May 2, 2022 – Philemon 1: 8-25 – Family

Today we’ll continue looking at Paul’s pastoral letters by looking at Philemon 1: 8-25:

8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. 15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit

I mentioned Friday that we’d touch quickly upon the concept of slavery in the New Testament.  Slavery in the Roman world that Paul is talking about is not so much what we would think of from the American historical context; it would be more like the indentured servitude that we would think about from the beginning of America.  There were definite power structures and financial structures there though.  So, while it may not have looked like the American form of slavery, it was a real thing and a point of division within society. 

And by the way, when it comes to the Biblical understanding of what slavery is, remember we look at the Bible as one overarching story.  We see that the Bible is always bending towards freedom, from God freeing the slaves in Exodus, to Paul saying that there is neither slave nor free, for all are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).  

Today we see Paul send Onesimus back to Philemon, but does so with this understanding, Onesimus is not a slave, but he is Paul’s son, and Philemon’s brother.  He is now useful to him as a brother in Christ. And that is how Philemon should look at Onesimus.  As a brother in Christ. 

Is that how we look at each other as Christians?  Do we see each other as brothers and sisters?  Do we see the mark of Christ upon each other?  Do we love each other as brothers and sisters?  That is our call. That is what Paul called Philemon to do.  To see Onesimus as a brother. To see him as family. 

That is our mission and our call as Christians today. To see each other as family. To love each other as family. To care for each other as family. To be family. No matter the earth division.  Philemon and Onesimus had an earthly division. Paul said it did not matter. What mattered was their connection in Christ as family. 

So is it for us today. May it be so for us today. May we truly live as family. 

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