God of the Ages, on this last day of 2022, I celebrate the truth that you are the God of the present, and of the future too.
Read PHILEMON 12-25
12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Rejoice that, ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’1
Paul has hinted that this is an opportunity for Philemon to grow in faith (v 6). Now he goes further. Philemon’s worldview is to be challenged to its roots. The runaway slave, who under normal circumstances might have expected exceedingly harsh treatment, must be taken back as a brother (v 16). He must be welcomed as Paul would be welcomed (v 17). This further step in Paul’s revolutionary thinking would have been contrary to everything that Philemon had known. Christian faith constantly challenges our preconceived ideas. Peter had to learn that the gospel was for Gentiles;2 Paul had to discover that the one he was persecuting was in reality the risen Lord.3 We will recall points in our lives when our worldview or our behavior has changed dramatically. All this is part of being reshaped in the image of Christ.4
At the heart of this is grace. It would be too easy to argue that Onesimus has rebelled and must be punished. For Philemon to show grace to Onesimus will be costly, but grace, although free to the recipient, is always costly to the giver. It is ultimately the grace shown in Jesus that destroys artificial human distinctions based on ethnicity, social standing, intellectual prowess, wealth, gender or anything else. None of us deserve it but it is freely an offer to all.
It is here, in the realization that in Christ there is neither slave nor free,5 that the seeds of the ultimate overthrow of slavery are found. In the recognition that before God all are of equal worth and should be accorded equal dignity. Slavery, although technically abolished in most of the world, still exists in many forms. Wherever humans are exploited for financial gain or personal gratification, wherever they are trafficked, wherever they are denied basic human freedoms, slavery still exists.
What more might you, might your church do, to show the priority of grace in an increasingly divided and polarized world?
Sovereign God, on this last day of the year, I thank you for the past, and look forward to the future. I can’t wait to see what you will do.
1 1 Pet 2:10 2 Acts 10 3 Acts 9 4 Rom 8:29 5 Gal 3:28
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