Split-second decisions change lives: Stop or Go, “Yes” or “No”, Accept or Reject, Embrace or Walk Away.
All of us make them. They come on us out of nowhere. No time to think or ponder, but our reaction matters. Lives are affected, and we live in the aftermath. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we don’t. We often sense the enormity of the moment. Other times, it doesn’t occur to us until later.
Our friend, Philemon, stands in one of these moments today. The decision stands in front of him; will I take the encouragement of my Spiritual mentor and brother, or will I stand with cultural norms and comfort zones.
The reaction on his face and posture of his body will say it all; no need for words. The one standing in front of him will find freedom from his past or be tied to it. This letter is a paradigm shift, and Philemon holds the controls. He doesn’t know it, but all of Christendom is watching.
How easy it is to go with the flow!
How difficult to stand against the accepted response and take a different path!
This letter presents the option Philemon didn’t know he had.
Today, we come to the end of our “letter snooping”.
It has been a couple weeks journey of reading mail meant for a man named Philemon in the 1st Century. It came via a letter carrier from a friend, Paul, in Rome. He was addressing a personal issue regarding a relationship with a third man (probably the letter carrier), seeking forgiveness to occur and a new relationship to begin.
We are all in relationships. We all have to ask and extend forgiveness. And sometimes, there may be a third party intervention.
If you missed any of the letter, here are the Links:
This letter is a lesson in in the art of Christian relationships.
Paul “speaks the truth in love”. He encouraged Philemon to act on, live out, his beliefs as a Christ follower: following Christ changes every relationship in life. He wants Philemon to accept Onesimus as a Christian brother and transfer any debt he owes to Paul.
To recap, Paul, the letter writer and spiritual father, is asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus, his runaway slave (likely indentured), who is now a professing Christian. He even implies God used Onesimus running away for a greater purpose, to lead him to faith.
Paul implies freeing Onesimus of his obligations is Philemon’s Christain duty, but stops short of demanding it.
Christians in this time period had a fine line to walk.
It was acceptable by the government for people to own slaves. If the Christain community called for a halt to slavery, they would be accused of treason and put to death. So, to further the cause of Christ, they had to teach in a way that didn’t look like they were standing against the government. If they did, the church would end with all Christians executed.
So, Paul did not call for an end to slavery in this letter, but this letter to Philemon laid an axe at the root of slavery; “treating individuals as people instead of property. If there is one God and Father of all and all are debtors to him, then we should not look at people to be used for our own advancement. People are individuals. In Christ, everyone is family.”
We remind ourselves … “Slavery was cultural.”
Yes, it was, but Paul is showing us that the “Spiritual Supersedes Cultural”! He is strongly painting the picture for Philemon, “this IS your brother through Christ. Therefore, treat him as family.” It is a higher calling. Loving our fellow man is beyond culture. Jesus taught a higher standard. We are brothers, family.
The culture should not rule your behavior, Christ should!
Philemon forgiving Onesimus would have been strange and unexpected even by his Christian family, let alone his neighbors and community.
I can hear the whispers and confrontations …
“Philemon, are you crazy? What are you doing? He owes you!”
“Did you hear what Philemon did? What has gotten into him?”
“Who does Onesimus think he is waltzing back in here …”
“Philemon is drinking the Koolaid. Paul is leading him astray. Maybe even putting his own life in danger.”
“He may end up in prison just like Paul!”
“He’ll jeopardize all of our incomes. Forgiving slaves when they’ve wronged him … what kind of business plan is that?”
Paul is clear; Christianity Supersedes Culture.
- People are more important than business.
- Christians ARE family! Without regard for any cultural status or practices.
This letter is about New Beginnings.
- Paul shows a new beginning to Onesimus with God: Onesimus began his life as a Christian.
- Onesimus is seeking a physical new beginning; freedom from his debt to Philemon.
- Philemon is beginning a new relationship with Onesimus; a giver of freedom.
- Paul is a teacher of freedom: establishing a new theology being taught to Christians. Philemon/the church is being challenged to not accept cultural norms in following Christ.
Philemon’s response was not recorded, although I for one would love to read it.
Most scholars believe Philemon did exactly as Paul asked.
Many believe this same Onesimus was a bishop in the church at Ephesus and was praised in writings for his work there!
Let me remind you:
At the beginning of the letter … Onesimus was labeled “useless”. The name Onesimus literally mean’s “profitable”.
God takes the “useless” and makes them “profitable”:
OnesiMus wasn’t profitable for Philemon’s bank account,
but he was profitable for God’s kingdom!
God certainly changes outcomes, but as read here, He includes us in the process!
We’re called to make split-second decisions effecting many. Being willing to change and a implementing Jesus’ attitude toward others certainly clarifies our relationships and responses.
- Faith trumps culture.
- Live Jesus.
- Walk it out in your neighborhood/community.
“I write to you confident of your obedient compliance, since I know that you will do even more than I ask. At the same time also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be coming to you.”
I love that Paul ends his letter telling Philemon to prepare the guest room: I’m coming to visit! He was imprisoned, but held hope of physical freedom … much like Onesimus!
Is there any type of freedom you seek today? Maybe Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus give you an example or even a clue of where to start.
Are you putting your faith into practice; walking it out step by step?
Is your relationship with Jesus putting you in a counter-culture position? (I believe it should, many times.)
Thanks for “snooping” with me. I love a good intrigue! Let me know how you liked this “letter journey”!
Be a giver of freedom,
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