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She is described as “dearly beloved” and “our sister” in Christ. Her name meaning fruitful, Philemon’s wife may have lived out the significance of her name being a fruitful branch of the Vine. [1]

“The earliest Christians gathered for worship and fellowship in private homes. Affluent Christians, with more spacious homes, generally opened them to their brothers and sisters in Christ. In a context where Christians faced frequent persecution, there were obvious disadvantages to meeting in a private setting. The New Testament letters mention several of the house churches in which believers congregated: Romans 16:5, 1 Corinthians 16:19 speaks of Aquila and Priscilla’s home, Colossians 4:15 mentions Nympha’s home, and Philemon 2 contains Paul’s greetings to the church that met in the home of Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus.” [2]

Writing to Philemon, Paul addresses his brother in Christ and fellow laborer as “beloved friend”. Philemon, Apphia, and Archippus give us a glimpse of New Testament Christian families and a church home. “It seems clear from this that Philemon’s house was the meeting place for an assembly of believers. It was there they gathered for worship, prayer, and Bible study. From there they went forth to witness for Christ in a world that would never welcome their message, but would never forget it either. As they met in Philemon’s home, the Christians were one in Christ Jesus.” [4]

Paul addresses the home of the slave, Onesimus in 2 Timothy 1:16-17, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesimus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched for me until he found me.” [3]

The home of Onesimus is Philemon’s abode. The Believer’s Bible Commentary explains well what has happened to this slave and his repentant desire to return to his master’s home. “Philemon is a resident in Colosse, whom had been converted by the Apostle Paul. Onesimus had run away from their home and may have helped himself to some of his master’s possessions as well.

The fugitive reached Rome during the time that Paul was imprisoned there. A mutual bond of love developed and Onesimus proved himself to be a valued helper to the apostle. But they both agreed that the proper thing would be for Onesimus to return to Philemon and his household to make right the wrongs of the past. So, Paul wrote to Philemon, Apphia, and Archrippus interceding for the slave and presenting strong reasons why he should be graciously restored to his master’s favor. It was at this time Paul also wrote the Letter to the Colossians and assigned Tychicus to act as postman, sending Onesimus back to his home.” [4] Would he be accepted back with open arms? Would forgiveness reign in the hearts of these new converts Philemon and Apphia?

The Apostle believes so when he writes, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh  my heart in Christ.

Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.” (Philemon 17-22)

Paul knew the hearts of this family. I believe he knew Philemon and Apphia would accept Onesimus back, welcoming him home. Paul had taught this family well, as they were lights in a very dark city. The Lord would be able to use the example of grace and mercy to further His kingdom and they would receive the blessing Paul had asked for in prayer.

Mercy is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as: compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power; lenient or compassionate treatment. A blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion. The New International Version has one hundred and twenty-six verses on mercy, while the Amplified Bible lists one hundred and seventy! God has voluminous verses for His people to study and learn in regards to His mercy. I think the real question should be directed towards us, would we show mercy to Onesimus or would we hold him in contempt?

It’s quite easy to abruptly say we would forgive quickly, but our hearts are swift to hold onto un-forgiveness. Onesimus was a slave and a thief. He ran away from the family who may have treated him extremely well. He obviously knew of the Apostle and sought him out in Rome. Maybe the Lord pressed on his heart the guilt brought by sin, repentance through Christ, and return home to restore what the enemy tried to destroy.

I pray your arms are open as Apphia to the one or many who need forgiveness. Christ’s arms are always open to the Onesimus’ who ask for forgiveness and desire the past let go. Can we say the same? I pray you and I both can.

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