How do you come across to people? Even if you think you know how you come across, what if your impression of yourself is wrong, or maybe even slightly off? It is a sign of growing maturity to be able to have self-awareness. Some humans are very self-aware, and others not so much. It seems like a human tendency to think we know ourselves really well. But do we? Further, when we learn something about how we come across, how do we handle the new information? If we learn something good, then we are happy. But what if we learn that we come across negatively or harshly? How do we handle that?
This summer on the blog we are reading other people’s mail. Ancient mail. Over the last few months we read Paul’s letter to Titus. The remainder of the letters are much shorter than Titus, and we’ll cover them in one or two weeks each. Today we start the letter to Philemon. This is another letter that Paul wrote to one of his friends, named Philemon, and as we’ll see, it is very personal. As a result of its intimacy, you might even feel awkward reading it. Especially because in this letter, Paul tells Philemon how he, Philemon, comes across to people.
Feel free to open a Bible, and read verses 1-7.
In Verse 1 Paul describes himself using a curious phrase: “a prisoner of Christ Jesus.” Wait. A Prisoner of Jesus? What does he mean? At the time of he wrote this letter, Paul was a prisoner, literally in chains.
Why was Paul a prisoner? We learn from his writings that he was on house arrest. To get the full backstory, later today or this week I encourage you to read in the book of Acts, chapter 28, starting in verse 11, if you want. But let me summarize. Paul had been arrested in Jerusalem for preaching about Jesus, and then Paul made an appeal to the Roman Caesar by virtue of Paul being a Roman citizen. So the local authorities sent him to Rome to make his case to Caesar. There on house arrest, he waited for his trial. He was in chains, and guarded, but he could receive people. So Paul kept his ministry going as best he could, meeting with his ministry associates and friends, and writing letters to them.
Take notice that though Paul is a prisoner of Rome, he says he is a prisoner of Jesus! Some translate this “prisoner for Jesus.” No doubt Paul is a prisoner for Jesus. Paul was put in chains because he was a Christian who was living out his Christian faith, preaching the good news of Jesus, starting churches around the Roman Empire. Yet Paul sees himself also as a prisoner of Jesus, but in a good way. Paul sees himself as fully and completely committed to Jesus. It’s like he is saying, “Rome may have me in chains, but it is really Jesus who has captured me. Caesar is not my true Lord, but Jesus is, and I live to serve him.”
What I find so intriguing about this is how Paul sees beyond his circumstances. Paul takes what was a really difficult situation, and transforms it into joy, saying he is a prisoner for the Lord! This is a great example for us for how to use our minds to think differently. Rather than fixate on our problems, we can recast them, thinking how Christ can transform our difficulties. I will admit that this is very challenging for me. I find it almost instinctual to dwell on negative thoughts, locked into a pattern that feels inescapable. How many of you struggle with worry and anxiety? I’m right there with you, especially at night. Sometimes I’ll just lay there for an hour or more, tossing, turning, one negative thought after another. Paul is a great example and help to me, therefore, not allowing his circumstances to define his reality, but instead choosing to redefine that reality by Jesus. He is a prisoner, yes, but of Jesus, for Jesus.
What situation is going on in your life that Jesus might want to transform? As we continue studying Philemon verses 1-7 in this series of posts, we’ll see how Paul continues allowing Jesus to impact his (Paul’s) difficult personal circumstances, and how Paul gives Philemon a true perspective on how Philemon comes across to people. From that, we’ll find there is much we can apply to our lives.