Philemon is an interesting book. It deals with the Slave Onesimus, whose name means useful (a common slave name), who stole and ran away from his master Philemon (which means one who is kind or affectionate), met Paul, and was converted.
Onesimus was very helpful to Paul during his imprisonment, but Paul knew that the theft and running away issues had to be dealt with. He sent Onesimus back to his master, along with this letter, and asked that Onesimus’ sins be forgiven by Philemon. Paul’s actions are a beautiful picture of Christ’s sacrifices for us, because Paul told Philemon that he would pay Onesimus’ debt personally – Paul imputed (“to put on account”) Onseimus’ sins unto himself just as Christ imputed our sins at the cross.
Why didn’t Paul decry slavery in this letter? It was an issue back then, just as it was during the formation of our country, and as it still is in some parts of the world.
Had the early Christians begun an open crusade against slavery, they would have been crushed by the opposition, and the message of the gospel would have become confused with a social and political program. Think of how difficult it was for people to overcome slavery in England and America, and those two nations had general education and the Christian religion to help prepare the way. Think also of the struggles of the modern Civil Rights movement even within the church. If the battle for freedom was difficult for us to win in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, what would the struggle have been like back in the first century? – Warren Wiersbe
In Colossians, Paul focuses on Christ as Lord of all of creation – visible and invisible. He reminds us to stick with the Gospel. Stay away from traditions that supplant Christ’s teachings.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8 (ESV)
Today we see all kinds of “religions” that require special rituals, days, food, etc. Members of those groups seem to feel special, but Paul reminds us that it’s not celebrations and food that matters, but following the gospel of Christ.
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. Colossians 2:16-19 (ESV)
Please make sure that your worship focuses on Christ. Paul doesn’t condemn celebrations or traditions but he warns us that we should neither make too much of them nor believe that we are special because we choose certain celebrations, foods, traditions or beliefs. It’s faith alone in Christ alone that gets us to heaven.
Think of the ONE person that you are least fond of. Got them in mind? Whatever it is that caused you to dislike them, whatever they did to you to cause the break in your friendship, whatever you did to separate from them: how does your behavior stack up next to the Christian behavior that Paul outlines here?
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:12-17 (ESV)
Does it matter what he did to you? Does it matter how she hurt you? What does God expect of you? Who do you need to pray for today? Who do you need to change your attitude toward? Who do you need to forgive? What do you do that isn’t in the name of the Lord Jesus? Yikes! These are very convicting verses.
Paul also outlines interpersonal relationships. Got a boss that is completely unfair? Tempted to slack off when your supervisor isn’t watching? Perhaps you can tape these verses to your desk or to the inside of your locker.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)
These small letters give us much insight into the behavior that Christ expects of us. I find some of Paul’s words tremendously convicting. I fail so many times, but it’s comforting to know that when I fail (sin), I can ask Jesus for forgiveness and help, pick myself up, and try again.
In the next couple days we’ll read about reconciliation, unity in the body, and the role of leaders. I look forward to sharing more of God’s Word with you, and as always, I covet your comments and questions.
We’re in the final countdown to our Bible challenge – and we’re only a few days from the Christmas celebration. Please keep Christ in Christmas. He’s the reason that we live. He came as a humble baby to live sinlessly and die for you. Please remember Him during this season.
See you on the 13th.