The Gospel Transformed Lives...

Transformed Societies Paul's Letter to Philemon
Have you ever studied Philemon before? Read it so that you have a grasp of what the letter is about? Philemon is an oft neglected book of the N.T. Not a lot of doctrine, not too much as far as direct instruction. Paul doesn't give any great revelations or deep theological statements. It's small - only 25 verses. Most of Paul's letters were written to local churches, but there are a few that were written to individuals. (I &II) Timothy and Titus were written to instruct and encourage young men who were beginning to become pastors. The only other letter to an single person is Philemon. I would imagine that Paul probably had written quite a few personal letters to key people that he met during the course of his travels preaching the Gospel. If so, we don't have any record of Paul's letters to individuals other than Philemon. God saw fit for this one to make it into Scripture for every Christian to benefit. The question is "what's the benefit?" What does God want us to take away from this little letter? When researching for this lesson, I googled Bible and Slavery. Interestingly, a lot of what I came up with were Atheist sites and Bible critic blogs. "Except for murder, slavery has got to be one of the most immoral things a person can do. Yet slavery is rampant throughout the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. The Bible clearly approves of slavery in many passages, and it goes so far as to tell how to obtain slaves, how hard you can beat them..."
Have you ever given the subject any thought? How do you reconcile the Bible's apparent support of slavery in your mind?

What we know about slavery from the American experience has very little to do with slavery of Bible times. American slavery was based on racism and the notion that one race of people was inferior to another and in fact "sub-human". That idea just wasn't in play in Bible times. The economic system in the ancient world was completely different than today. For instance there was no such thing as "wage earners" in the sense of having a full time job where you're paid for your time. The Rich: owned the land, businesses, and the means of production Merchants: Produced or bought items or commodities for resale at a profit. The only real 'middle class' of the day. Skilled craftsmen: Trained in a particular trade such as carpentry, masonry, or tent-making. Day Laborers: They would be hired a day at a time when extra help is needed (harvest time for example) They were easily taken advantage of. Wages were low and if they didn't work that day, they probably didn't eat. A very precarious position to be in. Servants (Slaves) If a person with means needed a full time worker, he didn't hire an employee, he took on a servant. The job may be manual labor, keeping house, tutoring the children, or managing a business. The slave would receive (at the minimum) the basic essentials- housing, food, and clothes. Some slaves made out

quite well. They lived in nice houses, ate rich foods, and wore fine clothes. Of course, it was the master who determined the welfare of the slave. Some masters treated their servants well and others were harsh task masters who were only interested in giving enough to protect their investment. There weren't many civil laws to protect a servant. That is why the Bible has so much to say about how a slave should be treated. In many ways it was a cruel time when the rich had all the advantage and the common person (be they slave or free) had little protection or recourse. Within that backdrop, God had plenty to say about fair treatment of slaves. That's the context that we come to when studying Philemon. It's a story of a runaway slave named Onesimus, who apparently had stolen from his master, Philemon and then hightailed it out of town. Somehow, Onesimus finds himself hundreds of miles away from his hometown of Colossi in the city of Rome. While in Rome, he meets up with Paul who is being held under house arrest by the Roman government. Paul shares the gospel with Onesimus and Onesimus believes and becomes a Christ follower. There must have been some long, intense conversations between the two. Paul convinces Onesimus that he needs to return to Colossi and make things right with Philemon.
Why do you think Onesimus went to Rome and how did he hook up with Paul?

So Onesimus travels back to face the music, not knowing how Philemon will react. Under Roman law, his act was punishable by death. Philemon had every legal right to turn him in to the authorities if not kill Onesimus by his own hands. Onesimus had to be more than a little nervous about returning to Colossi! Onesimus didn't return empty handed, though. He carried a letter from Paul to Philemon. Paul very tactfully pleaded with Philemon to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ.

Philemon - A Fellow Worker in the Gospel (1-7)
I'd call this section "Paul's Butter Job" He has a huge request of Philemon and what better way to start than by 'buttering him up' just a little? That's not to say that Paul is insincere or is stretching the truth, but he does a good job of reminding Philemon of his faithfulness to this point. Paul wants to express to his friend ,Philemon the personal nature of this letter. While we don't know a lot about Philemon. We can glean a few things from these verses. We know that he was well to do since he owned at least one slave. He certainly had the means to be a great resource to the Colossian church. It was fairly unusual to have a rich man in your congregation. I'm sure he did a lot to support the ministry. Philemon was truly a great resource in the Colossian church But it wasn't his checkbook that Paul praised. He considered Philemon to be a partner in the work of spreading the Gospel.
From this passage, how would you describe Philemon? Was he active in the church? What about his personal

life? Would you expect him to have a good spiritual life? He said he continually thanked God for the continual good reports he hears about Philemon. He said that word gets out. Even under guard in Rome, he hears of good things from Philemon. Faith in the Lord. Philemon must have been a man of great faith. Enough faith to prompt Paul to thank God... not just here and there, but Paul infers that Philemon was a regular part of his prayer time. How cool would it be to have the Apostle Paul regularly praying for you and thanking God for you!

Love for all the saints. This was a man who walked the walk. He was known for his relationships with his brothers and sisters. Paul was impressed by the love Philemon had shown. And you know Paul's view of love. It's not hearts and flowers and having good feeling. We know that to Paul, love means action. Philemon must have been doing something extraordinary to receive such praise. As we will see, Paul is about to make a request that will put that love to a test. Paul prays that Philemon will be active in sharing his faith. According to several commentators, this doesn't necessarily refer to evangelism as it may seem. the word for sharing here is koinonia, speaking of community. In this case, Paul has in mind "the mutuality of Christian life which springs from a common participation in the body of Christ" (IVP Commentary) So the focus here is relationships. Paul is paving the way to bring up Philemon's relationship with Onesimus. Notice that the end result of being active in relationships within the body of Christ is "a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." How does that happen? Again, in verse 7, Philemon's love crops up again. It must be some love! It's enough to give Paul joy and encouragement, because he "refreshed the hearts of the saints." The word for 'heart', here isn't the usual word that means "inner being" but it's the Greek word 'splanchna' It literally means bowels or as we might say 'guts' In Greek thought, it's not the heart that embodies the emotional self, but the bowels. It's what we mean when we have a 'gut feeling' That's where the visceral feelings of love and compassion are felt. That's the image that Paul wants to play on: Philemon's capacity for compassion toward the brethren.

Paul's Plea for Onesimus (8-21)
Paul is ready to approach the heart of the matter. It's time to finally bring up the touchy subject of Onesimus. Can you imagine Philemon's reaction to seeing that 'no good, thieving, conniving, runaway slave' darken his door? I'm guessing that whatever his thoughts were, they weren't good. So now Onesimus walks in announcing that he brings a letter from the Apostle Paul, whom he spent time with in Rome and where Onesimus was brought to the Lord. Wow! Now what's Philemon thinking? An Appeal, Not an Order (8-9) Paul makes the statement that he could command Philemon what to do, based on his own apostolic authority. He's not shy about 'throwing his weight around.' On other occasions, he has boldly written such as "I command you in the Lord..." But, in this instance, he was not only prodding Philemon to do the right thing, but to feel and think the right way. He's not just concerned about Philemon's actions, but also his heart. So, he says he's not ordering Philemon to do anything, instead he appeals to Philemon "on the basis of love." What does he mean by that? 1. Paul's love for Onesimus. He's come to know and love Onesimus and certainly couldn't bear to see him put to death. 2. Paul's love for Philemon. Paul wants to see Philemon grow and mature and sees his treatment of Onesimus as crucial to his growth. I think that he's also trying to save Philemon from great pain down the road. If he were to have Onesimus punished, he would possibly be filled with guilt and remorse, eventually, having realized that he had harmed a brother. 3. Philemon's love for God's family. Paul has already mentioned Philemon's love and compassion for the saints. As Philemon is about to discover, that includes his new brother, Onesimus.

"I then as Paul - an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus..."
Why do you think Paul described himself in this way?

The Appeal (10-21) Paul refers to Onesimus as "my son." It was Paul that witnessed to Onesimus and brought him to the Lord. We don't know much about that time, but it seems that Paul must have spent a good deal of time establishing a relationship with Onesimus. To Paul, he's much more than a convert. From Useless to Useful Paul uses some word play here. Onesimus literally means useful or beneficial. Paul says that Onesimus certainly hasn't lived up to his name to this point, but he's come back to you as what he was named to be. He's different from the useless person that left you. Because of his newfound relationship with Christ, Onesimus is now quite useful. Not only to you but also to me. Giving in order to receive. Paul says that he's sending Onesimus back in hopes that Philemon will allow him to return back to Paul. Once again, Paul makes the point that he wants Philemon to do the right thing on his own accord, without compulsion. Better than a slave. Have you ever jokingly said that you wish you had a slave to do the things that you'd rather not have to do... maybe mow the lawn or scrub the toilet? What could possibly better than a slave that would do your bidding? How about a brother! This is Paul's central point to the letter. Philemon needs to accept Onesimus no longer as a slave, but a brother. How much would any human relationship change if we approached it with that attitude. Not an employee, but a brother. Not a boss, but a brother. Not just a co-worker... not only a spouse, but also a brother/ sister. Brotherhood assumes equality and partnership... coming from the same place and going in the same direction. Charge it to me! Paul tells Philemon whatever Onesimus might owe him that Paul himself is willing to pay. That's why it seems likely that Onesimus may have stolen from Philemon. Obviously, there must have been some damages to be paid. And just as obvious, Onesimus was in no position to repay what he owes. Just as Jesus' payment for the debt we cannot pay, Paul offers to pay that which Onesimus can't pay. Confidence above and beyond. Paul assures Philemon that he has no doubt that he'll make the right decision. In fact he's so confident that he says that Philemon will do even more than Paul asks. We don't have a record of how this situation played out. What do you believe was the outcome?

ok this is a nice story. Now what do we take away from it? 1. The Gospel does indeed transform lives. Going from useless to useful is no small thing. We don't get details of Onesimus' life but there was obviously a big change. Onesimus wasn’t reformed. He was transformed. Philemon showed a transformed life as well. It’s hard for us to understand how radical Paul’s request was. Yes, slaves were, from time to time, set free. That’s not the whole of the issue. Paul asked Philemon not only to release a slave, but to accept him fully as a brother - an equal, a partner. Also, Paul’s request turns the system upside down. Philemon risks the whispers behind his back of “that’s the guy who allowed a runaway slave to live. What will happen when the other slaves hear of this. There will be a revolt!” Yet Paul was completely confident that Philemon had it within him to do what was right. 2. The Gospel transforms societies. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters. C.S. Lewis Although the ancient form may not have been as corrupt as we tend to think, slavery is certainly not an ideal situation. The bible accepts it as a reality of the times and doesn’t offer a sweeping condemnation. But it places in motion a dynamic that, when lived out, doesn’t allow the institution of slavery to stand. Paul’s request of Philemon is a living example of the command he gave to everyone in Colossi: “Masters, treat your slaves with justice and fairness, because you know that you also have a master in heaven.” (Colossians 4:1) He also makes it clear that in Christ there is no difference and no barriers between slaves and free men. Treat your slave justly and fairly... Accept your slave as your brother... Treat your brother as you would want to be treated... Place your brother above yourself. What does that do to the institute of slavery. When those ideas are taken seriously, when they are lived out, how does slavery survive? Can you claim ownership of a man who is also your brother? Slavery can only survive when those words are only paid lip service. 3. Relationships are often messy. We need to be ready to accept and forgive. Philemon had real grievances against Onesimus. Onesimus had every right to resent and rebel against being owned by another man. How do you resolve a situation like this? The issues are too deep to just ‘buck up and deal with it.' Total acceptance and complete forgiveness is tough. Too tough for us to handle. But that’s exactly what the Gospel can do!

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