Today you should read: Philemon
I returned to Facebook this year after a long absence. It is useful for my job that people can look me up, see my adorable kids and my lovely wife, and know that I’m not some weirdo texting them out of the blue. I must say that I’ve been very sad at the pile of refuse I’ve found there. Some things are good, most is not—even from believers. Let our contempt be challenged by Paul’s words to Philemon.
The book of Philemon presents an amazing example of the unity and reconciliation found only in the Gospel. Onesimus ran away as a slave, and possibly a thief (18). Somehow someway, Onesimus found Paul. Perhaps Onesimus found Paul out because of the previous relationship with his master. We don’t really know how, where, when, or why Onesimus and Paul were joined up in Rome. All we know is that they were, and it was time to send Onesimus home.
Paul sent this letter with Onesimus, carried by Tychicus, who also delivered Colossians (Colossians 4:7–9). Who knows what Philemon might have felt when Onesimus walked back into his home—rage at the betrayal, contempt at the thievery. Paul’s letter has several important keys worth noting.
First, Paul widened the circle. Paul did not write to Philemon only. He wrote to Apphia and Archippus,, as well as the church that met in his house. Everyone was included in the process of reconciliation. That’s how it should be—the Lone Ranger attempt at relationships is not the way God designed it.
Second, Paul butters up Philemon and the others masterfully as we see in verses 4–7—I hear of your love and of the faith…for all the saints…because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Basically, Paul is gushing at Philemon and the Ephesian church and how they take care of believers, and now the slave, Onesimus is a believer.
Paul makes an appeal in verses 8–16. By verse 17, Paul’s position is pretty clear. Philemon owes Paul everything as his spiritual father (19). In verse 20, Paul wants Philemon to refresh his heart as with the saints back in verse 7. Paul makes the strongest statement in verses 21–22, Paul has not asked Philemon to free Onesimus, however, it’s pretty clear that that’s his expectation. Verse 21 says, “You better obey, and, oh by the way, (v 22) I’ll be visiting soon.”
While many may say, “Oh, slavery in ancient Rome wasn’t like American slavery…” the truth is that both groups were thought of as property, not people, and had no rights of their own. Under both circumstances, killing a slave would be like destroying a valuable piece of farm equipment—it’s not illegal and you wouldn’t go to jail, it just cost you personally.
We are tempted to ask, “Why didn’t Paul outright condemn slavery?” The first answer is I don’t know. Secondly, it was a normal societal relationship. What Paul did do, and ultimately what led to the abolition of slavery in most modern countries, was show the value and humanity of slaves. All people are created in the image of God (Imago Dei), slave and free alike.
Church, we need to remember that fact. All people reflect the Imago Dei with all the dignity and value therein. We might disagree on politics, theology, parenting strategies, the usefulness of essential oils, etc. but everyone with whom we might disagree is worthy of our respect and deserve fair treatment. In a very difficult and divisive time, let us live in grace and truth, and be a light in a dark world.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate
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