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Friends in Christ Weekly Message
September 4, 2010
Perhaps Onesimus was taken from you for a little while so that you could have him back for good, but not as a slave. Onesimus is much more than a slave. To me he is a dear friend, but to you he is even more, both as a person and as a follower of the Lord. If you consider me a friend because of Christ, then welcome Onesimus as you would welcome me.
Philemon 1:15-17 (CEV*)
Onesimus had been Philemon's slave. This letter concerns Paul sending Onesimus back to Philemon.
We are (rightly) offended that people would be enslaved. Some accuse Paul of justifying slavery. But look at what he is actually doing. He is asserting Onesimus should be treated just the way he, Paul, would be treated. And Philemon wouldn't think of treating Paul like a slave.
Paul is approaching his friend Philemon gently and lovingly in the hope of getting him to see Onesimus not as a slave, but as a person of dignity and worth. He is not railing at him, but seeking to open him to the truth of the value and dignity of each person in Christ.
Paul's way of handling the situation is to treat the oppressor with as much love as the oppressed. He understands that true change is from the heart, not a matter of imposition. Paul cares for the souls of both Onesimus and Philemon, and that care is obvious. It is the way followed by the quintessential Quaker John Woolman many centuries later in his successful effort to rid the Society of Friends (Quakers) of slaveholding, as well as that of principled leaders of nonviolent movements in more recent times.
My tendency is to rail at those who seem to me to be acting unjustly. I have much to learn from Paul, and those throughout the centuries who have followed the principle of treating both the oppressor and the oppressed with the love of Christ.
* Contemporary English Version ©1995 American Bible Society.
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Document last modified on Saturday, 09-Oct-2010 18:01:37 EDT