free flying soul

"this world has nothing for me and this world has everything...all that I could want and nothing that I need"

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Location: Macclesfield, North Carolina, United States

Born: 1970; Graduated High School: 1988; Married: 1991; Children: 1996, 2000, 2005; Graduated College: 2008; Figured Out This Faith Thing: In Progress

Sunday, June 18, 2006

What Philemon Has To Say About Relationships

The purpose of Paul’s letter to Philemon was to affect reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul is tactful in his request and the reader can easily see him exercising his apostolic authority without having to hold it over Philemon’s head. Paul’s concern for the damaged relationship is apparent and he goes to great lengths to restore it even if it costs him personally. The contemporary church would do well to examine Paul’s attitudes towards relationships and see how the example of Philemon and Onesimus can be applied today. Paul demonstrates three things that should be considered: people have value even when they make tremendous mistakes; we should be willing to forgive one another in all situations; and our status in life doesn’t override our spiritual relationships.

In verse 11 Paul tells Philemon that even though Onesimus had been useless to him in the past he was important to Paul’s ministry and even to Philemon himself. It’s important to note that Paul doesn’t absolve Onesimus of any wrongdoing or mistakes, but he reminds Philemon that he is valuable to both of them in spite of them. Often times, people within the church are quick to throw stones and point out the shortcomings of one another. One mistake is often held over a believers head for the rest of his life. Any opportunity to minister within the body of Christ is lost because others refuse to see the value in someone that they believe has fallen. Paul reminds the church that every believer has value and a place in ministry no matter what they have done in the past.

Paul challenges Philemon to forgive whatever debts Onesimus may have owed him. He goes so far as to take personal responsibility for anything that Philemon felt he deserved. This attitude is missing in many contemporary congregations. It seems to be a common practice to figure out exactly how much is owed and then hold the debtor to every single bit. People claim to forgive one another but many of them are still keeping tab in their minds. Paul insists that forgiveness must be complete, even if it costs the one who was harmed. It’s a sacrificial love being exhibited and it is the example presented by Jesus himself. Paul reminds Philemon that even he owed others. Those in the church should remind themselves that there is no one without debt. Salvation itself requires that a debt be forgiven and that should be the example that all follow.

Lastly, Paul addresses the relationship between social status and spiritual status. Philemon owned Onesimus and had legal rights that could be claimed. Paul never denies the relationship between master and servant but he points out that the relationship as brothers in Christ should be the main focus. Neither Philemon nor Onesimus should consider their standing in society as the defining thing in the relationship. Today’s church finds people from all walks of life sitting side by side. The president of a large corporation could be sitting next to the janitor that cleans the toilets in his building. In society’s eyes they are in two totally different worlds. However, by accepting Christ they are both equal heirs and brothers in the truest sense of the word. Paul insisted that social standing, while unavoidable, has no bearing on believers’ spiritual relationships with one another.

It is easy to dismiss Philemon as a letter to an individual regarding a matter specific to him and miss what Paul had to say the entire body of Christ. Although there are issues which are directed to a single person the overall message applies to all believers. Every single person alive has value regardless of past mistakes. Believers should be willing to forgive one another even if it costs them in the end. Finally, social status should not be something that causes division and strife within the church.