Have you ever had someone do something that really hurt you…or maybe infringed on your rights or took something from you? Imagine that person coming to you with a note from your pastor saying “This person has really changed and I believe in him/her- please accept them and forgive them and charge me with anything they defrauded you of.”
What would you do? How would you feel? What would it take for you to muster up the strength to go along with that request?
That’s the premise of the short Epistle we’ll be reading this Sunday: Philemon 1-25. It’s basically a short e-mail Paul sent to a friend of his who had a runaway slave that Paul had met and led to a salvation experience, whom he was sending back to Philemon to ask for his freedom so he could keep working with Paul in Rome. Get it? What comes through in this epistle is how Paul anticipates that the dynamic of social arrangements and relationships will change when they come under the influence of Christ. In Christ we will treat each other differently than in the dynamic of the broken world.
So – as Paul is talking about this slave, Onesimus, he describes him with terms that are very different from fugitive or slave. What does he call Onisemus in v10 or v12 (in the ESV)? Considering those words, and his description of Philemon’s and Onesimus’ relationship in v16, what seems to be the overriding dynamic that characterizes their relationship in Christ?
We don’t know what Philemon does after reading this letter. Some people believe the outcome was good and Onesimus went on to great things – but we’ll really never know.
Let’s think about this letter in light of our own lives, shall we? What is one of the prickliest relational problems you’ve worked on recently (it may have been yours, or problems between other people)? What can we learn from this letter that can aid us in navigating difficult relationships? V18 and 19 are beautiful and profound to me. Can those verses help inform us about why grace is an important factor in relationships?
What can we learn from this letter that will produce an “in Christ” dynamic in our relationships today?
Hope you can make it Sunday…if so, see you then!