Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Reading Through Philemon

indexI am continuing to read through the New Testament accompanied by the commentary series The Bible Speaks Today, edited by John R. W. Stott. Philemon is discussed in the volume of the series Fullness & Freedom: The Message of Colossians & Philemon, written by R. C. Lucas. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I post quotes from these commentaries on my Facebook page and periodic summaries of the commentary here on my blog. I welcome discussion on these post on my Facebook page. As always, quotes from the author are in blue font.

Paul most likely wrote the letter to Philemon at about the same time as Colossians from a Roman prison. Philemon probably lived in the city of Colossae where he hosted a house church and its is likely that Apphia was his wife and Archippus his son. They were probably converted through Paul in Ephesus or by one of Paul‘s co-workers who was sent from Ephesus to start the church in Colossae. Philemon was wealthy enough to own at least one slave and to have a home large enough for a house church. It appears that Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, had robbed Philemon and run away to Rome. While there he was recognized by one of Paul’s co-workers or came to Paul for help in returning to Philemon. Paul led him to salvation and then sent him back to Colossae with this letter accompanied by Tychicus.

The letter was written to show that the obligations of relationships within the body of Christ override other obligations and to teach that those who receive grace are obligated to be gracious to others and to do what they can to right wrongs and restore relationships. The message of Philemon is that "The grace of Jesus Christ, and the gracious ministry of others to us, obligates us to give grace and forgiveness to others and to do what we can to maintain peace and good relationships with God‘s people." Basically, Paul graciously subverts the Roman institution of slavery through the gospel.

Once we grasp something of the miraculous transformation of human affairs brought about by the gospel in these young churches of the New Testament, we are better able to appreciate the patterns and priorities of apostolic involvement in society’s problems. What was being achieved everywhere was the establishment of little oases where an alternative way of life was being practiced and could be observedPhilemon, 188

Philemon ChartGrace obligates us to committed relationships which allow Jesus to minister through us to others. We are obligated to a higher level of commitment in relationships based on what Christ has already done to provide us relationship to God. Faith applies what we have in Christ so that Jesus ministers to others though us. A Christian’s acts of love should encourage others and bring them joy and refreshment.

We can be sure that Philemon would now receive from this new man in Christ the true and willing service that is demanded of a servant of Christ (verse 11). It is necessary to see this side of the equation as well. It is not simply that Christianity has bestowed on a man a new freedom: it has also radically altered that man so that he is able to exercise it aright. Philemon 11, 188.

Grace has the authority to command forgiveness and restoration of broken relationships. Love, ministered through Christ and through His church, and the new spiritual relationships created demand forgiveness and restoration. Redemption and forgiveness restore meaning and purpose to the lives of those we forgive as we allow them to flow from God‘s heart through us to the hearts of others. When we forgive others and restore relationships we make allies and helpers for God’s work. This only makes sense because God is sovereign enough to use the hurts that we receive to make us grow and to bring others into deeper relationship with us. When we forgive we allow ourselves to experience these blessings.
When we forgive and love as Christ did we experience the blessings of deep fellowship and receive love and grace. We welcome relationship with those who have wronged us based on the truth that Christ has welcomed us. Because Jesus relates to us based on His righteousness we should relate to others based on what we owe Christ, not on what they owe us. A true understanding of love and grace should motivate us to go so far as to take the penalty of the one who has committed the wrong, if that would restore the relationship. Gracious people are peacemakers.  Grace through faith expressing itself in love never is never satisfied with doing the minimum necessary to maintain relationship. It loves and forgives as Christ did.

For Paul, there is a clear line of demarcation between the world and the church: to him the world is essentially unchanged and unchanging, for in every generation the seeds of decay and disruption are born again...In short, Christians must live and suffer in an evil world...To live in this evil world Christians cannot avoid living within social structures that are unjust and unequal, though their presence within it as salt and light should help to change structures. Yet, whether one is born an ‘Onesimus’ or a ‘Philemon’, one can find in Christ the secret of spiritual freedom: in addition, ‘Philemon’ has the power, the opportunity and the responsibility to liberate the captive in more material and practical ways. If this perspective is correct, the narrowness of Paul’s aim becomes of fascinating significance. A burning appeal to an unknown house-church in Phrygia is his way to begin to change the world! Philemon, 189

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