It was an interesting comment from a lady in the church after I’d been pastor for a few months.
“I’m glad we have a pastor who writes notes,” she said.
I’d not thought much of it before, but I suppose it’s unusual these days for anyone to write notes to others. E-mail is almost passé now and texting is all the rage. So, to get a hand-written letter or note from someone is unique.
One reason she was a gracious lady is that the late Princess Diana would write beautiful notes of appreciation to her dinner hosts. She would write them in the evening before going to bed so that they could be “posted” the next morning, as they say in Great Britain. I saw one of these notes on auction with a starting bid of $5000, so if you have one, you have a valuable item! But though most of us don’t have a personal note from a princess, we do have her influence to guide us.
The letter to Philemon in the New Testament is very short. Bible teacher Chuck Swindoll has likened it to a postcard, rather than a letter. The letter has been called a “bread and butter note” which is what we used to call those customary notes we sent to people who hosted us for a meal or gave us a gift. And the note is packed with theological truth.
Onesimus was a run-away slave. In the providence of God, he met the apostle Paul who brought him to Christ. Then Paul did the unthinkable—he sent the slave home—earning Paul the wrath of many modern readers of scripture. Paul’s tact was just the opposite of the “underground railroad” that helped slaves escape servitude in the days prior to our Civil War. The railroad was supported by many churches in the North.
It’s been estimated that one-third of the Roman population was comprised on slaves, so it was a common and customary thing. Had Paul begun a crusade to abolish slavery, the Roman empire would’ve crushed him like a gnat. Rather, his mission was to plant churches throughout the Mediterranean world, and he was single-minded in this task.
But Paul planted a seed for abolition when he asked Philemon, Onesimus’s owner, not to treat him like a slave, but as a brother in Christ (Philemon 16). Paul further said if the slave had caused loss to his owner, then Philemon could put the loss on Paul’s account and he would be responsible.
How interesting that God would preserve this simple note as inspired scripture for the edification of the church. Written words have power, especially when energized by the Spirit of God.