“For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave—a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 1:15-16
There are some sayings that are so commonly repeated and that sound so biblical to us that we think their from the Bible.
One of these is a statement by Benjamin Franklin, “God helps those who help themselves.” If you study it out this statement isn’t even close to true. We’re helpless and God is continually helping us because of our helpless condition.
There’s another statement, also frequently thought to be biblical, which isn’t but is much closer to being biblical in the thought it conveys. It’s a line from a hymn by William Cowper, “God moves in a mysterious ways; His wonders to perform.”
God does work, and move in ways that are mysterious and bewildering to us. I’m sure that if you could change our perspective so that we could see all that God can see much of the mystery would fade into clarity but limited in knowledge as we are many things that God does leave us scratching our head in perplexity while the events are unfolding.
So it must have been for Philemon when Onesimus ran away with some of his valuables.
I’m not suggesting that God motivates people to be wrongfully disobedient to those in authority over them. As sinners we’re more than capable of providing our own motivation. However, God frequently does demonstrate his sovereignty by turning our foolishness to his advantage. In fact, we bumble around so much God’s probably doing this more often than we might want to admit is necessary.
In our focus text Paul suggests to Philemon that in Onesimus’ taking it on the lamb that God might have been using this so that he could work a change in Onesimus that would result in him returning but not as a slave to Philemon but rather as a brother, a fellow Christian, and a coworker for Christ.
Too frequently we’re impatient with the unexpected difficulties we so frequently encounter. Cars break down, needed home repairs present themselves in dramatic fashion, children, both old and young, complicate and slow things down. These things and much more threaten to drive us to distraction.
Could it be that in all these difficulties that God is trying to work his will others lives and the graces of the fruit of the spirit into hearts? Will we prayerfully turn our cares over to him? Will we learn patience in the only school that can really teach it, the school of vexation? Will we learn peace in the only course of learning capable of imparting it, the course of turmoil?
God’s not responsible for all the frustration this world piles on but he will in the midst of it work his will and give us his grace if we’ll let him.