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In your mind, what does it mean to be a Christian?
We know that Jesus is the great gate into the Kingdom of God. This is the primary story we tell as Christians. His gift on the cross gives us entrance to new life - eternal life.
But once we pass through the great gates of His Love, what are we to do? Once we are Kingdom citizens, how are we to live? What are we to become? What difference does being a Christian make, really?
While Philemon is one of the shortest letters in the New Testament, it is also one of the most powerful. It is powerful because of what Paul, who is writing the letter, challenges Philemon to do. Paul packs his entire theology into this one short page of practice.
Years before, Paul introduced Philemon to Jesus. He invited Philemon to move from the kingdom of this world into the Kingdom of God. Philemon loved Jesus and became a Christian.
Paul wrote this letter to Philemon from prison. While there, Paul told the other prisoners about Jesus. One prisoner, Onesimus, fell in love with Jesus and joined the Kingdom. As fellow Christians they worked together - Paul and Onesimus - to care for prisoners and write letters. In their time together Onesimus told Paul his story: Sometime ago, Onesimus was a slave and escaped from the house of Philemon.
Paul was amazed! He told Onesimus the story leading Philemon to Jesus. And then Paul said to Onesimus, “You know what the right thing to do is, don’t you?”
“Go back to Philemon,” Onesimus said. “Because I stole myself away from him and owe him my service.”
“Indeed,” Paul said. “Christian slaves must serve their masters with Christlike humility.”
Quickly, Paul wrote the letter to Philemon, and sealed it. He gave Onesimus the letter to deliver and, having made the arrangements to return a ‘found slave’ to his master, sent Onesimus to Philemon.
When Philemon receives his slave back, he also receives the letter from Paul. He opens the letter and what it says changes everything. Well, only if Philemon is truly a follower of Jesus.
“You know how much God forgave you,” Paul wrote. “All your sin was washed away because of Jesus! He set you free. This slave of yours became my friend in prison. But, even more exciting, he has become our brother in Christ! He has returned to you of his own free will. But he is our brother! I know you will do the right thing. If you do, please let him know I would love to have him back to help in my work.”
Imagine receiving that letter!
Being a follower of Jesus means that we set people free. Free from old ways of bondage. Not because they deserve it but because we are in Christ - all forgiven for our sins. As we enter the Kingdom of Heaven the field is leveled. We are brothers and sisters. All are forgiven. All are loved. All are equal.
Slave and Master
Male and Female
Jew and Gentile
Rich and Poor
When, as Christians, these old distinctions of bondage are brought before us, we are challenged: You may be living in the Kingdom of God, but is the Kingdom of God living in you?
Forgiven, forgive. Loved, love. Equals, equal.
Philemon, you hold Paul’s letter in your hand. What will you do?
Testimonies for the Church 5:164, 165