No Rolands for Olivers Here

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For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love.

Philemon 1:8,9

Apphia (Philemon 1:2) was probably Philemon’s wife and therefore had a part in Onesimus’s situation. Onesimus was a runaway slave who had robbed his master Philemon and escaped to Rome. While there, he met Paul, and Onesimus became his spiritual son. Paul sent the runaway slave back to Apphia’s household with a letter appealing to Apphia and Philemon to respond to Onesimus in Christian love. How the newly converted slave would be treated depended upon how Apphia, as well as her husband, Philemon, reacted to the apostle Paul’s request for leniency.

No doubt, emotions ran high in Philemon’s household. He and his wife may have reacted with shock when Paul asked them to take back the escaped slave as a brother in Christ. After all, legally, they had complete authority over their slave and could even have had him put to death.

Though the couple could have made life very difficult for the runaway, Paul called them to compassion, even hinting that they might free Onesimus and send him back to continue the ministry he had begun with Paul (Philemon 1:12-16).

Like Apphia, we face times when our emotions may edge us toward revenge. Will we try to exact as much as possible, or listen to the apostle’s voice? Seeking retribution leaves us with empty hearts and spirits. But forgiveness can fill our souls and the lives of those around us.

A Roland for an Oliver means a tit for tat, a blow for a blow. Paul steps forward and asks Apphia and Philemon that if Onesimus had wronged them in any way, or owed them anything, to charge the debt to his account (1:18). Sounds a lot like Jesus. How we react to our own Onesimus’ will also display Jesus in our lives. When someone has wronged you, will you respond with a Roland for an Oliver (retaliation), or will you respond with a hand of mercy that has fully embraced the pure joy of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? The choice is ours.

As Paul closes his letter, he says, May I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ (1:20). When we choose love over retaliation, not only do we offer the refreshment of Christ to the one needing it, we also refresh anyone else with eyes to see and ears to hear.

In His grace,


Women of Faith series