Jump Start # 3284
Philemon 17 “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.”
The story of Philemon is fascinating. A run-a-way slave that belonged to Philemon connects with Paul in Rome. That slave becomes a Christian and very useful and helpful to Paul. As Paul sends the letter of Colossians, he also sends the letter to Philemon, along with the run-a-way. Paul sends the slave, now a Christian, back. He appeals to Philemon, as our verse states, “accept him as you would me.”
But, something huge is missing. It’s the elephant in the room. And, it presents a huge lesson for us Biblically. Paul never tells Philemon to grant freedom to the slave. He was a slave. He ran away as a slave. He was being returned as a slave. One would think, and I see myself urging Philemon, had I been there, to change the status of this new Christian. Give him his freedom. Paul doesn’t do that.
It is likely that Philemon had other slaves. Would he need to release all of them and give all of them their freedom? Much of the economy of the Roman world depended upon slaves. Yet, in every culture where the Gospel has been taken, slavery ends. It’s hard to practice the golden rule when you do not allow another person the same privileges and rights that you have.
However, Paul never specifically states, “Let him go.”
Lessons we ought to see here:
First, our zeal to make things right and better can lead us to say things that God never has. We can pressure people, insist that they do things, that God never does. I see myself here. I would have layered Philemon with so many passages about how Jesus treated people to get him to release Onesimus, the slave. The apostle didn’t do that. We can run ahead of God. In our passion to make things right, we can speak where God hasn’t. And, without realizing this, we can complicate things, muddy the waters and create bigger problems. Let God speak for Himself. Where God stops, we need to stop.
The Galatian letter tells us that there were slave and freeman in Christ. Through Christ, they were all one. Yet, the slave remained the slave. The master was the master. The Greek a Greek. The woman a woman. Had Paul pushed Philemon to release the slave, what would then happen in the Galatia region? What would happen in the Roman church?
We can be so pinpointed and zoomed in on one specific problem that we make declarations and expectations of others without thinking the impact that has on the whole congregation or the inconsistencies that it presents.
Second, what seems right to us may not be what God requires. When there is a hurt and a person wants to apologize and seek forgiveness, we can stack all kinds of “here’s what you need to do” upon the person before forgiveness will be offered. That seems only right and fair to us. The broken and contrite heart is what moves God. A lifetime of paying back and making things right still would not be enough for some.
Third, although Onesimus was being returned to Philemon as a slave, it was up to Philemon to show that their relationship was different. The slave wasn’t in the position to do much. Philemon, the master, would treat the slave as an equal in Christ. The positions didn’t change, but the relationship did. The rules of Christ would apply equally to both men. Worship and honor of God would be at the heart of all they did. One would think that Onesimus would influence and teach fellow slaves about Christ. No longer would the thought of running away be in his mind. Trust and even love would be a bond between them.
As the Colossian letter was read to the church, the congregation that Philemon and now Onesimus would have been a part of, Paul’s words, “Masters grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in Heaven” (4:1). Those words would have stung a bit but also been a great reminder of what the Lord anticipated from Philemon. Were there others in that congregation that had slaves? Philemon’s role would be an example for all.
Accept him as you would accept me, are the words of our verse today. And, just how would we accept Paul today? In our homes, we’d have him sit on our couch. We’d ask him if he was hungry or wanted something to drink. We’d talk. We’d do a lot of listening. We’d hug. We’d pray. We’d ask what we could do to help him. We would be so happy to have him with us. We’d promise to keep in touch and we would.
We’d treat him as one of us, because he is one of us. Sure are some decent thoughts for us to think about. Stay with God. Don’t run ahead of Him and don’t lag behind Him. Don’t go to the left and don’t go to the right. Step by step, we are to walk with the Lord.