Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Remix: Philemon - Biblical Goodness for the Short Attention Span

Okay, yeah. This is a repost of an earlier post. I originally wrote this way back in May of last year. But it's kind of cool for me to reflect on it now at a distance. Specifically the part where I say "Distracted by all the things going on in my life right now..." because part of "all of the things" was that we were knee deep in the early stages of planting a church and had been thrown a few curve balls in the process. What a difference a few months can make. I know I said this yesterday, but it bears repeating: God is very, very good! BTW - I never did write a post about Hebrews, but if you haven't read it in awhile, it is an awesomely good book.

Truth be told, this entry was going to be about Hebrews. I even have a rough draft floating around in my head somewhere and a title, "Why I'm loving' me some Hebrews". But every time I sit down to write about it, I end up going down several rabbit trails and have difficulty staying on topic. (Yes, shocking, I know.) I promise I'll write about it soon, because I AM loving me some Hebrews!

Distracted by all the things going on in my life right now, and knowing I couldn't wrap my head around all the ways that Hebrews is helping me look at said life with some biblical clarity, I resigned myself to blog a couple of quotes or a quick Top Ten List. Just as I was closing my bible, I noticed the book right before Hebrews -- Philemon.

If you've never read Philemon, you should. Go get your bible and read it. I'll wait right here..................Pretty good stuff, huh? Wedged between bible heavyweights Titus and Hebrews, Philemon is a short letter from the Apostle Paul that packs a punch. Now, Philemon is a friend of Paul's, a model Christian, an active worker for Christ, and a slave owner. While imprisoned, Paul meets Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus. Onesimus has apparently stolen something from his master and has fled to Rome. Under Roman law, Philemon had every right to put Onesimus to death.

Paul writes this letter to his friend to convince him not only to forgive this runaway slave, but to welcome him home as a brother in Christ. There are a whole lotta lessons in this short letter, but to keep me on task, I'm going to focus on one train of thought.

"Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul -- an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus -- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and me." (2:8-11) Because Paul was an elder and an apostle, he could have commanded that Philemon welcome Onesimus home with open arms. But instead, he chooses to appeal to his friend's Christian commitment. He wanted him to want to take Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as an equal in the Body of Christ. I don't know about you, but when someone tells me I have to do something, my mind goes into overdrive coming up with all the reasons why I don't have to. When you counsel a friend about overcoming sinful behavior, do you blast them with bible verses, or do you appeal to what you see as their strengths? Do you give them some wiggle room and trust that the Holy Spirit will have a say in the matter? I hope we all do that.

"I am sending him -- who is my very heart -- back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good -- no longer a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord." (2:12-16) Paul is saying, "This is a great guy, I'd love for him to stay with me, but because I love you both, I'm sending him back so that you can be blessed by what he has become. You haven't lost a slave, you've gained a loyal friend and a brother in Christ. But again, the ball's in your court." Again -- ample wiggle room.

"So, if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back -- not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask." (2:17-21) When you know someone that's new to the faith, do you personally invest in their lives? Do you "cover their bets", so to speak? Or do you give them a big hug, welcome to the family and say, "Good luck with all of THAT!"? You wouldn't teach your child to swim one day and then let them go to the pool by themselves the next. You hang out in the shallow end, cheer them on as they tread water, and make sure you're there in case they get into trouble. Which, by the way, the usually do. Trust that people will do the right thing, but don't be offended or surprised when they don't. Forgive them as Christ forgives you, help them up and get them back on track.

There's a whole bunch of good stuff in this little letter; many rabbit trails I could go down, but for now, It's enough for me to reflect on just a few of them. We never learn how the homecoming turns out, but I imagine a really cool reunion, where we see Onesimus walking toward Philemon (whose hoping that Onesimus will find his way back, but doesn't know for sure). Philemon looks up from what he's doing, recognizes Onesimus from a distance, stands up, starts walking toward his old slave and new friend. The camera zooms out for a wide shot, then fades to black....think last scene in The Shawshank Redemption.

11 comments:

helen said...

I always picture the last scene a little later.
Philemon has welcomed Onesimus back.
They become tight.
They start to really talk about Paul.
Onesimus says how he really worries about an old man like that being on his own, in chains.
Philemon is like "Hey, yeah, me too!" and agree that Onesimus should go back to look after Paul.
I know, a bit extra-bibical. I can't say that is how it did work out, but that is how I hope it did.

Dear Gabby said...

Helen, I love the way your mind works!

Steph at The Red Clay Diaries said...

I'm with you, Helen. I'd hope that Philemon would not only do everything in the letter; he'd read between the lines and see how useful Onesimus had been to Paul.

But I had a silly thought just now. (I KNOW! Silly? Me?)

What I hope didn't happen is that Phil is on the lookout for Onesi (onesie -snort-), but not in a good way. And he goes out with weapon in hand to kill O. Although that would add some drama...
"Wait! Wait! Read this first! Please!"

WV: untingla
I gotta put them Christmas lights away right, or I won't be able to untingla them next year."

katdish said...

Helen - Sometimes I wish I was as deep a thinker as you, but I've got way too many rabbit trails to go down most of the time. (Ditto Gabby/Sherri/Sybil/Smurfette)

Steph -

I'm praying for you...(snort!)

Helen said...

Katdish, you are so sweet. I am not a deep thinker. The first time I read Philemon, I kept thinking through all twenty-five verses "Oooo, I hope Phil sends him back. Does Phil send him back Lord? Paul sounds like he will really miss Onesi! I hope they reunite?ooo boy, when are they going to reunite?." I freaked out when I didn't find out at the end, and had to make do with my hope that through Christ they all made up, and Paul would have his "son" back.
It was more of a lack of thinking than deep thinking, you know. It was almost like I was CDO.

BeckeyZ said...

It bugs me when a chapter leaves me hanging like that...especially in the BIBLE! But it is good stuff, and it makes you think.

Great post, re-cycled or not ;-)

Marni said...

Hey! Thanks for stopping by to say hi and the sweet things you said :)

I loved Under the Overpass and I highly recommend it. My hubs and some friends and I have a homeless ministry and the book gave me some much needed insight for our ministry. I think you'll like it alot.

So are you doing Crazy Love with Jon and all us SCL nuts?

Beth said...

"Trust that people will do the right thing, but don't be offended or surprised when they don't. Forgive them as Christ forgives you, help them up and get them back on track."

I'm a little short on attention myself today...I think it's from teaching preschool this morning...but this quote rules!

katdish said...

Beckey - Yeah, you'd think a tiny little book like Philemon wouldn't give you much to chew on, but it is surprisingly full of things to ponder.

Marni - Well hey there! You're a fellow Texan too, right? My church is a small start up church plant. We didn't have a homeless ministry. But a few days before Christmas, Jeff (pastor) saw some guys under I-10, talked to them and brought them lunch. Later, some other folks went to Academy and got them some warm coats and a few odds and ends. We invited them to our Christmas eve service, but when we went to pick them up, someone had run them off. But one of our members found them a few days ago. They've moved into an abandoned house and they were very hesitant to tell us where they were, but I think they understand that we really just want to help them, not get them in trouble. Long story short (too late), we now have a homeless ministry because God has put that on our hearts in a big way. Have you blogged about this ministry? I am really interested to know more about it. (sorry, I tend to ramble when I'm excited.)

Beth - I was pretty poetic back then, huh? Pretty much been downhill from there...

Matt @ The Church of No People said...

Great reflection. I don't believe I've read Philemon in quite a long time! Shouldn't take too much effort, should it?

texasshawn said...

Good stuff!

Something to consider:
In light of this letter, how do we react when that person who burned us in the past shows up at church? You know, the one who smoked more pot than Amsterdam, had more boyfriends than the cheer squad, or took more money than the IRS.

Do we whisper to the Pastor that we're worried that person might be trouble, and watch their every move with suspicion?
Or do we accept that person as God's child and our brother/sister in Christ, and rejoice at the change God has made in his/he life?

wv: dooes = fat female deer.
Dang! Look at the size of those dooes!