It Was About Time!

“In hope of eternal life, which God…promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2).

In the Law of Moses, God promised the people of Israel that they could “live” (Lev. 18:5)—live eternally—if they kept His commandments.  We know that’s what Leviticus 18:5 meant because the Lord quoted that verse to a man seeking eternal life (Lu. 10:25-28).

But God promised us Gentiles eternal life before the Law, even “before the world began.”  But unlike the promise of life He made to the Jews in the Law, He didn’t reveal His promise to us Gentiles for thousands of years!  Speaking of that promise (Tit. 1:2), Paul added,

“But hath in due times manifested His word through preaching, which is committed unto me… (Titus 1:3).

When God finally decided to reveal His promise to give the Gentiles eternal life, He chose Paul to break the news.  The due time had finally come to disclose His promise!

But what does that phrase due time mean?  Well, that exact phrase is used when some unbelieving Jews were persecuting some believers in Israel, and the believers were wondering how long God would allow this to go on!  God answered them,

“To Me belongeth vengeance… their foot shall slide in due time… the LORD shall judge His people, and repent Himself for His servants, when He seeth that their power is gone(Deuteronomy 32:35,36).

God told those persecuted believers, as it were, “I’ll judge the unbelievers among My people in due time, and the due time will come when I see that My servants (you believers) have no power to save yourselves from their persecution.”  So the phrase due time refers to a time when God looks at men and sees “that their power is gone.”  This helps us understand the next time the phrase appears:

“For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6).

The Jews had vowed they could keep the Law (Ex. 24:7), but over the next 1500 years they showed that they had no power to keep it.  And when they showed that they were “without strength” to keep it, Christ died for the ungodly.  But as far as anyone knew, He only died for ungodly Jews, Isaiah’s people (Isa.53:8).  He only died “to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28), the “many” in Israel, for that was all that God had revealed up until that time.

It isn’t until you come to Paul’s writings that you read that “Christ…gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (I Tim. 2:5,6).  And the thing that made it the due time for Paul to testify this was that that’s when it became obvious that the Gentiles were without strength to save themselves too!

If you’re not sure what I mean by that, consider that if a Gentile wanted to be saved in time past, he had to become a Jew—a true Jew, a believing Jew—by believing on the God of the Jews.  For Gentiles, salvation was found “in the remnant” in Jerusalem (Joel 2:32).  That’s why the Lord sent the remnant of the 12 apostles to the Gentiles in “all nations” (Lu. 24:47).

But the 12 were told to take the gospel to all nations “beginning at Jerusalem” (Lu. 24:47).  When the Jews in Jerusalem stoned Stephen instead of sending forth “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3), it looked like the Gentiles were going to remain without strength to get saved.

That’s when God raised up Paul to testify that the Gentiles didn’t have to become Jews to get the eternal life that God promised Israel in the Law, for He had promised them eternal life before the world began!

Isn’t it about time you received “the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus” (II Tim. 1:1 by believing that He died for your sins and rose again (I Cor. 15:1-4)?

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.


Two Minutes with the Bible lets you start your day with short but powerful Bible study articles from the Berean Bible Society. Sign up now to receive Two Minutes With the Bible every day in your email inbox. We will never share your personal information and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Apostolic Refreshment – Philemon 20-21

 

Summary:

When a Bible writer uses the word “yea” after saying something (v.20), it meant he was really pouring it on (Psalm 7:5; 68:3).  At the end of Verse 19, Paul reminded Philemon that he should do what Paul asked and be gracious to his runaway slave because Paul asked him to, and he owed him his very self, since Paul led him to the Lord.  Then after saying, “Don’t you want to pay your debt to me by doing what I ask,” he really pours it on and says, “Don’t you want to give me joy by doing what I ask?”

The reason you should care about that is that it illustrates how you owe your very self to the Lord for saving you, but you shouldn’t do what He asks just because you owe Him, but also because it brings Him joy.

Paul is a great illustration of this, for every time he tells us what brought him joy, it was that God’s people were obeying Him.  He told the Philippians it would bring him joy if they received each other graciously (Phil. 2:2).  That meant it would rob his joy if they didn’t.  Prison didn’t rob Paul of joy, for he rejoiced to see how God used it to get the gospel to Caesar’s household and “all other places” (Phil. 1:12-18).  Even the thought of dying didn’t rob Paul’s joy, for he knew it was “far better” to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23).  The only thing that robbed his joy was ungraciousness among saints!

And don’t forget who was asking the Philippians to fulfil his joy—the apostle who gave them joy when he led them to Christ, and who was living for the “furtherance” of their joy (Phil. 1:23-25).  So in asking them to fulfill his joy, ye was saying, “I’m living for your joy, can’t you live for mine?” In the same way, it was the apostle who brought Philemon joy by leading him to Christ, and who was now continuing to live for his joy as well as the joy of the Philippians, who was asking Philemon to let him have joy of him by doing what he asked.  And that illustrates how the Lord brought you joy by dying for you, and continuing to live for you (Rom. 8:34).

Back in Philemon 1:7, Paul said Philemon refreshed the bowels of the saints in his church by feeding them (cf. Ezek. 3:3).  But when Paul said he could refresh his bowels by being gracious to his slave, he was using the word “bowels” as heart (cf. Jer. 4:19; Lam. 1:20).  That illustrates how obeying the Lord refreshes His heart.

We know His heart needs refreshing sometimes because we read that after Satan fell after Genesis 1:1, it refreshed the Lord’s heart after He recreated the creation described in Genesis 1,2 (Ex. 31:17).  Well, when you get saved, it refreshes the Lord because suddenly you are a new creature (II Cor. 5:17).  Of course, when you don’t act like a new creature, it grieves the Lord (Eph. 4:30).  But then when you obey Him again, it refreshes Him again.  And we’re seeing all that illustrated here with Paul’s refreshment.

Paul was “confident” that the grace God had shown Philemon would get him to do what he asked and be gracious to Onesimus (Phile. 1:21).  His confidence in the carnal Corinthians (II Cor. 2:3; 7:16; 8:22) and the legalistic Galatians (Gal. 5:10) illustrates God’s confidence of how grace can fix whatever is wrong with us.

Paul was confident Philemon would do “more” than what he asked, perhaps set his slave free!  This illustrates how God is confident you’ll do more under grace than He told the Jews to do under the law.  The law said not to do evil (Ex. 23:2), grace says to avoid the very appearance of evil (I Thes. 5:22).  The law said to tithe (Deut. 12:11), under grace the Macedon-ians gave more than a tithe of their “deep poverty” (II Cor. 8: 1-5).  The law said to sacrifice animals (Deut. 12:11), grace says to sacrifice your own body (Rom. 12:1).

The law said not to eat meat offered to idols (Ex. 34:15), Paul said you can, but not to if it will offend a brother (I Cor. 10:27,28).  The Lord introduced New Testament grace by saying the law said don’t kill, but grace says don’t hate (Mt. 5:21,22).  The law said don’t commit adultery, grace says don’t even think about it (Mt. 5:27,28).  If you think it’s a good idea not to hate or lust, it is because your heart has been touched by God’s grace.  Grace makes you evaluate what you’ve been given and how much it is worth to you.

Who Would Think That God Could Lie?

“In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2).

The story is told of a rather simple-minded factory worker who got called into his supervisor’s office for talking back to his foreman.  His supervisor asked, “Did you call your foreman a liar?”  The man admitted that he had.  “Did you call him stupid?” He had to admit that was true as well.  “Did you call him an opinionated, narcissistic egomaniac?”  To this charge, the simple-minded man replied, “No, but could you write that one down so I can remember it?”

Of course, no one would ever accuse God of lying—or would they?  There must be a reason the Apostle Paul wrote to Titus about the hope of eternal life, “which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Titus 1:2).  Why would Paul have to vouch for God’s integrity like that?  Surely somebody was thinking that God could lie, or it wouldn’t have been necessary to affirm the opposite.  And it isn’t likely that it was Titus.

But Titus was stationed on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5), and the Cretians to whom he ministered used to worship the Greek god Zeus, who is said to have been born in Crete.  And according to Greek mythology, Zeus was always lying to his wife Hera to cover up the affairs he had with gods, nymphs and mortal women.  So the Cretians needed reassurance that the God of the Bible wasn’t lying in promising them eternal life, an assurance that Paul was more than happy to give them in an epistle that became a part of God’s written Word.

By the way, did you ever wonder why the gods of the Greeks were such moral degenerates?  Why would anyone invent gods who were guilty of lying, cheating, stealing, fornicating, and even killing?  It was because if your gods acted like that, it gave you an excuse to act like that!  The Greeks invented such gods to justify their own sinfulness!  After all, the gods couldn’t righteously deny men entrance into heaven because of their sins if they themselves were just as morally depraved!

How different is the God of the Bible!  The Bible doesn’t justify men by lowering God to their low level of wickedness.  The Bible justifies men by lifting them up to God’s level!  As the Lord Jesus Christ hung on Calvary’s cross, God made Him “to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21).  That means if you’ve trusted Christ as your savior, you have the very righteousness of God.  God Himself is no more righteous than you are, for you have been “made the righteousness of God.”  And that means God can’t righteously deny you entrance into heaven, for He has lifted you up to His own level of righteousness.

If that makes you feel eternally secure, say amen!

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.


Two Minutes with the Bible lets you start your day with short but powerful Bible study articles from the Berean Bible Society. Sign up now to receive Two Minutes With the Bible every day in your email inbox. We will never share your personal information and you can unsubscribe at any time.

The Return of a Robber – Philemon 18-19

 

Summary:

When Paul tells Philemon to put Onesimus’ wrong on his “account” and that he would “repay” him (v.18), we know he “wronged” him financially.  Slaves often robbed their masters to finance their escape, figuring they owed them for all their free labor.  That sounds justified, but Paul calls it wrong, just as it is wrong when employees steal from their employer today because they’re not paid enough.  If you’re guilty of that, stop (Eph.4:28).  If you’re not, remember you might be someday (ICor.10:12).

If Onesimus did steal from his master, Paul says he owed him.  When you steal from a man, you owe him, and in Bible days you had to pay it back with interest (Ex.22:1).

Paul was probably offering to pay Onesimus’ debt because he was broke and couldn’t pay it himself.  He no doubt spent all his money on the 1200 mile trip from Colosse to Rome, so had to get a job at the prison where Paul was incarcerated.

If you couldn’t repay what you stole, then they imprisoned you (Mt.5:25) until you paid your debt, as prisoners pay their debt to society today, with the loss of your time and freedom.

Since Philemon is a book of illustrations, we know that this illustrates how when men sin against their master God, He considers it a “debt” that they owe Him (Mt.6:12-14).  And it’s a debt they cannot pay, for sinners are spiritually broke.

They can’t pay their debt to God because they don’t have anything He wants.  So they have to go to prison till they’ve paid “the last farthing” (Mt.5:25).  You know that verse is about hell, because that’s how the Lord introduced it (v.22).

Men in hell must pay for their debt with more than their loss of time and freedom.  They are “delivered to the tormentors” (Mt.18:34) until they’ve paid the last farthing of their debt.  But sin against an eternal God demands an eternal punishment!  Hell has to be eternal because men can never suffer enough to repay God for the enormity of their sin.  Men say that’s not fair, but it’s fair because men don’t have to go to hell.    The Lord took their torment on the cross.    All they have to do to be saved from hell is to believe that.

This shows it is wrong to say, as some are saying, that the sins of unsaved men are forgiven.  People go to hell “because” of their sins (Eph.5:6).  Their only hope is to let Christ pay their debt, something else we see illustrated when Paul tells Philemon to put his slave’s debt on his account.  That’s what the Lord did for us, put our sin on His account.

An “account” is a registry of debits and credits.  Sin debits a man’s account with God, but he has no way to credit it, since God doesn’t accept good works as credit (Isa.64:6).  But God counts faith for righteousness (Rom.4:5), faith in the fact that God made Christ to be sin for us so we might be made righteous (IICor.5:21).

Paul usually dictated his letters (cf.Rom.16:22), but made his offer to pay Onesimus’ debt with his own hand (Phile.1:19).  He did this to give Philemon something he could take into court if need be and insist he pay the debt if he wanted to.  That’s an illustration of how, when it comes to your sin debt, you have it in writing that Christ paid it in the writing of the Word of God. 

Of course, Philemon would never make Paul pay his slave’s debt because he owed Paul his own self (Phile.1:19).  He led him to the Lord and saved his eternal life, and perhaps saved him from a life of sin and degradation in this life.  In bringing this up, Paul was implying he owed him a debt he couldn’t repay.  That illustrates how you should feel about the Lord!

After all Paul had given to Philemon, he would never expect Paul to give him more by paying Onesimus’ debt.  After all the Lord has given you eternally in the next life, do you really expect him to give you more in this life?  By giving you health and wealth, and solving all of your problems?

Paul says you should live for Him who died for you “and rose again” (IICor.5:14,15).  If a man saves your life, you feel like living for him, right?  But if someone dies saving your life, you can’t live for him—but you can live for the Lord who died for you and rose again.

Are You a Servant of God?

“Paul, a servant of God, and an apostle…” (Titus 1:1)

Did you ever wonder why Paul, an apostle, began his epistle to Titus by first referring to himself as a servant, the Bible word for a slave?  Well, it helps to learn why the apostle opened two of his other epistles this way. 

First, he identified himself as a servant to the Romans (Rom. 1:1) because Rome was the capital city of the Roman Empire, and the citizens of Rome were used to owning slaves, not being slaves.  Paul himself had been born with all the rights and privileges of Roman citizenship (Acts 22:25-28), yet he was humbly willing to acknowledge that he was a servant of God.  So in writing the saints in Rome, the apostle introduced himself as a servant to remind them that they too might be free citizens, but that “he that is called in the Lord…being free, is Christ’s servant” (I Cor. 7:22).

Paul also introduced himself as a servant to the Philippians, where two of the ladies were feuding (Phil. 4:2), and everyone in the church was taking sides.  When they received Paul’s letter, they probably thought that he was going to take a side in their squabble and settle it in so doing.  But rather than siding with either faction, he made it clear that he was writing to them “all” (1:1), praying for them “all” (1:4), thought highly of them “all” (1:7), longed after them “all” (1:8), rejoiced with them “all” (2:17), and wished them “all” well (4:23).  His marked and repeated use of the word all in this epistle shows that he refused to take sides in their feud.  Instead, he told them to get on the Lord’s side, saying,

“…be likeminded…being…of one mind…let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God…took upon Him the form of a servant…(Phil. 2:2-7).

When two believers are not of one mind, the only way they can become of one mind is to let the mind of Christ govern their lives—the Christ who “took upon Him the form of a servant.”  If you have a dispute with a brother in Christ, I can tell you whose side Paul would be on.  He’d be on the side of whoever was willing to be the other one’s servant.  Lowliness like that will solve any and all disputes, but it is high spiritual ground.  But then, isn’t that what you have in mind when you sing “Lord plant my feet on higher ground?”

Finally, the reason Paul called himself a servant in addressing Titus was because Titus was an intimidating man (II Cor. 7:15).  Spiritual leaders like that sometimes need to be reminded that the strongest leaders of men are nothing more than servants of God.  Titus might have been a tough man, but that’s not what made him fit to pastor a church.  His fitness was found in his willingness to be a servant of God and lead His people in serving Him by example, and not by force (cf. I Peter 5:3).  I’ve heard horror stories of pastors who act like little Napoleons—and some of you have lived such horror stories.  Men like that would do well to remember the humility Paul displayed when he referred to himself as a servant, and stop dominating the faith of God’s people (II Cor. 1:22), and “by love serve one another” instead (Gal. 5:13).

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.


Two Minutes with the Bible lets you start your day with short but powerful Bible study articles from the Berean Bible Society. Sign up now to receive Two Minutes With the Bible every day in your email inbox. We will never share your personal information and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Philemon’s Return Policy – Philemon 16-17

 

Summary:

Paul wasn’t saying Onesimus wasn’t a slave anymore just because he got saved (v. 16).  Salvation doesn’t deliver you from your problems, it helps you accept them, knowing God can use you more powerfully in your problems than He can if He delivers you from them because His power is made perfect in your weakness (II Cor. 12:7-9).  Paul was saying Philemon shouldn’t receive him as a slave, but as a brother.  Like how Paul’s words were the words of a man, but the Thessalonians didn’t receive them that way (I Th. 2:13).  He was a man, but the Galatians didn’t receive him that way (Gal. 4:14).  This illustrates how God receives us not as sin-ners but as saints, and expects us to receive others that way.

How far “above” a servant should Philemon receive him (v. 16)?  The Lord told the 12 they were no longer servants but friends, after He told them all that the Father had told Him (John 15:15).  A friend is above a servant.  But after He died and rose again He called them brethren because they were one with Him (Heb. 2:11).  So are we, so we should receive one another as a brother, as Paul told Philemon.

When Paul told Philemon to receive Onesimus as a “beloved” brother (v. 16), God said that Christ is His beloved (Mt. 3:16,17), so he should receive him as Christ, since he was now “accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).  God later repeated that Christ was His beloved when they didn’t “hear” Him (Mt. 17:5) say He had to die (16:21,22).  So to receive Onesimus as “beloved” means to hear what Christ says in Colossians 3:11-13, where He says that we are His beloved, and so should forgive others as He forgave us.

Onesimus was “special” to Paul because he led him to the Lord, even though they didn’t have much time together.  Paul probably wasted no time teaching him to obey his master (Col. 3:22) and sent him back to Philemon for further Bible teaching.  But Onesimus was “more” (v. 16) special to Philemon for he had known him a long time.  And he would be special to him “in the flesh” (v. 16) since saved servants were often better servants than unsaved servants.  And since Philemon had probably witnessed to Onesimus, and prayed for him, and taught him the Scriptures in their home church, he was also special to him “in the Lord.”

A “partner” (Philemon 1:17) is someone who’s part owner in a business.  Three of the apostles were partners in a fishing business (Luke 5:6-10).  Philemon considered Paul his partner in the ministry, as Paul considered Titus (I Cor. 8:23). Paul’s not pulling rank by asking as an apostle (cf. 1:10), but as a co-worker in the ministry.

But if Philemon is a book that illustrates Pauline doctrine rather than teaching it, what is being illustrated here?  It is illustrating that you should receive others in a forgiving way because Paul is your partner in the ministry.  What do I mean by that?

Consider that after James and John and Peter left their fishing partnership, they became partners in the ministry.  The problem with most Christians today is that they think they are part of that partnership instead of being partners with Paul in the ministry!  That means they are fishing for men with the wrong net, the net of the kingdom gospel (John 20:31).  Some are even using the net of the Law and partnering with Moses, saying you have to keep the Sabbath and the rest of the Law to be saved.

Now when you tell people you’re partnering with Paul they say you should be partnering with Christ.  But this epistle is all about Paul giving Philemon reasons why he should forgive his runaway slave.  The Lord would say to forgive him to be forgiven by God (Mt. 6:14).We must be Paul’s part-ner in this, not the Lord’s in His earthly ministry, for Paul says we should forgive because we are forgiven (Eph. 4:32).

Even the “return policy” of the 12 was different.  In saying men should forgive others seventy times seven times (Mt. 18:21,22), the Lord was telling them they had to keep forgiving till the end of Israel’s next period of 490 years (cf. Dn. 9:24) which will end in the Tribulation.  After that, they won’t need to forgive others since all their persecutors will die at Armageddon.  Only Paul’s return policy says to allow others to return forever and keep forgiving them!

The Servant of God For Today

“Paul, a servant of God…” (Titus 1:1).

It’s interesting that Paul would call himself a “servant of God,” for that exact phrase is only used four times earlier in the Bible, and each time it was used of Moses (I Chron. 6:49; 24:9; Neh. 10:29; Dan. 9:11).  So while all believers should try to serve God, in using that exact phrase, Paul was saying that he was the servant of God for us Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), just as Moses was the servant of God to the people of Israel.

When I was a young man, the CBS affiliate in Chicago promoted itself as “the ten o’clock news.”  Of course, those who preferred to watch the news on other channels would have disputed that claim!  But when Miriam disputed Moses’ claim to being the servant of God to the Jews, insisting that she had as much authority in Israel as he had, she was stricken with leprosy (Num. 12:2-10).  In light of the severity of that judgment, anyone today claiming to be a servant of God on a level with the apostle Paul should be thankful we live in the dispensation of grace!  This would include any man who calls himself a prophet, for prophets in the Bible were men who could “prophesy” and speak the very Word of God (cf. Ezek. 37:4).

But while most Christians know better than to think that they are as important as Paul, most of them believe that the other apostles in the Bible were of equal importance with him.  After all, James also calls himself a “servant of God” (James 1:1a).  But, like Moses, James was the servant of God to the twelve tribes of Israel (James 1:1b), while Paul was sent to us Gentiles (Acts 22:21; 26:17,18; Gal. 1:16; 2:2,7; Eph. 3:8; I Tim. 2:7; II Tim. 1:11).

And that word “Gentiles” includes everyone living in “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:2), for now that Israel has lost her favored nation status with God, she is just another one of the nations.  That means “the apostle of the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13) is the apostle of the Jews as well, and that makes Paul more important to people living today than Moses or James or any of the other New Testament writers.

We might compare how each of the 50 governors in the United States is of equal authority in our country, but you must look to the governor of your state to learn the rules and regulations that have a direct bearing on your life.  In the same way, all of the Bible writers are of equal authority in Scripture, but as Gentiles living in “the dispensation of the grace of God” we must all look to the writings of the man who was appointed to be “the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles” (Rom. 15:16) to learn the things that have a direct bearing on our lives, the Apostle Paul.

To the Reader:

Some of our Two Minutes articles were written many years ago by Pastor C. R. Stam for publication in newspapers. When many of these articles were later compiled in book form, Pastor Stam wrote this word of explanation in the Preface:

"It should be borne in mind that the newspaper column, Two Minutes With the Bible, has now been published for many years, so that local, national and international events are discussed as if they occurred only recently. Rather than rewrite or date such articles, we have left them just as they were when first published. This, we felt, would add to the interest, especially since our readers understand that they first appeared as newspaper articles."

To this we would add that the same is true for the articles written by others that we continue to add, on a regular basis, to the Two Minutes library. We hope that you'll agree that while some of the references in these articles are dated, the spiritual truths taught therein are timeless.


Two Minutes with the Bible lets you start your day with short but powerful Bible study articles from the Berean Bible Society. Sign up now to receive Two Minutes With the Bible every day in your email inbox. We will never share your personal information and you can unsubscribe at any time.

The Apostle Paul’s Retainer – Philemon 13-15

 

Summary:

To “retain” something (v. 13) means to keep possession of it (Job 2:9).  Before returning Philemon’s runaway slave, Paul thought about retaining him (v. 13) to “minster” unto him in prison.  In those days, prisoners were literally fed bread and water (I Ki. 22:27), but in some cases they were allowed friends or servants to “minister” to them (cf. Mt. 25:43,44).

The Book of Philemon doesn’t teach Pauline doctrine, it illustrates them.  When Paul says he thought of keeping Onesimus in Philemon’s stead, that illustrates how we are here “in Christ’s stead” (II Cor. 5:20).  That means we should be beseeching sinners to be reconciled to God as He would.

Slaves were a man’s possession, however (cf. Lev. 25:45,46), so Paul wouldn’t keep him without Philemon’s permission (Phile. 1:14).  He told him he would “benefit” for it at the Judgment Seat of Christ if he let him use his possession, as people today will benefit for letting missionaries use their cars, etc.  But he explained he’d benefit more if he gave Paul use of his possession “willingly” and not “of necessity.”  This illustrates how God will someday reward all of the money we possess that we give to the Lord, but we’ll benefit more at the Judgment Seat of we give in a “willing” way (II Cor. 8:12) and not “of necessity” (II Cor. 9:7).

If Philemon had retained Onesimus, he could only have had him as a slave until he died.  But now that Paul was retaining him after leading him to the Lord, Philemon could have him back as a brother for all eternity (Phile. 1:15,16).

When Paul says Onesimus departed “for a season” (v. 15), that should remind you of the Jew who was blinded for a season when he tried to keep Paul from giving a Gentile the gospel (Acts 13:11).

So when Onesimus departed for a season so Philemon could receive him forever as a brother, that illustrates how Israel departed from God for a season so God could receive her forever in the kingdom.  They “departed” in Acts 28:28,29 and their “receiving” will come in their kingdom (Ro. 11:15).

Paul can’t be saying Onesimus ran away so he could return to Philemon for ever.  And he can’t be saying Philemon let him run away so he could return forever.  No, it was God who wanted him to leave so he could get saved (I Tim. 2:4).  But we have to be careful, for God says servants should obey their masters, not run from them (Eph. 6:5), so running away is a sin, and God never makes anyone sin.

But God knows how to use men’s sins to accomplish His will.  God didn’t make Joseph’s brethren sin by selling him into slavery, but when He saw they hated him (Gen. 37:4) He gave him a dream saying he’d rule them, making them hate him enough to sell him (Gen. 37:8).  That’s how Joseph could say God sent him into slavery (Gen. 45:7,8), using His Word in a dream.  They just reacted sinfully to His Word.

And God used His word to get Onesimus to run away, His word through Philemon.  He was a faithful Christian (Phile. 1:4-6), so was no doubt witnessing to Onesimus.  He just resented hearing it from his high and mighty master, so reacted sinfully to it.  But when he heard the gospel from Paul, someone beneath him in prison, he believed it.

So why does Paul say “perhaps” that’s what happened?  Because there was an element of chance involved.  God could make Onesimus want to run by giving him His word, but he couldn’t make him run 1200 miles to Rome and bump into Paul.  The “hap” part of perhaps means something hap-pened to happen (Ruth 2:3) by chance (II Sam. 1:6).  There’s such a thing as chance—luck (Ecc. 9:11).  Moses believed in it (Deut. 22:6), as did the Lord (Lu. 10:31).  God is not orchestrating our every move, He gave us free will.

So Paul is telling Philemon not to look at it as his slave running away, but to look at it all as God using sin and His Word and chance to “work together” for good (Ro. 8:28).

God also works through His people though.  If Philemon didn’t forgive Onesimus, then all those things wouldn’t work together for good.  It all comes down to you.  If you’re not happy with your life, begin to obey God’s Word through Paul.