The Woman in the Middle
Philem. 1 ¶ Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, ¶ To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker,
Philem. 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
This brief letter is written specifically to support a run-away slave by the name of Onesimus. He had come to faith and was now serving God and Paul. However, the time had come for him to return to the home of his master. How would his master receive him? Paul, living out the life in the new kingdom had accepted Onesimus as a brother in Christ. Remember in Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Now, he was asking his master to receive him back as a brother as well.
However, in sending the note we discover that the master Philemon is not alone, but that Apphia and Archippus are present as well. How do they play into the return of Onesimus?
How many times have you read Philemon and never noticed Apphia? I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed her before today and yet, there she is, the woman in the middle — listed between Philemon and Archippus. I glanced through a number of commentaries to see what I could find out about her and literally found her sandwiched between explanations about Philemon and Archippus. Most of the time it was mentioned that she was probably Philemon’s wife. Interestingly, Calvin’s commentary doesn’t even mention her — the woman in the middle. He explains about Philemon and then Archippus and completely ignores poor Apphia. Who was she, and why would she be included here?
Interestingly Wesley believes she is the wife of Philemon, but also his influential partner in all that he does. This means she is influential in his business, and also in the fact that a church is meeting in their home. She is a co-laborer with her husband in life and ministry and is included in this letter because the acceptance of Onesimus is not just dependent upon the opinion of Philemon, but Apphia as well. She is not just the woman in the middle, she is the partner of Philemon and is recognized as such by the people of her day.
Throughout life we may encounter individuals who are overlooked within the narrative but they are persons of influence nonetheless. Often they are the faithful individuals who work day in and day out to the glory of God without ever getting any attention and yet, if they were gone the hole they would leave would be astounding. We run into them and sometimes over them without even noticing because we take them for granted.
We take Apphia for granted and yet what would the household of Philemon have been like without her? We don’t know the details but we do have imaginations! If a wife were not in harmony with her husband’s religious faith how peaceful would it have been to have a church worshipping in their home? I doubt there would have been much hospitality in that regard. Or, should the wife have disliked Onesimus and wanted him punished, what would her husband have done? Think about Abraham - Sarah - and Haggar! Sarah had huge influence over the treatment of her slave. Apphia wasn’t just a woman in the middle to be overlooked, she was a woman with a great deal of influence and her response to Paul’s letter was just as significant as her husband’s.
Jesus intentionally sought out the overlooked. We are to be Jesus to our world. Look for the woman — or the man — or the child — in the middle today. The one who may not have the title or the famous name, but the one who, nonetheless is a powerful servant in the kingdom. Listen to them. Respect them. Never overlook them. For God is using every one of his children in this new kingdom where everything is turned upside down.
Lord, give me eyes to see and ears to hear those whom you are using for your kingdom’s sake. Amen.