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FIRST-PERSON: A short – yet powerful – book to preach


I enjoy hiking. It brings together some of my favorite things: family, nature, and exercise. I cherish the moments of discovery on the trail when my children are surprised by spectacular views. I love how the quiet of a nature hike declares God’s glory. I look forward to the physical challenge of a trek.

But not every hike is suited for my family. Some trails are too technical, some too long, while others are too simple or short. I’ve also found we need a variety of vistas. We need mountains and lakes, coastlines and canyons, waterfalls and woods. Simply put, the process of selecting a trail is both an art and a science.

Pastor, your preaching calendar is like selecting a trail, leading you to be sensitive to the needs of your congregation while providing a panoramic view of the entire counsel of God (Acts 20:27). With that in mind, I want to give you two reasons for leading your congregation down Philemon’s path:

It’s a short New Testament trail

Your church needs variety in biblical themes and genre. Just like my family enjoys hiking a variety of landscapes, your people need the whole counsel of God. Evaluate your past, present, and future preaching calendars to determine if you are providing this.

Have you been in a lengthy book for countless weeks? Have you tackled a series of long books? If so, the brevity of Philemon will be refreshing to your congregation. It’s a short trail with some spectacular views. Maybe you’ve been preaching a series of narrative, prophetic, law, or wisdom passages. If so, Philemon could be a great fit for your congregation. It’s a Gospel-centered, relationship-driven epistle.

It’s a master path in forgiveness

If your church is anything like mine, you know relationships can get messy. Bitterness. Envy. Division. Hurt. You name it. The book of Philemon insists mercy and grace should ground our relationships.

Here’s the setting: Philemon is a wealthy, slave-owning Christian. He’s a leader in the church at Colossae who opens his home for a group of believers to gather. Onesimus is Philemon’s runaway slave who wronged his master (Philemon 18). By God’s providential hand, Onesimus crosses Paul’s path in prison. While there, Paul leads him to salvation. “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment” (Philemon 10).

Onesimus is not Paul’s natural son. He’s a son by faith in Christ. Paul was the means God used to bring Onesimus into the family of God. In this short letter Philemon is the offended brother. By all legal rights, he could punish Onesimus. Yet Paul appeals to him to freely forgive Onesimus.

“Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus … So if you consider me your partner [Philemon], receive him [Onesimus] as you would receive me” (Philemon 8-9, 17).

Preach Philemon, because your people need this beautiful model of forgiveness. Forgiveness is costly. It would cost Philemon and it will cost your congregation. But it also holds untold power for healing and ministry. This is why Paul identified Onesimus as useful to Philemon (Philemon 11) only after his conversion. Together, Philemon and Onesimus could serve as brothers in the work of Gospel ministry.

At my church, we tackled the book of Philemon in three weeks. I had just finished a lengthy series through the book of Colossians and honestly, I was weary. I took this small letter as a chance to rest and share the pulpit with three qualified and competent men from my congregation. It was an opportunity to teach my congregation to rely on God’s Word, to equip future pastors, and to rest. During those three weeks, I was a joyful member taking in the surprising views from this much-needed hike.

Your church needs this epistle because forgiveness and reconciliation are at the very heart of the Gospel message. Plus, if for nothing else, Onesimus is fun to say!

Josh Fields is pastor of First Baptist Church of Iowa Park, Texas.

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  • Josh Fields