Devotional on Philemon

2014 – Oregon 101 – along the southern coast

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.

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