No Longer a Slave: What I Noticed When I Study Philemon


Though the book of Philemon is a quite brief letter, it can be difficult to comprehend for the reason that it bargains with slavery. Christians in the United States have a hard time conceiving of slavery apart from the sort of slavery that existed in the United States till the 1860s. Even even though the slavery of initial-century Rome was really distinct, there is a great deal that followers of Jesus in each time and culture can study from this letter.

A Word About Slavery

I have written in the previous about the evils of slavery, specifically the sort of slavery that existed in the United States. The enslavement of African guys, girls, and kids continued in American territories for more than 270 years and has only been abolished for about 150 years. This evil has shaped our culture extra than numerous of us would like to admit.

Horrifyingly, there are also numerous types of slavery that exist about the planet currently. It is estimated that there are about 40 million individuals who reside in some kind of slavery currently. Fortunately, most contemporary Christians are rightly outraged by the slavery of the previous and the present.

When reading Paul’s letter to Philemon, we may possibly wonder, why does not Paul condemn slavery outright? Why does not Paul rebuke Philemon for taking element in the evils of slavery? If you believe it is for the reason that Paul does not think slavery is incorrect, you want to study the letter once again. I really think if the heart of this letter had been accepted by all these Europeans who claimed to be followers of Jesus, the African slave trade would have by no means existed!

Voluntary Goodness

Several years ago, when I initial study Paul’s letter to Philemon, I study it as becoming sort of a passive-aggressive letter. Paul of course wanted Philemon to like and forgive Onesimus and accept him back into his household as a brother. But Paul stopped brief of commanding Philemon to do the correct factor, saying, “I am bold sufficient in Christ to command you to do what is needed, yet for love’s sake I choose to appeal to you.”

It is straightforward to study Paul’s words, “I choose to appeal to you” and “confident of your obedience” as becoming significantly less than sincere. It is straightforward to believe Paul is not actually confident Philemon will do the correct factor. Nevertheless, I pick to think Paul is extremely sincere and is exceedingly confident Philemon will do the correct factor.

Paul is explicit about why he wrote this letter as an appeal alternatively of as a command. It wasn’t for the reason that Paul didn’t have the correct to command Philemon. It wasn’t for the reason that Philemon was free of charge to do something he wanted to do in this predicament. The correct course of action was clear and something significantly less than that would surely have been sinful and wicked. Nevertheless, Paul did not want to rob Philemon of the chance to do great voluntarily. Paul stated he wrote the way he did, “that your goodness may possibly not be by compulsion but of your personal accord.”

This is a constant theme all through Paul’s letters, specifically in his letters to Corinth. Paul desires followers of Jesus to voluntarily do great and be a blessing to other folks. Even even though it is a Christian’s obligation to do so, Paul does not want individuals to do great out of compulsion. He desires Christians to do what is correct for the reason that they want to do it. He by no means desires to steal from a person the chance to pick the correct path.

Transformed Relationships

I think the most significant theme of this letter is that faith in Jesus transforms relationships. Since of their shared faith in Jesus, Onesimus has been caring for Paul like a son would care for his aging father. And when Onesimus returns to the household from which he fled, the expectation is that he will no longer be treated as a slave, but will now be a family members member.

My preferred line is this, “Receive him as you would acquire me.” Can you visualize how that would play out if it had been really obeyed? Onesimus was a runaway slave and Paul expects the Gospel of Jesus Christ to so transform his former master that he will acquire Onesimus in the precise very same way he would acquire the apostle Paul.

What may possibly Philemon had performed to acquire Paul? Prepare a area for him, wash his feet, serve a feast in his honor, listen attentively to stories of his travels. In other words, Philemon would serve him, for the reason that that is what a follower of Jesus is supposed to do. Followers of Jesus take into consideration other folks to be extra important than themselves and serve them selflessly (Philippians two:1-five). Paul anticipated Philemon to do this for Onesimus, serve him as he would serve any other honored guest in his dwelling.

And Onesiums, who at a single time could not wait to get away from Philemon’s residence, was returning to serve. He wasn’t returning to serve as a slave but returning to serve as a brother in Christ. What a wonderful image: a former master and a former slave, now mutually submitting to a single a further and serving a single a further each and every treating the other as if his brother was “more significant” than himself.

Charge That to My Account

Lastly, I have to say a word about Paul’s willingness to spend Onesimus’ debts. Paul wrote to Philemon, “If [Onesimus] has wronged you at all, or owes you something, charge that to my account. I, Paul, create this with my personal hand: I will repay it.” When creating a sincere offer you to spend any outstanding debt, he totally anticipated Philemon would likely refuse to accept Paul’s revenue for the reason that he himself felt indebted to Paul.

This is what it appears like to stick to the instance of Jesus. Going to the cross, Jesus paid our debts in order to bring about reconciliation. Jesus was prepared to say, on behalf of all these enslaved to sin, “Charge that to my account.” He did this to reconcile heaven and earth, bringing God and humanity back collectively.

Jesus’ act of selfless like also brings about humanity’s reconciliation with each and every other. When we turn out to be followers of Jesus, we start searching for possibilities to bring individuals collectively, even if we have to say, “Charge that to my account.” When two parties are at odds with a single a further, we seek to bring them collectively, even if the outcomes of their misdeeds have to fall on us.

Now that we are no longer slaves, we seek to free of charge other folks from slavery. We seek to bring about peace and reconciliation in the planet, even when we have to stick to in our Savior’s footsteps and have another’s debt charged to our account.

I like you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams


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