Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Place To Call Home (Insights From Philemon)

God has placed within us all a longing to belong. Sometimes we feel it in our families; sometimes we don’t. The same goes for school, work, social circles, and church. We long for that place that will always take care of us and never leave us.  A place where we don’t have to wear make-up, and we can wear sweats until supper time. In this sense, home is something bigger than “house” or “family” or “what I know.” Home is a place we want to go, and when we leave, we want to return.  

When Paul writes to Philemon about how Philemon was to welcome Onesimus back, he’s talking about building a home, a koinonos, a community of  people with common interests, feelings, work and heart (v.17)). It’s an active word, an event word, a group word. It is not passive, solo or selfish.  It’s about life together in Christ within a church community. And in order for that life to be a meaningful reflection of God's heart for the world,several key things must be in place.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Confronting Blind Spots (Insights From Philemon)

The Johari Window is a model by which to gauge how well we know ourselves, and how well others know us. Basically, it breaks down our exterior and interior life into 4 quadrants: Open (the Arena); Hidden (the Fa├žade); Unknown (Here There Be Dragons); an the Blind Spot (Bull in the China Shop).

The Open Quadrant contains areas where who we are is seen and known clearly by ourselves and by others.  This is the ”Are you not entertained?” portion of life. We know who we are and others know who we are, because we show it. There are no secrets here. In the arena, there is nowhere to hide, and we are seen in all our glory or frailty. If our lives are such that we weren’t ashamed if we are an open book, that’s generally a good thing.

However, there is a danger:  We can put too much into the arena. Kids have no filter and it’s cute, but when if an adult would ask you to come into the bathroom and see what their poop looked like, you would think something had gone wrong somewhere. Maturity requires learning how to live the kind of life that can be lived openly and without shame while exercising judgment when it comes to sharing openly and without offense.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Runners and Rulers (Insights From Philemon)

Paul  wrote to Philemon, “So if you look upon me as your partner in this mission, then I ask you to open your heart to him as you would welcome me.” When Paul talks about partnership in a mission, he uses the word koinonos - one with common interests, feelings, work and heart (v.17)). There is a mutual partnership aspect. It’s an active word, an event word, a group word. It is not passive or solo.  It’s about life together in Christ within a church community.

Disunity is not an option for followers of Christ. Unfortunately, Philemon and Onesimus were undermining this project. Through them, we learn two important things: If you are a follower of Christ committed to doing life together, you shouldn’t run, and you shouldn’t rule.


Don't Run

Onesimus is a runner. He apparently stole from Philemon, took off, was captured, and ended up in prison. The Bible doesn’t say if he knew Paul before or if he just happened to meet him in jail, but there they are. While in captivity, Onesimus commits his life to following Christ. Paul says he’s now a “dear brother in the Lord” who lives up to his name (“useful”) and ministers to Paul.

If I were Onesimus, I would be thinking, “Awesome! I’ve got Paul on my side. Paul will set Philemon straight on the whole ‘servant’ thing, pacify him, and tell him to give me what I deserve now!” But Paul’s apparently thinking, “Awesome! Onesimus is a follower of Christ now. He’s in the family. Now he can fix the relationship he broke!”

It seems much easier to run away after we offend someone, especially if the consequences are daunting. It's hard to fault Onesimus on this point, especially considering the way in which runaway doulos were handled at that time. Philemon was apparently well respected for his kindness and generosity, but it's hard to envision a scenario in which Onesimus could have just returned without there being significant consequences (see my previous post for the life of a doulos).

But Paul knew what he was doing. If Onesimus was truly a follower of Christ, then he had committed to a particular way of doing life. We'll look at how Paul handles Philemon as well, but for now let's focus on Paul's challenge to Onesimus: Followers of Christ cannot run from conflict. Onesimus ran physically; we can run just as far in other ways as well.

Paul, Philemon, and Slavery (Insights from Philemon)

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus the Anointed One, with our brother Timothy, to you, beloved Philemon, our fellow worker… I make this request on behalf of my child, Onesimus, whom I brought to faith during my time in prison. Before, he was useless to you; but now he is useful to both you and me. Listen, I am sending my heart back to you as I send him to stand before you, although truly I wished to keep him at my side to take your place as my helper while I am bound for the good news. But I didn’t want to make this decision without asking for your permission. This way, any goodwill on your part wouldn’t be seen as forced, but as your true and free desire.

Maybe this is the reason why he was supposed to be away from you for this time: so that now you will have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave—as a dear brother. Yes, he is dear to me, but I suspect he will come to mean even more to you, both in the flesh as a servant and in the Lord as a brother. So if you look upon me as your partner in this mission, then I ask you to open your heart to him as you would welcome me. And if he has wronged you or owes you anything, charge it to me. Look, I’ll put it here in my own handwriting: I, Paul, promise to repay you everything. (Should I remind you that you owe me your life?) 

Indeed, brother, I want you to do me this favor out of obedience to our Lord. It will refresh my heart in Him. This letter comes, written with the confidence that you will not only do what I ask, but will also go beyond all I have asked…     - From the book of Philemon, The Voice
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Though Paul’s letter to Philemon is often used to accuse Paul of supporting (or at least being okay with) slavery, the criticism misses the deeper purpose of this letter. Paul presents a radical message that to Philemon would have undermined everything he had been taught about masters and slaves, and could only lead to a world without slavery.