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Paul is writing to his friend Philemon. He is exploring, with Philemon, what to do about a run-away slave, Onesimus. Onesimus had fled from Philemon, ended up in Rome where he encountered Paul in prison, and after being led to Jesus by Paul, Onesimus is being sent back to Philemon by the apostle.

Paul’s basic desire is for Philemon to welcome back his run-away slave not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord. He has invited Philemon to see things differently–to see the relationship he has with Onesimus as having been altered because of what Jesus has done.

And in writing about this, Paul mentions the benefit that he will receive through what he hopes Philemon will do.

Let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ (Philemon 20).

What is so intriguing about this is that Paul is not the direct beneficiary of what he is asking of Philemon. He is asking Philemon to treat Onesimus differently. And yet he says that if Philemon ends up doing that, he (Paul) will be refreshed in Christ. Paul insists that he would be “benefitted” in the Lord and he would be “refreshed” in Christ by Philemon treating Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

Sadly, I tend to live as if my soul refreshment comes only if and when someone treats me better. Typically, I am so caught up with others’ treatment of me, that I give almost no thought to how they are treating someone else. And even if I noticed that some friend of mine was treating another friend of mine in gracious, good, and Christ-honoring ways,  I don’t typically think of that as personally “refreshing.”

I wonder if this is because, for Paul, being “part of the body” is not just a “kind of nice idea”–he really does live there. So, “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” 1 Corinthians 12:26).  And in that way, the good done to Onesimus does bring refreshment to Paul’s soul.



    • Vittoria Colonna
    • Posted November 28, 2012 at 1:55 am
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    Wondering if you’re curious about what this kind of “refreshing” would look like? feel like? how it would be experienced? I am curious about this refreshing. . .

  1. A great question. I have wondered a bit about that as well. Just what would that refreshing look like? I wonder if Paul’s words to the Philippians might provide us some insight. He wrote to them about “making [his] joy complete” by maintaining Christ-like attitudes toward one another (Philippians 2:1-5). In that letter, Paul makes it clear that the bed-rock for his own joy was the satisfying relationship he had with Jesus (e.g., as seen in 1:12-26). He wasn’t going to be devoid of joy if the Philippians didn’t live well in relationshpi with one another, however he would experience something supra-joyful if the Philippians lived well in Jesus. Is this the kind of thing that we all experience from time to time when finding something that delights us and brings us joy we share it with others and their rejoicing in and delighting in what means so much to us causes our joys to be enhanced? Joy shared enhances our experience of that joy. Is it possible that the refreshing is the sense of “Yes!” that comes to Paul’s soul when others live into the life that he knows to be the healthiest, holiest, and most God-honoring way of life?

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