15 “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 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.” (Philemon 15–16 (ESV)
Sometimes it’s necessary to be apart for a little while in order to eventually be together for a lifetime.
One of my favorite fictional characters is Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, as portrayed by Tom Selleck in the television program Magnum P.I. The original series (1980-1988) contained well defined and evolving characters, interesting and involving stories, and a satisfying resolution.
One of the most emotionally stirring storylines within the series was the reoccurring relationship Thomas had with his daughter Lily Catherine. At one point he thought, and was led to believe, that she had died. The time following her presumed death was incredibly painful for him. It was uncertain if he would fully recover from his grief.
However, the concluding episode reunited the still living Lily with her grieving father. The final scene was the two of them walking hand in hand on the beach into the distance of each fan’s collective memories. It was necessary for the two of them to be apart for a little while in order to eventually be together for a lifetime.
To some extent, the same could be said of Philemon and Onesimus. The Apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to his earthly master. Once a slave when he fled, the young man was now a beloved brother in Christ in his return. Once separated for a brief period of time, the two believers in Christ would now be together for a lifetime.
In our current culture, the appeal to love is frequently used in order to excuse all manner of sin in the church community. If a pastor or church leader should even consider confronting known sin by a church member, they are often accused of being unloving. Ironically, the accusation of being unloving is often done by others in a most unloving way. It may seem that unconditional love is reserved exclusively for the sheep and withheld from the spiritual shepherd.
Dr. R. C. Sproul explains, “If love is made the foundation of ethics but is not defined according to Scripture, then love can excuse anything. Christian ethicists say the love that must guide our decisions is the love that fulfills God’s moral law (Rom. 13:10); it is the love that concerns itself with bearing each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Love may call us to go above and beyond the basic standards for generosity, respect, and concern for others, but it never demands us to violate the principles for conduct in the moral law of God”
“Regarding interpersonal relationships, love often calls us to ignore certain offenses (Prov. 17:9; 1 Peter 4:8). This could be why Paul fails to mention specifically the reason for Onesimus’ flight from Philemon in Philemon 15–16. But it is perhaps more likely that the apostle does not speak of Onesimus’ misdeed directly because Philemon would not have needed a reminder of what led to the problems with his slave.”
If the occasion warrants the confrontation of sin (Matt. 18:15-20; Gal. 6:1-3), then the offended brother in Christ must confront the sinning brother in Christ with a spirit of gentleness. This would entail not only having a gentle tone of voice but also gentle, but firm, behavior. The confrontation of sin may result in a separation for a brief period of time. Hopefully, repentance of sin will be made and a reconciliation will occur between two believers in Christ which will last a lifetime.
May we glorify the Lord today with biblical love for Him and for one another.
Soli deo Gloria!