Pause for Thought – a five minute read – Week 26

Philemon Chapters 1 – 25

Dear Sir – or, To Who it May Concern.

I received a letter recently, I know it’s not unusual to receive a letter, I get them all the time, usually from Inland Revenue, Gas or Electric suppliers, and so on, but this letter was different. It was hand written, on lined paper and the hand writing was meticulous. It was everything that my letters are not.

I tend to type my letters due to the fact that my handwriting emulates an unknown foreign language and can only be interpreted by experts from Bletchley Park, but this letter was Copperplate Calligraphy. Furthermore, this letter was from someone who I have not seen or heard from for almost fifty years.

It was from someone who I worked with at Huddersfield from 1969 until I left for Derby in 1973. He had obtained a copy of one of my books from a mutual friend and on reading it had generated a multitude of memories that had enthused him to write to me.

There is something about a hand written letter that is special. Typed letters tend to be official and regimented, whereas hand written letters are more personal and somehow sincere. Letter writing is a unique way of sharing thoughts with someone else that is in a different location, and is increasingly becoming a lost art form with the development of email and texting. A letter can portray sadness, excitement, congratulations, a cry for help or a combination of all the emotions.

Experts tell us that a letter should contain six elements;-

  1. The senders address
  2. The Date
  3. A Salutation (greeting)
  4. The Body of the message
  5. Conclusion
  6. Closing Signature.

The letter that I received contained all of these elements and all the emotions from events that had accrued over the 47 year period since we last met. As with us all it was a cauldron of good news, disasters, and at times suffering all laid out on the pages in a meticulous array of perfectly formed letters and words.

The Bible is full of letters, in fact it could be argued that The Bible is a consolidation of a multitude of letters written and handed down from generation to generation, some historical accounts of events, some reports of happenings, some of profound teaching, and some of prophesies and predictions.

It goes without saying that Paul’s letters are significant and central to Christian Theology, but for me, one of his letters stands out as a portrayal of his tenderness and love not always demonstrated in his other letters.

Paul’s letter to Philemon comes from the apostle’s heart and shows courtesy, tact, a little humour and love in order to get his plea on behalf of Onesimus, over in a tender but powerful way.

It has it all, dated about AD60 and written while Paul was under arrest, the letter has a passionate salutation and praise of Philemon’s work and service in the name of Jesus Christ before launching into his appeal for Philemon’s compassion, forgiveness and clemency towards Onesimus.

Paul was aware that to fulfil his request would be difficult for Philemon as it went against the rules on how to deal with a disruptive slave, but Paul points out that as Jesus forgave Philemon through Paul, so should Philemon forgive Onesimus in the name of Jesus.

In faith Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon possibly before an answer to his appeal has been received, he will return not just as a forgiven slave but as a brother in Christ.

Paul’s Epistle to Philemon has been described as, ‘A true little masterpiece in the art of letter writing’. – Ernest Renan

‘We are all the Lord’s Onesimi’ – Martin Luther –

Unfortunately we have no record of the result of Paul’s appeal but I have faith that Onesimus was received by Philemon as the prodigal son was received by his father.

I am just about to start my reply to my friend’s letter, I tried hand writing it but reading it through even I didn’t understand what I had written. I think to avoid him thinking that I have been taken over by aliens, I will have to type it, at least he will be able to read it.

Derek T.