Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Philemon 8-12


Summary retelling of Philemon 8-12

Paul tells Philemon that he is spiritual enough and well respected enough to order Philemon to do what he thinks is right.  However, for the sake of love Paul desires rather to ask Philemon to do what is right.  Paul again identifies himself as a prisoner for Christ.  In that light, Paul appeals to Philemon regarding Onesimus, whom Paul met during his imprisonment.  When Onesimus ran away he was useless to Philemon, but now that he has found Paul and found Christ, he is very useful to Philemon.  Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon, and Onesimus has become very dear to Paul.

Thoughts for Today
First Thought:
Paul could have ordered Philemon to take Onesimus back and to forgive him for running away.  Remember, this letter is not just addressed to Philemon but also to Apphia and Archippus as well as to the whole congregation that meets in Philemon’s house.  Had Paul spiritually ordered it, there were witnesses who would have been able to enforce his will.  But that isn’t how spiritual people behave.  Spiritual people shouldn’t have to order someone into obedience to God.  We should receive correction and spiritual guidance with joy and we should desire to make the changes that are necessary.  This doesn’t mean those changes will be easy and it doesn’t mean they will be instantaneous.  But as spiritual people we should spiritually desire to make the changes that are necessary to transmit God’s love for us to the world.

Why do you think it is better to not order people around in faith?  How do you react when you are ordered around?  What is the benefit of having people who are capable of choosing to act spiritually rather than people who are simple forced into obedience?

Second Thought:
Paul has now twice spoken of himself as a prisoner of Christ.  Normally he calls himself an apostle, but here he has twice changed his title from apostle to prisoner.  Paul wants Philemon – a well respected member of the Christian community in Colossae – to see something.  Paul is a well respected Christian who is willing to give up his freedoms so that other people can experience God’s love and hear about him.  The mark of a Christian is not power or control – but humbleness in service to God.

Why do you think Paul would want Philemon to hear Paul’s referral to humbleness and servitude in his self-identity?  What is the benefit Paul can gain by modeling a servant nature?

Third Thought:
Paul speaks of Onesimus almost as a child.  Certainly, Onesimus is old enough to run away from slavery and make it to wherever Paul was being imprisoned.  It is likely that Paul is speaking of Onesimus here as a spiritual child.  Paul has done some discipleship training with Onesimus.  Paul has been able to talk with Onesimus and alter his thinking.  He’s been able to help God alter Onesimus’ life priorities.  When we make disciples, those who are disciples are like spiritual children – especially when their discipleship is new and fresh.  Yes, we hope that they grow and become mature spiritual beings who can then go and make more disciples.  But they will always be our spiritual children.

Have you ever had a spiritual bond with someone that in some ways feels close enough to be like family?  How do you feel about being that person who takes other people and teaches them about the faith and having people under you that look to you as a discipleship mentor?

One a side note, this is actually how the term “father” became used in some Christian faiths.  The person whom God used to help you become a disciple of Jesus was known as your father in faith.  Of course, this is not meant to conflict with Jesus’ teaching that we have but one spiritual father: God.  This is simply meant to show how when discipleship is done right a deep spiritual bond is formed – and at times that bond feels like the bond we have with biological family.  At times, that bond is stronger than the one we have with our biological family because it is a bond of choosing, not a bond of birth.  In some circles, the word “pater” is used instead of the word “father” when describing the one(s) who really helped to make a person a disciple of Jesus.  The word “pater” means father in the original Greek.  This helps to avoid confusion between our Spiritual Father (God) and our discipleship mentor.

Passage for Tomorrow: Philemon 13-14
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