Time to get personal
Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were. Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae. The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul. So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.
Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother.
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae.
Grace and peace from God our Father.
From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them. However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note. The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus. We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts. He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you about everything here.
Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon. We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved. For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:
Paul, a prison of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother:
To Philemon, our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your house.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A little later, Paul says
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.
There is no appeal to his apostleship. Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers. Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love. This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life. Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out.
There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us. After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.