7. The Epistles of the Imprisonment
When Paul eventually reached Rome, instead of being thrust into a prison cell, he was placed under "house arrest"; and this form of imprisonment continued for about two years. The Scripture passage cited above states that Paul stayed in Rome "at his own expense while other versions record that he lived "in his own hired dwelling." This "hired dwelling" was guarded day and night by a Roman soldier, and Paul was not allowed to leave the house at any time. Probably a light chain was attached to a bracelet on Paul's wrist, with the other end of the chain attached to the Roman sentinel standing on guard.
The Scripture passage further states that when Paul was thus established in "his own hired dwelling," his first thought was to send for the leaders of the local Jewish synagogue. This was in keeping with Paul's regular procedure and teaching, as mentioned in earlier lessons; although circumstances prevented Paul from visiting the synagogue, he desired his first communication to be with the Jewish leaders. But, as on previous occasions, the response was far from satisfactory, and we find Paul again referring to the greater willingness of the Gentiles to receive the tidings of salvation.
Despite this initial setback, Paul managed to accomplish considerable evangelistic work during his imprisonment at Rome. He received many visitors at his "hired dwelling," and these were instructed in the Christian teaching; he also communicated with a number of influential Jews and Gentiles who were living in Rome or the immediate vicinity. That Paul made many converts during this two-year period is indicated by a statement contained in his letter to the Philippians: "All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar's household" (Phil. 4:22).
During this period, Paul also wrote several outstanding epistles. Four of these have been preserved, and they now form part of our New Testament. Possibly Paul wrote several other epistles but the four which remain are the Epistle to the Ephesians; the Epistle to the Philippians; the Epistle to the Colossians; and the Epistle to Philemon. These are usually termed "Paul's Epistles of the Imprisonment," since they are regarded as having been written by the apostle during the period of his imprisonment at Rome. The student should now seek to become thoroughly familiar with these Epistles, for they contain many helpful and inspiring messages. However, before dealing with these Epistles separately, one important matter which concerns all four should be given some consideration.
It will be noticed that these Epistles of the Imprisonment differ considerably from the earlier letters of Paul. These differences are discernible even from a casual reading. The style of writing differs to a marked degree, and several points of Christian doctrine are presented in an entirely different manner. Because of these differences, several New Testament commentators have ventured to question the Pauline authorship of the Epistles of the Imprisonment.
Now, while it is not the purpose of these lessons to enter into controversy of this sort, one very important point should be emphasized here-for this furnishes the key to the situation. When studying Paul's writings, we should always take into account the apostle's spiritual development. Unfortunately Paul's Epistles are not given in chronological order in the New Testament, but are arranged according to size, or supposed importance. When these Epistles are placed in proper chronological sequence—as they have been presented in these lessons—the various stages of Paul's spiritual progress are clearly revealed. Thus in the earlier Epistles (Thessalonians, Galatians, Corinthians, Romans) we trace the progress of the enthusiastic convert and untiring missionary. Then came Paul's arrest and imprisonment at Jerusalem and Caesarea, which brought about a period of compulsory inactivity. Paul could no longer travel from place to place, nor could he engage in strenuous religious controversies. However, this period also furnished Paul with ample time and opportunity to "be still, and know," and to make fresh contact with his Lord; and all this, in turn, led the apostle into a deeper spiritual experience—such as was not possible during his missionary activities. Indeed, it would seem that during this period Paul experienced what has been termed his "second conversion." The first conversion, at Damascus, was followed by Paul's extensive missionary activities; this second conversion led the apostle into a deeper understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ. Paul was literally transformed by the renewing of his mind. Small wonder. therefore, that these Epistles of the Imprisonment - written shortly after this transforming experience should be written in a different style, and that Paul should present "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:8) in a different manner. The change came about because Paul himself was a changed man. Paul's earlier Epistles are all of great importance, for they contain many helpful and inspiring messages; but in Paul's Epistles of the Imprisonment we recognize the marks of spiritual maturity.
Eph. 1:1-10; 3:14-21
1. THE EPISTLE TO THE EPHESIANS.
As a background for this Epistle, it should be recalled that Paul, during his third missionary journey, spent nearly three years at Ephesus. The indications are that a sizable Christian group was built up during this period. (See Acts 19:1.) The New Testament also makes it clear that Paul held the Ephesian converts in high regard, for while the apostle was on his way to Jerusalem, in preparation for his journey to Rome, he arranged a special meeting with the elders of the Ephesian Church. (See Acts 20:17-37.) However, when the Epistle to the Ephesians was written, Paul had completed his projected journey, and was being held under house arrest at Rome. Why, then, did Paul feel called upon to write to his converts at Ephesus at that time? What had transpired at Ephesus to give rise to this Epistle?
Apparently the Epistle arose out of a visit made by one of Paul's converts, a man named Epaphras. Epaphras' home was in Colossae (Asia Minor), but he was also well acquainted with the membership and activities of the Christian group at Ephesus. When Epaphras journeyed to Rome on some personal business, he sought out Paul, and acquainted the apostle with the latest developments among the Christian groups in Asia Minor. In regard to the work at Ephesus, he reported that the friendly relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, which Paul had so effectively promoted, was rapidly deteriorating. Also, since Paul's arrest and imprisonment there was a lack of Christian leadership at Ephesus. Aquila and Priscilla were good persons, but they did not possess the qualifications to deal with arising difficulties in the church; consequently, there was considerable disorder there. Furthermore, the converts were becoming confused regarding the Christian doctrine and its practical application. The Ephesians scarcely knew what they were supposed to believe, and many of them were starting to formulate their own doctrines.
Paul sought to meet this situation by writing his Epistle to the Ephesians. First he endeavored to restore harmony between the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Ephesus—giving full recognition to the freedom of the Gentiles, but also reminding them of their indebtedness to "the commonwealth of Israel" (Eph. 2:12). Then the authoritative statements given in the Epistle provided the needed leadership for the church at Ephesus. The Ephesians would recognize that Paul was still at the head of affairs, and they could unhesitatingly follow his directions. Also in this Epistle Paul gave a simple, clear exposition of the Christian teaching—telling the Ephesians what they should believe, and how they should conduct themselves, so that there need be no further confusion regarding the meaning and purpose of the Gospel message. The following special features of this Epistle should be carefully noted.
STYLE: The writing in Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians is quite informal, and stands in marked contrast to the formal style used in his Epistle to the Romans. This is understandable. Paul was well acquainted with the leaders at Ephesus, while they in turn regarded the apostle as both spiritual leader and personal friend. Consequently the Epistle reads like a friendly letter, and the various matters are dealt with just as they came uppermost in the apostle's mind. For this reason, it is not advisable to attempt a formal outline of the Epistle to the Ephesians, as was done with the Epistle to the Romans. However, this difficulty will be dealt with later on in the lesson.
MATURE VIEWPOINT: Earlier in the lesson reference was made to Paul's spiritual development, as indicated in his Epistles of the Imprisonment. An actual instance or two will make this clear. In his Epistles to the Thessalonians and Corinthians, Paul writes of resurrection in the future tense—associating this with the Second Coming of the Lord. But in Ephesians, Paul refers to resurrection as a present experience. (See Eph. 2:1-6.) Note how he writes: "even when we were dead ... [God] made us alive together with Christ. . . and raised us up with him" (Eph. 2:5-6). He further urges that "we may no longer be children ... Rather. . . grow up in every way unto him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:14-15). Of course these statements may be interpreted as having reference to Christian baptism, or something similar, but the teaching is clearly of more advanced character than that given in Paul's earlier Epistles.
METAPHYSICAL MEANING: In an earlier lesson, Ephesus was explained as meaning "desirable," or "appealing." Ephesus symbolizes "that central building faculty of the consciousness, called desire." (See Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 203.) The application of this desire to physical things, or experiences, led to those disturbing conditions during Paul's ministry at Ephesus. (See Acts 19:23-41.) But this desire may also be for spiritual attainments or experiences. Paul recognized that the great desire of his Ephesian converts was for this spiritual development. He thought of them as desiring to know "what are the riches of his glorious inheritance, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power in us who believe" (Eph. 1:18-19). Therefore the apostle, in this Epistle, clearly presented the necessary steps to be taken in quickening and developing spiritual consciousness—through which would come the fulfillment of this high desire. All these steps are clearly indicated, and may be now set forth in order, together with what we may regard as the main theme of the Epistle.
THEME: ATTAINING AND MAINTAINING SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS
First Step: The Awakening. "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light" (Eph. 5:14). In all probability, Paul was here quoting from a familiar early church hymn—but the wording seems most appropriate. This awakening is sometimes referred to as an inner quickening, or spiritual illumination.
Second Step: The Practice of Prayer. The student should read again the prayer given in Eph. 3:14-21—especially noting how the apostle prays that "Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith" (Eph. 3:17)—quite an advance over the far-off conception given in Paul's earlier Epistles! In giving this prayer, Paul is setting an example for his converts. Later in the Epistle he urges them to "Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication ... making supplication for all the saints, and also for me" (Eph. 6:18-19). The student should also read Paul's earlier prayer, as recorded in the opening chapter of the Epistle. (See Eph. 1:16-23.)
Third Step: Daily Christian Living. "Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Eph. 4:1); "Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us" (Eph. 5:2). The apostle then gives detailed directions for Christian living, covering many daily activities. (See Eph. 4:17-32; Eph. 5:1-33; Eph. 6:1-9.)
Fourth Step: Needful Spiritual Protection. "Therefore, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Eph. 6:13). Every piece of the Christian's protective armor should be carefully checked, and its use and metaphysical significance noted. (See Eph. 6:10-20.)
Fifth Step: Right Use of Spiritual Gifts. "And his gifts were ... for the equipment of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ" (Eph. 4:11-12). In this connection, it will be helpful to refer back to Paul's earlier discussion of spiritual gifts, given in I Cor. 12, 13 and 14.
Sixth Step: The Christian's Objective. The converts are urged to press onward in all this spiritual development, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).
Eph. 1:1 - 6:24 (entire letter)
(The student should now read this entire Epistle, making use of the suggestions and the guide for spiritual development, as given above.)
Phil. 1:1-11; Phil. 2:1-11
(Refer also to Acts 16:11-40.)
2. THE EPISTLE TO THE PHILIPPIANS.
The Epistle to the Philippians makes interesting reading, and there are several noticeable differences between this and Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. The reason for these differences is easy to trace. There were no racial problems at Philippi, nor were there any doctrinal difficulties to straighten out. Paul was also on very friendly terms with the converts at Philippi, and felt an indebtedness to them. Furthermore, this Epistle was written, not for the purpose of setting any matter to rights, but in response to a communication which Paul had received from the Philippians. Before going further, it will be well to refer back to the account of Paul's first visit to Philippi, with the conversion of Lydia and other important matters. The following explanatory paragraphs will help to clarify the Epistle.
(A) Purpose of the Epistle: As indicated above, the Epistle to the Philippians may be regarded as a somewhat elaborate "thank you" letter. It would appear that when the news regarding Paul's imprisonment at Rome reached Philippi, Lydia and her associates immediately decided to send a gift to the apostle. This was not the first time for the Philippians to act in this helpful way; they ministered to Paul's needs when he was at Thessalonica, and other places. (See Phil. 4:14-16.) This gift — probably consisting of money, food, and other helpful articles - was placed in the hands of a trustworthy convert named Epaphroditus; and he then journeyed to Rome. Paul was deeply touched when the gift arrived, and his heart overflowed with gratitude. Unfortunately Epaphroditus soon after his arrival at Rome became very sick, and was "near to death" (Phil. 2:7); but through Paul's strenuous efforts and earnest prayers, he was finally restored. Paul also recognized that Epaphroditus was suffering from "homesickness," for the Epistle mentions that "he has been longing for you all, and has been distressed" (Phil. 2:26). Thus when Epaphroditus had regained his strength, Paul made arrangements for the messenger's return to Philippi, sending with him this specially written letter of appreciation and thanksgiving, which we now term "Paul's Epistle to the Philippians." It should be noted that this Epistle contains not only Paul's thanks to Lydia and her fellow-workers, but also some very important teaching—not only applying to the Philippian converts, but also helpful and inspiring to present-day readers.
(B) Style of writing: The Epistle to the Philippians is not only informal, but it also reveals the warm, friendly attitude of the writer. Notice how Paul addresses the Philippians as "my brethren," "my beloved," "my joy and crown," and so on. This is not to be interpreted as the outcome of the gift, but as arising out of the very close relationship between the apostle and the converts at Philippi. Also, while what has been termed Paul's "mature viewpoint" is in evidence throughout the Epistle, it will be noticed that Paul also uses some of his earlier terminology. This should not be regarded as contradictory, or as indicating a return to the earlier viewpoint. Rather, this is to be recognized as arising out of the intimate relationship referred to above. Evidently Paul was not concerned with imparting a new teaching to his converts; but he did desire that the Philippians should recognize the writer of the Epistle as their very dear friend and teacher of former years.
(C) Personal mention: In the opening section, and also in the closing verses of this Epistle, Paul makes mention of "saints." In present-day usage the word saint usually indicates a person of outstanding spiritual qualities, who has been given special recognition by the Christian church. But in the New Testament, the term saint is generally used when referring to a baptized member of the early Church. Thus the first verse, paraphrased in present-day language, would read, "To all baptized members [in union with Christ], together with the presiding officers and assistants of the Christian church at Philippi." Paul also mentions Timothy (See Phil. 2:19-24), by whom the apostle plans to send a personal message later. It will be noted that Epaphroditus, when making his return journey, was entrusted with the Epistle, but a more intimate and personal message was to be transmitted later, in Timothy's care. Inthe closing section, Paul makes use of the word yoke-fellow (Phil. 4:3). The term indicates that the person so designated was regarded as a very intimate associate, partner, or comrade—and apparently this refers to Lydia, Paul's first convert at Philippi. Paul was here asking Lydia to use her good influence in bringing together Euodia and Syntyche—two church members who were in disagreement; this revealsthe apostle's high regard for Lydia.
(D) Metaphysical meaning: In Lesson Four, when discussing Paul's second missionary journey, it was stated that Philippi symbolized spiritual power. In that lesson this symbology was applied to the application of spiritual power to present-day life and affairs—using Paul's experiences at Philippi to illustrate the various points. The Epistle to the Philippians, in addition to being a "thank you" letter, also indicates in a very clearway how this spiritual power may be developed.
The Development of Spiritual Power
Power—through thanksgiving. (See Phil. 1:3-5; Phil. 4:14-20.) Paul expresses his appreciation in no uncertain way. We too should make it our practice to express our thanks and appreciation, both to God and to our associates. We shall find that this forms the first step in the development of spiritual power.
Power—through rejoicing. (See Phil. 1:18-19; Phil. 2:17-18; 2:28; Phil. 3:1; Phil. 4:4-7; 4:10.) These references indicate how the idea of rejoicing permeates the entire Epistle. However, in everyday practice many persons regard rejoicing as an effect, rather than a cause; for this reason, the tendency is to rejoice only when there is something definite for which to rejoice! But rejoicing should now be recognizedasa cause, especially in its relation to the development of spiritual power. Paul wrote to the Romans, "We also rejoice in our tribulations" (Rom. 5:5 A.V.);andthe apostle had actually put this into practice when he was unjustly beaten and thrust into prison at Philippi on his second missionary journey. The record states that instead of groaning with pain, and complaining against the unjust treatment, Paul was "praying and singing hymns to God" (Acts 16:25); and this rejoicing generated sufficient power to break open the prison doors, and set the prisoners free.
Power—through positive thinking, plus. (See Phil. 4:8-9.) Teaching regarding positive thinking is quite familiar nowadays, and undoubtedly this is a step in the right direction. It should be noted, however, that Paul in this Epistle recognizes that something else is necessary. He urges his converts to start putting their positive thoughts into actual practice. Note how the apostle concludes this short section on positive thinking: "What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do." Positive thinking must be followed by positive action. Not only are we to "think the thought" and "speak the word," but we must take whatever action is necessary to establish both thought and word.
Power—through high objectives and persistent efforts. (See Phil. 3:12-16.) The importance of persistence is well understood, and needs no special emphasis here. But what does the apostle refer to when he designates his great objective as "the prize"? The earlier verses explain this "prize" as being of twofold nature: Christ, and eternal life. "That I may gain Christ and ... attain unto the resurrection from the dead" (Phil. 3:8-11). We too must press on toward these high objectives, if we would develop spiritual power.
Power—through Christ consciousness. (See Phil. 4:11-13.) In this Epistle, Paul declares that he is able to meet the changing circumstances of life with equanimity, and all things become possible to him, because he is established in the Christ consciousness. "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). We can do likewise. Also, note howthe apostle assures us of final success in all these power-developing activities: "I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6).
Col. 1:1-8; 3:1-17
3. THE EPISTLE TO THE COLOSSIANS.
The Epistle to the Colossians is closely related to Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Even a casual reading reveals many similarities, and some passages in the two Epistles are almost identical; but there are also several marked differences. The following details will furnish a helpful background for the study of this Epistle.
(A) The church at Colossae: Some New Testament commentators state that Paul was not the founder of the Christian group at Colossae. This opinion is based mainly on Paul's statement that some of the converts "have not seen my face" (Col. 2:1); and it is also pointed out that the phraseology in this Epistle is not as intimate as that used in Ephesians. However, it seems clear that there were many of Paul's converts at Colossae, and also that the entire church membership acknowledged the spiritual leadership of the apostle. All of Paul's instructions and admonitions, as given in this Epistle, are couched in terms which indicate recognized authority.
(B) Purpose of the Epistle: This Epistle (like the one to the Ephesians) arose out of the report made by Epaphras, when he visited Paul at Rome. Epaphras stated that while the Jewish and Gentile Christians at Colossae were not always in agreement, their main problem was this: The converts at Colossae were becoming confused by certain Gnostic teachings which were then creeping into the church. It should be mentioned here that, while Gnosticism did not fully develop until much later, some earlier forms of this teaching wrought considerable havoc in the early Church. Paul, therefore, sternly warned the converts not to be led astray: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ" (Col. 2:8). In this and other emphatic passages, the apostle sends forth the ringing challenge: Is it to be Gnosticism, or is it to be Christ? Paul also gives some clearly stated directions for Christian living—as in the Epistle to the Ephesians. (Note: Gnosticism will be discussed further in a later lesson.)
(C) The mature viewpoint: Earlier in the lesson, reference was made to Paul's spiritual development as indicated in these Epistles. The Epistle to the Colossians contains a number of passages which show a marked development of thought, as compared with the teaching given in Paul's earlier Epistles. Note the following: "He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col. 1:13); "And you, who were dead ... God made alive together with him ... having canceled the bond which stood against us ... nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14); "If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above ... for. . . your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col. 3:1-3).
(D) Regarding Laodicea: Laodicea, Hierapolis, and Colossae were neighboring cities, situated on the Lycus river in Asia Minor, and Christian groups had been formed in all three. Reference is made to an "Epistle to the Laodiceans," which was to be shared with the converts at Colossae, while the Colossians were likewise to share their Epistle with the Laodiceans. (See Col. 4:16.) No trace of an Epistle to the Laodiceans now remains; but many commentators are of the opinion that this may have been a duplicate of the Epistle to the Ephesians. The heading of Ephesians indicates that it was intended to be circulated among several churches.
(E) Metaphysical meaning: The name Colossae is usually explained as meaning "punishment," "correction," or "discipline" (Metaphysical Bible Dictionary 154). This may have reference to wrongdoing, which is followed by retributive punishment. This is in accord with the law of cause and effect. Possibly, therefore, the destruction of Colossae by earthquake shortly after this Epistle was written may be regarded as more than a coincidence! However, there is another and more helpful way of interpreting Colossae.
The Colossian Christians, when thinking or speaking of Jesus Christ (Messiah), were accustomed to using both past and future tenses. They looked backward when recalling happenings connected with His ministry in the Holy Land; they looked forward to the event of His Second Coming. So engrossed were they with these two viewpoints that they overlooked an important teaching of Jesus: "I am with you always" (Matt. 28:20). Paul also, during his ministry, followed along similar lines in his preaching. But when the apostle was led into a deeper spiritual understanding he recognized the presence of Jesus Christ in all Christian activities and experiences. Hence when Paul wrote this Epistle, he sought to bring about an important "correction" in the Colossians' way of thinking and speaking. Past and future events had a rightful place in Christian doctrine; but now Paul would have his converts put the major emphasis upon present-day experience: the converts should realize that their Lord was with them, and within them, in all their activities. Thus Paul wrote to the Colossians in his emphatic way, saying, "God chose to make known ... this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).
This Epistle to the Colossians has its present-day application, for this "correction" should also be made in our consciousness. There is need to emphasize what may be termed "the Gospel in the present tense." This applies especially to the recognition of the Christ presence in all our activities and experience. Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matt. 18:20). Also in His "marching orders" to the disciples, Jesus said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ... and lo, I am with you always" (Matt. 28:19-20). The "correction," therefore, may be thought of as a new alignment of our thinking. This does not mean the exclusion of the past and future phases of Christian teaching, but it does place new emphasis on a present experience of "Christ in you, the hope of glory."
Col. 1:1 (Entire letter)
The student should now read the entire Epistle to the Colossians, using the above notes as guidelines. An outline, as given for some other Epistles, is not absolutely necessary at this point; but it would be well for the student to make a summary of the Epistle for future reference, keeping well in mind this idea regarding our realignment of thought.
4. THE EPISTLE TO PHILEMON.
In order to understand this Epistle, some background information is necessary; we should know something about the persons involved, and also Paul's purpose in writing. The following details will be found helpful.
Philemon was a wealthy member of the church at Colossae, and had been converted through Paul's preaching. The Epistle indicates that a warm friendship existed between the apostle and his convert. As was customary in those days, Philemon owned several slaves; among these was a young man named Onesimus. But this young man robbed his master - probably taking money and clothing — and had sought his freedom by running away from what he regarded as his house of bondage. In those days, if a runaway slave was caught he was severely beaten, and this punishment often resulted in death. But Onesimus was not caught. Apparently he made his way to the nearest seaport, and after stowing away on a waiting ship, he finally arrived at Rome.
It would appear that sometime during Paul's imprisonment at Rome, he needed a messenger who could also perform other personal duties; and the apostle was able to secure the services of a bright young man, who happened to be in the vicinity seeking employment. Paul became very fond of this young man, and soon brought about his conversion. Then the young man confessed that he was Onesimus, the runaway slave of Paul's friend Philemon— and at the same time begged Paul to keep him as his own personal slave. However, Paul saw that this was a dangerous thing to do, since discovery would lead to imprisonment, perhaps death, for the young man.
Paul therefore wrote a letter to the young man's master, Philemon, making Onesimus the bearer of the letter; and the apostle called upon a trusted worker, Tychicus, to accompany the runaway slave to Colossae. It will be recalled that Tychicus carried the Epistle to the Colossians, and his presence would guarantee the safe arrival of Onesimus. (See Col. 4:7-9.) In his letter, Paul reminded Philemon of his conversion, with its rich spiritual experiences, and his indebtedness to the apostle in this regard. Paul then suggested that Philemon could repay this debt— at least, in part—by freeing Onesimus, and receiving him, not merely as a returning slave, but as a Christian brother.
The Epistle to Philemon should be carefully read, and the reader should note how Paul presents his extraordinary request, and how he advances his arguments, step by step, in a sure and loving way. Note how Paul makes himself responsible for the repayment of whatever was stolen by Onesimus—"Charge that to my account"—but at the same time subtly reminds Philemon of his own indebtedness to the writer of the Epistle. (See verses 18-20.) A request presented in this masterly way could not be denied!
Metaphysical meaning: Asa starting point, it will be well to note the meaning of the names: Onesimus means "useful," or "helpful"; Paul represents "the freeing word of Truth"; and Philemon may be interpreted as "loving," or "affectionate." Careful thought should be given to the following details:
(1) Onesimus was a slave. This reminds us that there are times when we may enter into some sort of bondage-bondage of habit, error thought, lack, limitation, and so on. Under such circumstances, instead of being "useful," we may become "useless"-and instead of being "helpful," we may feel "helpless."
(2) Onesimus tried to escape from his bondage. We may seek to do likewise. However, like Onesimus, we soon discover that we do not gain freedom by attempting to run away from our bondage. Actually, bondage is a state of consciousness; and we carry our consciousness with us wherever we go.
(3) Onesimus came into contact with Paul. This was a very important step in the young man's quest for freedom—although at first glance, this may appear as a "lucky break." However, the young man was willing to listen to, and be guided by, the apostle. We too make real progress when we listen to and receive the word of Truth. Long ago, Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). The study of Truth helps us to realize that we are sons of God, not slaves; and when this freeing word of Truth is established within our consciousness, the outer manifestation of freedom soon follows.
(4) Onesimus was sent back to Colossae. At first glance, this may seem like an anticlimax to the story. However, it should be noted that Onesimus' return brought about a complete change in his status; for he was no longer to function as a slave, but was to be regarded as a beloved brother in Christ. Similarly, there are times when we must return to our "Colossae"—the places, persons, or conditions that we associate with our bondage. But, like Onesimus, we shall find that things are different—because we are different! When we realize the truth regarding ourself, we are then able to see Truth operating in persons and conditions around us. "Philemon" is no longer an exacting taskmaster, for we now recognize him as being "loving," "affectionate"! Truly, Christ in us is our hope of glory.
At this point, inquiry may be made regarding Paul's activities after writing the Epistles discussed above. Was he released from his imprisonment? What otherwise befell him? Unfortunately, the Book of Acts closes with Paul's imprisonment at Rome, and the reader is left in doubt. However, there are several indications in other parts of the New Testament of Paul's further meaningful activities and writings, and these will form the subject of the next lesson.
Questions for Lesson 7
- Explain briefly the situation that gave rise to Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. Also tell how the apostle, in his Epistle, dealt with this situation.
- Why did Paul write to the Philippians? Should this be regarded as something more than a "thank you" letter? Explain how Epaphroditus and Lydia were connected with this Epistle.
- What false teaching was disturbing the converts at Colossae? How did Paul deal with this situation? What special directions did the apostle give in his Epistle to the Colossians?
- What important difference is to be noted between Paul's Epistles of the Imprisonment and his earlier Epistles? In your answer explain briefly what is indicated by the term, "Paul's mature viewpoint," giving New Testament references to make your answer clear.
- What was Paul's purpose in writing his Epistle to Philemon? Briefly explain the situation, and state what the apostle sought to accomplish.
- What is the metaphysical meaning of Ephesus? State the important steps regarding the attainment of spiritual consciousness which are indicated in the Epistle to the Ephesians.
- List, and briefly explain, all the pieces of spiritual armor, as given in Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians. (Eph. 6:10-20.) How does this spiritual armor apply to present-day needs?
- Which spiritual power is symbolized by Philippi? List, and briefly explain, the suggestions for developing this important power, as indicated in the Epistle to the Philippians.
- What is the metaphysical significance of Colossae? How did Paul use this symbology in his Epistle to the Colossians? In your answer, include a brief explanation of the term, "the Gospel in the present tense."
- Explain briefly how we sometimes get into bondage. Also indicate how the suggestions contained in the Epistle to Philemon may help to attain our freedom.
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