Devotional on Philemon

A short letter with a long reach

Philemon 1: No mere slave this time, but a true Christian brother!

Paul’s letter to Philemon is one of the shortest books of the Bible, but it would be interesting to read the long version containing the back story. A Christian man, Philemon, owns a slave, Onesimus (meaning “useful”). However, Onesimus isn’t really worth much and when he has the opportunity he escapes to freedom, apparently taking some of Philemon’s belongings with him. Somehow, Onesimus encounters Paul who’s in prison and a result of that encounter is that Onesimus becomes a Christian. Paul tells Onesimus that the only thing for him to do is return to Philemon and make things right. He also offers to write a letter to Philemon encouraging him to welcome Onesimus back. On the surface, it appears that Paul’s quite comfortable with the institution of slavery. However, Paul makes one statement to his friend Philemon that has huge repercussions. The Apostle tells him that from now on he and Onesimus are no longer master and slave but are, instead, brothers in Christ. Since Paul and Philemon consider themselves thus, the Apostle urges his friend to treat Onesimus as he would treat Paul, himself. In just a few words in this minor book of the New Testament Paul has poisoned the very root of the institution of slavery. Philemon and Onesimus, brothers in Christ, represent the new reality of the kingdom of God. Slavery, taking unfair advantage of those in less favorable circumstances, racial divide: all these are out of bounds in God’s kingdom.

Take Away: In Christ, we are one.

Devotional on Mark

I’ve got a secret

Mark 4: We’re not keeping secrets, we’re telling them.

The theme here is parable telling. Mark tells us some of Jesus’ stories and then remarks that Jesus is “never without a story.” The reason for this approach, according to Jesus, is that he’s in the “secret revealing” business. No hidden, mystic religion of riddles here. Jesus’ purpose is to open wide the doors to the Kingdom of God. People who never understood before now get a crystal clear picture of God at work. Now we understand how the gospel takes root in some lives but not in others. We see what happens when the gospel does take root, starting small but becoming a huge, transforming force in life. And, we see God’s purpose in all this. Those who receive the gospel are to let the light of that gospel shine in their lives. We aren’t to be “keepers of the flame.” Instead, we’re “givers of the flame.” We don’t take the gospel into our lives and hide it. Instead, it’s to be the noticeable thing about us. So, how’s it going? Do people see the light of the gospel in my life? If I’m one of those who has received the gospel and if it has taken root and become the number one thing in my life, is it what others see in me? At the very core of my life, I’m to be a “secret teller” letting others in on the best news in the world. If not, maybe it’s because I’m not the kind of “soil” I think I am!

Take Away: Some secrets are best told.