Did you know that there is a line in the beloved Christmas song, “O Holy Night”, expressing social change as a result of believing and following Jesus?
“Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name”
This makes me wonder if the words penned in this beloved hymn were a result of reading the story of Philemon and Onesimus who became brothers in Christ, no longer slave owner and slave, changing their relationship forever!
Eugene Peterson writes, “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 enters into our work. Also, their opposites—unbelief, indifference, and 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 at best, hypocrisies at worst.”
“Christians have always insisted on the historicity of Jesus—an actual birth, a datable death, a witnessed resurrection, locatable towns. There is a parallel historicity 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.”
“Philemon and Onesimus, the slave owner and the 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.”
PHILEMON—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 can imprison and enslave each other by our attitudes and behaviors. We consistently rank and rate others in our world according to our selfish assumptions and presumptions about them. We put people down, exclude them from our circles, or ignore them altogether. But, when we believe in Jesus, our social being and outlook changes. Jesus changes everything in every way, heart, mind and soul! We discover and love that we are ALL brothers and sisters who believe and follow Him in His ways. We are no longer slaves to this world, to sin, or to each other! We are all set free by the blood shed for our sins—all sin!
If we feel there is someone unacceptable, unworthy or insignificant in our community, then we have missed the message of Jesus Christ. Paul is articulate to point that out to his dear brother in Christ, Philemon with such a positive spirit of God’s love! Since Philemon is now a devoted follower, Paul trusts that Philemon’s once slave will be welcomed back now as a brother, equal to him in every way, in God’s Kingdom. What a lesson of changed hearts toward Christ! Jesus, indeed, rocks our world and changes everything about us along with our perspectives in all our relationships. We are not of this world, only temporarily living in it! Live for Christ!
Be reconciled to God! Then to each other! Forgive and forever be saved by Jesus who forgave us!
Social change begins with our hearts transformed by you. Manmade laws do not seem to change hearts, only you can do that. I pray that the world would fall on their knees in repentance to you so that one day all oppression will cease!
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen, I believe!
Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace…