Philemon – Radical Social Change
Every movement we make in response to God has a ripple effect, touching family, neighbors, friends, community. Belief in God alters our language. Love of God affects daily relationships. Hope in God enter into our work. Also their opposites–unbelief, indifference, an despair. None of these movements and responses, beliefs and prayers, gestures and searches, can be confined to the soul. They spill out and make history. If they don’t, they are under suspicion of being fantasies and at best, hypocrisies at worst.
Christians have always insisted on the history of Jesus–an actual birth, a datable death, a witnessed resurrection, locatable towns. There is a parallel history in the followers of Jesus. As they take in everything Jesus said and did–all of it a personal revelation of God in time and place–it all gets worked into local history, eventually into world history. What we do counts. Who we are reveals our Creator. We are a difference. We can make a difference.
Philemon and Onesimus, the salve owner and slave who figure prominently in this letter from Paul, had no idea that believing in Jesus would involve them in radical social change. But as the two of them were brought together by this letter it did. And it still does.
Knowing Jesus changes everything!
Philemon, The Message
1-3 I, Paul, am a prisoner for the sake of Christ, here with my brother Timothy. I write this letter to you, Philemon, my good friend and companion in this work—also to our sister Apphia, to Archippus, a real trooper, and to the church that meets in your house. God’s best to you! Christ’s blessings on you!
4-7 Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, “Oh, thank you, God!” I keep hearing of the love and faith you have for the Master Jesus, which brims over to other believers. And I keep praying that this faith we hold in common keeps showing up in the good things we do, and that people recognize Christ in all of it. Friend, you have no idea how good your love makes me feel, doubly so when I see your hospitality to fellow believers.
To Call the Slave Your Friend
8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.
10-14 While here in jail, I’ve fathered a child, so to speak. And here he is, hand-carrying this letter—Onesimus! He was useless to you before; now he’s useful to both of us. I’m sending him back to you, but it feels like I’m cutting off my right arm in doing so. I wanted in the worst way to keep him here as your stand-in to help out while I’m in jail for the Message. But I didn’t want to do anything behind your back, make you do a good deed that you hadn’t willingly agreed to.
15-16 Maybe it’s all for the best that you lost him for a while. You’re getting him back now for good—and no mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother! That’s what he was to me—he’ll be even more than that to you.
17-20 So if you still consider me a comrade-in-arms, welcome him back as you would me. If he damaged anything or owes you anything, chalk it up to my account. This is my personal signature—Paul—and I stand behind it. (I don’t need to remind you, do I, that you owe your very life to me?) Do me this big favor, friend. You’ll be doing it for Christ, but it will also do my heart good.
21-22 I know you well enough to know you will. You’ll probably go far beyond what I’ve written. And by the way, get a room ready for me. Because of your prayers, I fully expect to be your guest again.
23-25 Epaphras, my cellmate in the cause of Christ, says hello. Also my coworkers Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke. All the best to you from the Master, Jesus Christ!
What do we learn?
–We are ALL heirs, brothers and sisters, with Jesus Christ, our Savior and our Lord.
–We are ALL the same in Him, through Him and because of Him.
–Seek to forgive others like Jesus forgives us.
–Knowing Jesus changes everything.
Dear Heavenly Father,
What a grand assurance in knowing You as Savior AND Lord of our lives. You are here with us. Always. We teach, correct, comfort as we develop this deep, abiding relationship WITH you. Knowing and relating to You does, indeed, change everything. Continue to transform me. Transform your church. Transform the world. It’s all about You!
In Jesus Name, Amen