I have no analogy today, but a story. So here goes: once upon a time…
…I read a little book, the first in a series entitled “Bible Guides”, which premiered in the early 1960’s. It was authored by biblical theologian William Barclay, who, at the time of this publishing, was Professor of New Testament at the University of Glasgow. This first little study book is entitled “The Making of the Bible”. Now all that might sound a bit stuffy, (unless you like that sort of thing, which I do), until you get to about page 67.
This is where Dr. Barclay starts talking about how the letters of Saint Paul started coming together to form the bulk of the New Testament. Who collected them, and why? Where were these letters first “published”? (No WordPress back then.) Evidence seems to point to the city of Ephesus as the publishing clearinghouse of the Pauline documents, but of greater intrigue is how/why the little private letter the apostle wrote to a man named Philemon found its way into the total package.
If you’ve never read Philemon, it’s about the size of a blog post, expertly written with some gentle but not-so-thinly-veiled verbal arm twisting going on about a runaway slave named Onesimus who (based on Paul’s comments) must have been lazy or cantankerous, and who had finally vacated the home of his master, Philemon. Just put aside our well-earned distaste for slavery for a moment, and hear the rest of the story.
Having met Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian (no surprise…) and now Paul, an older man with lots of churches under his authority, is sending this young man back to Philemon with a request to free him into Paul’s service. Dr. Barclay thinks we are safe to surmise that this probably happened.
Fast forward about fifty years. Paul is gone—we think martyred, (one of the few ways to retire from apostleship back then). At this time in church history, someone in Ephesus is collecting Paul’s writings, most likely being directed by the church bishop in that city who is referred to as “a man of indescribable charity”. And what is the name of this bishop?
Dr. Barclay makes it clear that there is no way we can historically ascertain if this was the same Onesimus as the former slave, but posits that who else would have cherished such a private letter as this? And now he slips it into the stack of Paul’s documents, as if to say,
“I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.” (1)
All that to make a point: what we desire in our children is not the end result that God has in mind. He has something greater for them than we could even imagine. If and when a loved one strays away, our Lord has a plan. He always has a plan. Or in Paul’s own prophetic words—
“It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever.” (2)
And “forever” is much better than “right now.”
- Amazing Grace by John Newton, public domain
- Philemon 1:15 Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt Book 2)