July 20, 2017
I am continuing my brief time away investing in my own heart, mind, body and soul. I treasure your prayers. My good friend, Omar Al-Rikabi, will continue to lead us through “Five Days With Philemon.” Omar pastors the First United Methodist Church in Heath, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. You will love him.
15 It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. 16 He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.
Paul has asked a tall favor of his dear friend: for Philemon to show kindness to his returning slave, Onesimus. Remember, yesterday we learned there were laws allowing severe punishment for runaway slaves. But Paul doesn’t stop at kindness… he goes all the way for liberation:
“He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother… Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.”
I can hear Philemon saying, “Yeah, but why?”
And I believe Paul’s answer would be would begin the word “submission.”
Submission is one of those “DANGER: Do Not Touch” words in polite theological circles, especially because of the way certain Scriptures have been used in relation to wives and women.
Submission is the laying down a person’s will, desires, rights and entitlements to the will of another for the other person’s sake. Submission is at the heart of what Paul is asking Philemon to do… and what the gospel is asking us to do.
Yeah, but why?
Paul makes his case in Ephesians 5 and 6:
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord… For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her…
Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do…. Parents, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord…
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ… Masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Don’t threaten them; remember, you both have the same Master in heaven, and he has no favorites.
See what Paul is doing here? He’s laying down the case that all our relationships are about submission to each other. In fact, he begins with this all important statement: Submit to one another. And most important to notice: each submission is tied to what one believes about the Lord.
Yeah, but why?
Because as Paul says in Philippians 2:5-8
You must have the same mind that Christ Jesus had.
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Do you see it? Jesus gave up his will, desires, rights, and entitlements… and submitted to taking the humble position of a slave… and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
In other words Philemon, if that’s Jesus, how do you submit to Onesimus?
(Short sidebar in the argument of wives submitting to husbands and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church: this Philippians passage shows us what Christ’s love looks like… so who is called to the greater act of submission?)
Paul echoes the same case in his letter to the Colossians, which happens to be the same city and church where Philemon lived and worshiped, and so probably heard this teaching.
So what? This was about a slave 2,000 years ago. Should you care?
Yeah, but why?
Because whether we’re talking about the equality of women, or the welcoming of immigrants, or the rescuing of refugees, or the health of the poor… there are no favorites; no second class citizens. When it comes to sharing the good news the message to Philemon is the same as to us:
You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28)
To be continued…
Heavenly Father, this is more than a tough idea to grasp or lesson to learn. This is a hard thing to live. But this is good news, and so help us to have the mind of Christ in laying down our will, desires, rights and entitlements for the sake of holy love. In Jesus name we pray, amen.
1. Where have you seen someone (a parent, a friend, a spouse, etc.) submit themselves to you.
2. Where do you need to submit to another person out of faith in Jesus Christ? Why?
For the Daily Text, I’m Omar Al-Rikabi.
Join the Daily Text Fasting Challenge here. Whenever you sign up, it will begin the following Tuesday.
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.