understand, if our minds understand.
There is so much about this story we don’t know, so it makes it hard to understand. But Philemon and Paul and Onesimus knew what happened all too well, and we are, well, just peeking over their shoulders, reading their mail…
I’m sure Philemon had been through a ton of emotions about Onesimus’ “parting.” It was a loss to say the least, and maybe an embarrassment if Onesimus was still in the area or in contact with those who knew Philemon. I’m sure in moments of weakness and anger, Philemon muttered under his breath, “That little no good for anything (or cruder language). Run away from me? Never – I’ll catch up to you someday…”
But Paul is appealing to Philemon in another way. Onesimus had come to faith in Jesus. Maybe he would have never heard of Jesus if he had not “parted.” Even though this feels so bad and wrong, maybe it is good?
Before, Philemon had control of Onesimus in the flesh, as his slave. Now he has the opportunity to have him “in the flesh and in the Lord.”
It can be hard for us to get out of ourselves and see that what felt bad, might actually be good? That God can move things around so dramatically that wrong can be turned into right?
It takes giving up our self, our own way of thinking, to allow the Lord to turn things around. And it takes even more humility to confess that God’s way is better…
I wonder what I am holding on to that God wants to twist around, out of my grasp and into his, benefiting me and others? Will I allow him, by loosening my hold, and believing in his grace?