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There is a revealing moment at the center point of Paul’s letter to Philemon. It comes in verse 9, “…yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus…”

Right in the middle of the letter, and right at the moment when Paul will launch into his big ask on behalf of Onesimus, Paul tells Philemon something very revealing about himself. He says that he is an “old man” and “a prisoner also.” Why does Paul say these things? At first blush this might feel like a pretty naked attempt to manipulate Philemon. After all, what does the fact that Paul is old and in prison have to do with this matter concerning Onesimus? Is his aim to achieve through pity what perhaps cannot be achieved through other means?

I think the key to understanding why Paul says what he does in verse 9 is found in verses 7 and 20, where Paul talks about being refreshed. In verse 7 he praises Philemon for refreshing the hearts of the saints. He has been like water to their thirsty souls, and like rest to their weary bones. Then in verse 20 he revisits this word-picture when he says, “Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.”

In verse 20, Paul is not shy about the fact that he is asking something for himself and not just for Onesimus. He is not writing simply about the matter concerning Onesimus. He needs something personally from Philemon. Paul is an old man and a prisoner, which might be the same as saying that he is tired and discouraged. He is being treated unjustly and without sympathy. Error and wrongheadedness surround him. He is tired from the fight. And the personal plea that Paul makes to his friend, Philemon, is all at once vulnerable and genuine and heart-felt. Refresh my heart! Let me come up for air in your presence!

Have you experienced refreshment in the church? Are you personally seeking to be a refreshing person? Are you tired and discouraged today? Are you being ill-treated in the world? Are you weary from the fight?