Philemon is a short letter stuck between Titus and Hebrews. Odds are high you haven’t even noticed it before. This is a personal letter Paul and Timothy wrote to Philemon on behalf of a new brother in Christ, Onesimus. As I read this letter, I wondered why God made sure we would have this personal letter all these years later. This letter is about a personal and specific situation, why do I need to know about it in 2020? When I completed the thought, God said, “Because I am your Philemon. Appeal to me on behalf of your personal Onesimus.”
Whew. Ok, let’s see how we can apply Paul’s practice in our intercession for others.
V1- Paul is interceding on behalf of Onesimus while he is still in prison. Your status, location, and struggle do not disqualify you from praying for others. I have began many a prayer with, “God, look past my own shortcomings and hear my heart for your son or daughter that I am lifting up to you.” When you are interceding, it isn’t about you.
V4-7 Paul is lifting up and encouraging Philemon. I guess you could see it as buttering him up before laying the request, but Paul is being genuine. He wants Philemon to know he respects him, loves him, and will continue to love him even if his request is not met. Before praying for someone, consider who you are praying too. Remember what God has done in the past in your life and the life of others around you. Praise Him for answered prayer, and praise Him for just who He is. You aren’t buttering him up, you are placing honor before request.
V8-9 Paul acknowledges that he very easily could throw his weight around and demand Philemon do what he is told, but that would damage their relationship. Instead, he trusts Philemon to do the right thing and puts their relationship and the love he has for him first. Have you ever honestly prayed “Thy will be done”? Do you make demands of God, or requests? Do you trust Him to do the right thing? If God’s answer isn’t the one you wanted, would that damage your relationship with Him or do you have an “even if He doesn’t” love for God? (Daniel 3:18)
V14 Respect. Paul respects Philemon enough to not go over his head or force his will. When you pray, do you press God’s hand or respect Him enough to trust Him?
V17 “So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me.” Isn’t that just the gospel all over? Jesus too our wrongs, paid them Himself, and now sits at the right hand of the father interceding for us. Jesus says, “look past their mistakes, I already paid their debt. Welcome them into your throne room as you have welcomed me.”
V21- Paul is confident. He is sure that Philemon will do the right thing. We should be able to end out prayer of intercession confidently knowing that God has heard our cry and will do the best thing for the person for whom we are praying.
All of this, and there is no record that Onesimus even knew that Paul was going out on a limb for him. Today, God is laying a personal Onesimus on your heart. He is saying to you, “I am your Philemon, appeal to me on behalf of your Onesimus. Be like Paul; intercede from your valley. I am listening.”