Tag Archives: master

How Jesus redefines “family” – Philemon 8-25, Part 3

28 Aug

How do you define “family”? Biologically? Qualitatively? Some other way? As we continue studying Philemon verses 8-25, today we’re going to see Paul explain how Jesus defines family, and get ready, it is shocking.

So what did Paul say?  Let’s continue his flow of thought from what we already learned in Part 1 and 2 of this series.  We’ve come to verse 13, where Paul admits that he wishes the runaway slave, Onesimus, who has now become a Christian, could stay with Paul. Already in Part 2 we saw how Paul describes Onesimus as “useful” to him.  So as Paul writes to Philemon, saying he wishes Onesimus could stay with him (Paul), that should show Philemon how highly Paul thought of Onesimus.  What Paul says next is where it really gets interesting: Paul writes that if Onesimus could have stayed with Paul, Onesimus would be taking Philemon’s place helping Paul!  That is a bold statement.  Paul is saying that a slave could take the place of his master.  In a slave society, that is laughable.  There is no version of slavery in which a slave could take the place of the master.  But when Jesus enters the situation, he turns society’s convention upside-down.  A slave, Paul is saying, a lowly slave who is transformed by Jesus, can become equal with his master.  Paul’s not done.  It’s going to get even more wild.

Next in verse 14, Paul quickly says that he wants to honor Philemon’s consent. Philemon owns Onesimus and thus Paul is legally bound to send him back.  Also, whatever Philemon chooses to do, Paul doesn’t want anyone to be able to say, “Paul forced this on me.”  Paul wants Philemon’s response to be Philemon’s own free choice.

Now read verses 15-16 where Paul says there might have been another reason for Onesimus running away.  Another reason? What other reason? Isn’t it fairly obvious, Paul? Think about it: normally when a slave runs away, there’s nothing but bad blood between slave and master.  In the master’s eyes, slaves are property that equal money.  Slaves create wealth for their masters.  Thus slaves who run away are seen not only as missing property, but also as missing income.  Add to that, slaves who runaway are disrespecting their masters.  Clearly, masters would often disrespect and mistreat slaves, which is precisely why the slaves wanted to run away in the first place.  So the slave/master relationship was often a fraught situation, and the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon was no different.  Philemon could easily be reading this thinking, “I know why Onesimus ran away, Paul,” and he was almost certainly not happy about it.  Paul is bold, then, in suggesting that there might be another reason. 

What is this other reason Paul hints at? He tells Philemon that it so Philemon could have Onesimus back for good, which is no surprise, but then he adds a shocker in verse 16 when says Philemon “might have him back for good–no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.”  Do you see what Paul does there?  He totally redefines the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon.   Master and slave is gone.  Now they are brothers.  Dear brothers.  Totally equal.

This is exactly what Paul taught in other places:

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:26-28

Paul says the same thing in 1 Cor. 12:13. He also writes it in Colossians 3:11, which is interesting, because when Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon, almost certainly Onesimus and another ministry partner, Tychichus, were carrying the letter of Colossians with them too, a public letter which would have been read to all the Christians in Colosse, including Philemon.  So Paul doesn’t want this to be just a private matter between Philemon and Onesimus, he wants all Christians to know that in Christ, there is a total redefinition of people’s status.  No more ethnic stratification, he says, “neither Jew nor Greek.”  Nor more gender stratification, “neither male nor female.”  No more slave and master, “neither slaver nor free.”

All are one in Christ.

Paul was asking Philemon to embrace the full truth of Jesus’ teaching, that in Christ there is no more slave or free, Jew or Greek, but all are one in Christ.  All are equal.  Paul says in verse 16 that Philemon should consider Onesimus as even dearer than Paul does.  A brother in the Lord.  And a brother is family.  Does your definition of “family” need redefinition to make it the same as Jesus’? Does your practice of family need to change?

In the next post, we’ll see how passionately Paul continues to argue for this redefinition of family.

Learning how to be a good employee from an unexpected source – Titus 2:1-10, Part 5

19 Jul

Are you a good employee? How do you know? Do you receive good evaluations? What would your bosses say about you? In this post we’re going to learn how to be a good employee from an most unexpected source.

In this series of posts on Titus 2:1-10, Paul has been talking to various groups in the church: older men and women, and younger men and women. That pretty much covers it, right?  Especially when you consider that parents are to lead their children. But nope, there is another group.  It might have been the largest group.  Do you know who Paul hasn’t talked about yet?

Slaves.  In the Greco-Roman era around first century AD, there were millions and millions of slaves.  Slaves in the churches?  Yes.  Slavery was a normal part of that culture, though theirs was a different kind of slavery than what we are used to in our American past.  Ours was racially based. There’s was not.  You could become a slave through war, for example, when Rome defeated your country and conscripted all your people.  Slaves could also earn freedom, become Roman Citizens, and gain property and wealth.  But slavery in any era is still slavery: slaves are people owned by other people, and at times the owners could treat their slaves horribly.

So why were there slaves in churches? Shouldn’t the Christians set their slaves free? As we look at verses 9-10 where Paul addresses the slaves in the churches in Crete, I first want to confirm that Paul is not supporting the concept of slavery.  Paul’s approach to the institution of slavery will come up on this blog in the near future when we finish Titus and study the next short letter in the New Testament, Philemon, so we’ll get there.  For now, Paul is simply providing teaching for slaves who are Christians, and how they should live the life of Christ in their current enslaved position. 

He says, “Please your masters.  Don’t talk back or steal, so you can be trusted.”  Interestingly, in Ephesians 6, Paul says, “slaves obey your masters because it is the right thing to do, not just to win their favor.” Now here in Titus he says that slaves should obey their masters to win their faith in Christ. See what he says in verse 10, “so that in every way slaves will make the teaching about God our savior attractive?”

Paul is showing how much he is concerned for the mission of God.  Imagine, in other words, a Christian who also happens to be a slave behaving with respect and truth and honor before their master.  That will stand out.  Especially if the master is a jerk.  That will increase the likelihood that the master could become a Christian.

Even though slavery is illegal in the USA, and many parts of the world, it is still an awful problem. As I mentioned above, we’ll talk about Paul’s thoughts on the institution of slavery when we study the letter of Philemon in a few weeks. Because Paul doesn’t address the institution of slavery in his letter to Titus, what can we learn from his teaching to slaves? I think there are some principles in verses 9-10 that carry over to employees and employers.  How many of you are an employee who has a boss?  Me too.  In my denomination, I have a District Field Director and a Bishop who are my bosses.

I’m not saying our bosses are like slave driver, by the way!  What I am saying, though, is that they way you work, the way you handle your employment, will say a lot to your boss about your faith in Jesus.  Maybe your boss is a Christian.  But maybe not.  You make the teaching of Jesus attractive by working hard, by being competent, trustworthy, and creative. 

So we need all these groups in the church.  Especially, we need the older to teach the younger.  First, older men and women, you set the example for the younger by how you live.  Live lives of discipleship to Jesus, clearly showing the young what it means to be selfless, committed to Christ, passionate about the mission of his Kingdom. 

And then train others to follow Jesus.  Teach them to live like Jesus.  Meet with them.  Weekly.  Read the Bible together.  Talk about how to apply it to your lives. 

Who is your Titus?  This passage is a discipleship passage.  Paul is discipling Titus through a letter, and in turn he wants Titus to disciple or train the people in the churches in Crete to train others.  Who are you investing in? You’ve got a really wonderful guide here in Titus 2:1-10.  As you meet with a person, read this passage, maybe for starters, and talk about how their life and your life is demonstrating all these areas that Paul is talking about.  So, who is your Titus?