Runaway Philemon 1:10: “…that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus,b who became my son while I was in chains.”
Onesimus was a man in flight. A runaway. He felt caged at Colossae where he had lived as a slave in a Roman world. Though he wore no chains, life’s limitations smothered him. Considered nothing more than chattel, he served solely at the master’s whims and commands. Life was a brutal monotony of ‘do this, do that’, bowing and scraping, honoring the fateful code of a sycophant, smothering beneath life’s limitations.
For weeks Onesimus lay awake at night scheming, thinking escape. He knew the risks. Punishments were severe for runaways. The slave hunters (Fugitivarii) would be searching for him. If found, they would brand him on the forehead with the letters (FUG), an abbreviation for “fugitivus” meaning “runaway.” His bones would be broken to prevent any future attempts at escape. (http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/roman-life/slave-punishment.htm). None of this stopped him. Freedom called. Its voice was sweet. The temptation to discover a personal liberty, a future with options, was too strong.
So he fled. He stole some money from Philemon and ran toward Ephesus 100 miles away. Each mile was a milestone. Past, Laodicea. Past Hieropolis. He followed the Meander River as it rolled through the Lycus Valley seaward to Ephesus. After days of overland struggle, he arrived and caught a ship for Rome, the furthest place on his map. No one would find him there.
Onesimus ran from life’s tortuous ignominy. But somehow in a city of nearly a million residents, he met Paul, the slave of Christ, the prisoner of Rome and in this serendipitous encounter found his ultimate freedom. He and Paul become best friends united in Christ. Paul considered him a unique son (ὃνἐγέννησαἐντοῖςδεσμοῖς,–birthed while he was in chains).
If your life is tough and you can’t breathe and you’re thinking about running remember the story of Onesimus and draw comfort. Somewhere out there is a Paul, a friend who understands your grief and who wants to help you. And in your lowest moment when all hope is gone, turn your heart to Jesus who knows the meaning of pain and isolation and who longs to be your friend and Savior.
Acts 13:6 “They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus,…”
Every Christian journey has its share of obstacles. When Paul set out on his first missionary adventure, it wasn’t long before he stood face to face with an obstinate official named Bar-Jesus (Elymas).
This reminds me of my old grandma’s outhouse in Georgia. When I was a kid, my family would visit Essie and I would have to get use
d to old time country ways, including the use of the outhouse. During the day it wasn’t so bad, but at night, without lights, the trip to the twilight zone was quite treacherous.
First, I had to step onto the back porch in the pitch black. With rotten boards and rickety steps, I took a real chance of falling through to the wet worm-patch below the porch. In the yard, there was a low-hanging clothesline
just waiting to hang any cavalier nightwalker out for a lark. There were holes in the dirt yard, big wood chips, and ax handles, and chickens to step over or around. And when I did get to the ramshackle outhouse, I ran the risk of snakes, or spiders, or worse–no paper.
Obstacles.That’s what these were. And in a way, that’s how it is for all who journey for the Lord today. Paul overcame this obstruction in Acts 13 by having the courage to face Elymas with faith and reliance in God. You can do the same things.
“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,…”
I transferred a little glob of glue from my finger to my hair the other day by accident. Boy, what a mess! I couldn’t comb through it. I couldn’t untangle it. I couldn’t ignore it. So I took drastic action. I cut it out.
The word beset (KJV) in Hebrews 12:1 brings a similar image to mind. In this passage, the writer encourages us to run the Christian race without any weights, encumbrances or sin since these things tend to tangle us up. Just substitute the word tangle for beset and the intent of the writer becomes clearer.
If you have ever tried to run in your bathrobe, you know how difficult it can be. So an ancient runner with a long garment on would find his legs helplessly tangled and thus would never win a race.
Funny thing about spiritual entanglement: it happens all too easily and often. That’s why the effective Christian journey eludes so many. Just when a full stride begins, it falters unexpectantly, the victim of some new Satanic conspiracy. The dark world knows our foibles all too well, and only the disciplined saint knows how to react, how to counter and conquer.
And it’s not only individuals who get tripped up. Churches can have the same problem. A church can find itself tangled in all kinds of avoidable sins that cause anger and hard feelings among its members and its community. Pride, selfishness, power struggles, avoidance of newcomers, etc., are all tangles that can keep a church from running an efficient race.
Well, I looked a little funny for a week or two after I cut out my glue glob. My hair wouldn’t comb right. But the entanglement was gone. Sometimes you just have to pick up the scissors and cut. Entanglements can ruin a race.
Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead (Acts 20:9).
Acts 20:7-12 is the context. Eutychus is dead on the church floor. So unexpected. So sudden. One minute he’s squeezed into a tiny window seal on the third floor listening to Paul drone on and one; the next minute he’s fallen asleep and tumbled to the ground. The church is in crisis. Who will tell his wife? What about his children? Quick. Call 911. Panic. Run!
So many crises seem to come out of nowhere. We don’t expect them, so we have no plan in place. Sometimes when disasters strike, the gut reaction is just to run. Bolt for the door. Leave it all behind somehow.
There are dangers, of course, to hasty getaways. When I was younger, I went to pick up my third-grade daughter from school. The rain had been falling all day, and the ground was soaked. Huge puddles were everywhere. Jessie came flying out of the school’s main entranceway so delighted to be through with the nasty process of learning. She was free! School was out. She leaped off the stairs at the front of the school and sailed gloriously face first into a monster puddle that was a good ten feet square and bottomless. I lost her for a second or two. I wasn’t worried. The unbroken principle of childhood is that all kids float in deep puddles. Sure enough. She bobbed up and learned a lesson, I think, about quick escapes.
Sometimes church problems can be overwhelming as well. There certainly was potential for hard feelings here in this congregation. It’s not fair to blame to Paul, but he was the one who called the meeting, and he was the one who spoke so long.
Well, go ahead and blame him or just run for the door. No one will stop you. It’s an easy way out. The air is cleaner in the streets. No decisions to make there. No Eutychian corpses on the quaint cobblestones outside. Dash for the door and leave the entanglements of friends and co-workers behind. Don’t worry about the damage to spiritual intimacy among your church family inside. Just run.
But wait. Paul’s not running for the door. He exudes spiritual strength. He picks the young man up and embracing him, infuses him with heaven’s breath. And within minutes Eutychus is sitting up embarrassed, apologizing, wondering about it all.
Next time a crisis strikes, remember Paul’s reaction of calm faith. It might be just the inspiration you need to survive.