In the first century, slavery was very much a part of life. A reality throughout the Roman world. Many were well treated, but others were not. Runaway slaves could face severe punishment and even death. So for Onesimus, (the runaway slave turned Christian), it was a life and death situation.
There seems to be a formula in this prayers for Philemon. Yesterday we saw that Paul thought of Philemon with gratitude. Today we see that he is praying for a deepening of understanding of what being a Christian means. Here Paul is praying for that witnessing to change Philemon himself.
Paul was obviously blessed by hearing from others that the faith of Philemon was strong. Just think for a moment how did people know that. Were they members of his house church? Did people outside the church talk of Philemon as a believer, or as one who followed The Way?
As a little girl, I was taught to say prayers at night on my way to bed. Usually short rhymes I had learned. In the summer I knelt at the side of my bed. But in winter I prayed between the sheets! No heating in our house in those days!
For God, peace was the opposite of fear. Jesus wanted His disciples to be able to step out of their worldly situations and feel His peace, whatever their circumstances. He wants us to do the same. His peace has been given and it is up to us to receive it.
If you were to wish someone grace and peace today, they would think you were a bit odd. Old fashioned (at least in our western world). Peace we understand, or we think we do, but grace is an old fashioned word, and not one that appears in our daily conversations.
Some of us are so used to going to church that we cannot imagine it not referring to a building. But when Jesus created church it was just Him, and His disciples and anyone else who cared to listen in to what was happening. Back then, it was a community.
The seldom read book of Philemon is tucked in between the short letter to Titus and the long book of Hebrews. It has only 25 verses and is rarely talked about or used as a subject for a sermon in church services. It is a letter about a runaway slave.
Those early disciples on the Emmaus road were given a new birth into a living hope when they realised that the story was true. And that same hope is available to us today; but it need not be just a hope for the future. It can be a fact today.
When their unknown, unrecognised fellow traveller joined them on the road to Emmaus, there faces were downcast, full of disappointment and lacking hope. But Jesus, still unrecognised, explained the scriptures to them, and eventually accepted their invitation to dinner. Then their hopes were fulfilled and all doubts were chased away.