Group of Diverse Hands Together Joining Concept


Today’s Readings: Numbers 2, Psalm 36, Ecclesiastes 12 and Philemon 1

I love writing for Monday’s! I feel like it’s a fresh start for you and me. It’s an opportunity to start the week with a positive intention. Speaking of intentions, I was going to write on Ecclesiastes again since there were some great threads in today’s reading but then something grabbed me. Buckle up, this is one of those days Jesus fans, I’m on fire!!! When I first read Philemon 1 for today I was honestly a little disappointed. The text immediately came back to me. Mike Baker preached on this whole chapter not too long ago at Eastview. I was thinking, surely there isn’t anything that I, as a new Christian can add to the amazing message Mike has already delivered. So, I was just flippin’ pages thinking about Ecclesiastes and futility again when I came upon a commentary by Kevin L. Smith. Kevin wrote a short work for the HCSB about the Bible and Civil Rights. In a few paragraphs as an introduction to Philemon he explains how themes from the bible, including Onesimus’ story was a foundation for the spirit and energy of the Civil Rights Movement in the early 1960’s. He goes on to describe how Martin Luther King used key verses to illustrate the issue of equality among humans. Smith goes on to cite several instances in the Bible where Jesus calls his people to love their enemies and pray for those that persecute them (Matthew 5:44).

And now…I am thinking! Thinking about how Paul’s message to Philemon is alive today. I’m thinking about our recent history and #blacklivesmatter. As you may or may not know our family is the of twist cone variety. My husband is black, I’m lily white and our “natives” as I call them are chocolate vanilla twist. Suddenly this isn’t just a story, it’s alive. The book of Philemon is described as Paul’s only letter we have that is of a “private nature.” It’s a deeply personal message he writes to Philemon about his slave named Onesimus. Philemon was a rich business guy that Paul converted through his ministry in Colossae. Philemon appears to be a pretty decent guy. The church meets at his big house and it seems that Paul has a lot of love and respect for him. Philemon has a slave, Onesimus that has run away after a conflict of some sort. Philemon is Onesimus’ legal owner. Paul writes to him from Rome where he is under house arrest, awaiting his trial. In the letter he asks Philemon to welcome Onesimus back into his home, not as a slave but at as brother. He says,

“I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for awhile, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother…” (Philemon 1:12-16)

 Has God ever set up this situation in your life…the one where you are so sure you are right about another human being. The situation in which you are convinced that you know more than they do, that your role is to teach them, that they depend on you…and then one day the veil is lifted and it is just the opposite. Did you catch those words that Paul used:

“…I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but by your own accord

Hello. Read it again. Do you see how Paul is gently subverting the cultural implications of slavery in the year 60 AD? He’s essentially asking Philemon to consider Onesimus his spiritual brother and partner in faith, which makes their owner/slave relationship no longer possible. But he’s doing it by inviting Philemon to look beyond cultural norms and asking him to consider Onesimus as his brother in Christ. Stop there. That is powerful! Paul is saying that Onesimus has far more value than just a slave. He tells Philemon that Onesimus would be an effective substitute or stand in for Paul himself while he is imprisoned. He says,

“So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” (Philemon 1:17)

 So, I have to ask myself, who is my slave? What an ugly question, right? From the outside looking in it probably looks like I’m the Paul in this life. But I’m not. We’re not. Today’s Bible Gateway commentary closes with this, “Our decisions about social conventions bear witness to our convictions about God.” We are living in a real season of differences. Our political climate is engineered to divide us. We build relationships with people that are like us and push others aside. What if I got a letter from Paul today? What would it say? How would he invite me to be a sister in Christ? My husband and I have talked a lot about the Black Lives Matter campaign. We’ve talked about how we can raise Christian children that bear witness to our family conviction that all lives matter. I believe that Martin Luther King and others that led the Civil Rights Movement had something in common with Paul. They recognized that all humans are created in the image of God. That obedience is reserved for our Heavenly Father, not those we’ve enslaved for our own benefit. Paul closes with this:

“Yes brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”