bible blog 2029

PAUL’S LETTER TO PHILEMON

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Army liberating slaves in the Civil War

Paulos, a prisoner because of Messiah Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Aphia our sister, Archippus our comrade in arms, and the Assembly in your home: kindness to you, and peace from God our father, and the Lord Jesus Messiah. 

I always give thanks to God for you when I make mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of the trustful love you have for the Lord Jesus and all his holy people. I pray that your partnership in faith may become energetic in understanding all the good things we share in Christ. I’ve had great joy and encouragement from your love, because, thanks to you, the hearts of God’s people have been lifted.

And so, although, in Messiah’s name, I could simply order you to do your duty, I’d rather entreat you by love: Old-man-Paulos as I am, and now also a prisoner for Messiah’s sake, I entreat you on behalf of my son Mr Handy, the child of my chains. This man who was useless to you in the past and is now useful to us both, I’ve sent him back to you, although he is my very heart. I’d have liked to keep him beside me, so that on your behalf he could look after me in my imprisonment for the Gospel; but I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that any kindness may come from free will rather than necessity.

Maybe he was taken away from you for a short time, so that you can keep him forever, no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, a dear brother. He is very dear to me, but how much dearer to you, both in flesh and blood and in the Lord!

If you take me for a partner, welcome him as you would me. If he has wronged you or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, have written this with my own hand: I’ll pay you back-and I won’t say a word about you owing me your very self!

Yes, I do want a favour from you in the Lord, my brother; lift up my heart in Messiah! Trusting in your obedience, I’ve written to you, knowing that you’ll do even more than I’ve asked. One last thing: make the guest room ready for me; for I hope, through your prayers, to be returned to you.

Epaphras my fellow prisoner of war for the sake of Messiah Jesus, salutes you, as do Mark, Aristarchos, Demas and Luke, my workmates. The kindness of the Lord Jesus Messiah be with your spirit.
Mair, Michael (2011-07-17). St. Paul: An Unauthorised Autobiography (Kindle Locations 5637-5645). Michael Mair. Kindle Edition.

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Priest liberating a slave

I refer my readers to my last blog where this translation is set out with a commentary by St. Paul! Here I want just to point to some of the obvious things about this letter.

1. Although it is a personal letter, Paul makes it a letter to the Assembly of believers in Colossae, because these assemblies are in his eyes the most crucial reality in the world, since they are God’s way of perfecting his creation by bringing all peoples together through his messiah Jesus.

2. As I lay out in the last blog, the means by which God has created these assemblies, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, are also the means by which, in Paul’s view, believers are to live: they are to imitate the “saving justice”, of God. In this case Philemon must liberate his slave as God has liberated him from sin.

3. Paul is admitting that he has sheltered and employed for his own purposes a runaway slave. In the eyes of the law such a slave was merely stolen property and could be returned to the owner or liquidated as a menace to social order. Nevertheless,  within the new order of the Assemblies of Jesus, Paul feels able to ask/demand that the owner treats the slave as a brother, and gives him legal freedom. He does not raise the isssue of slavery in general. We may infer that he viewed it as wrong within the Asemblies but legaloutside them. Masters and slaves were to treat each other as equals within the Assembly but maintain their different legal status outside it.

4. Paul writles on behalf of the slave, Mr.Handy. He assumes his right to do so, and to take the risk that Philemon will refuse and denounce his slave to the authorities. We may wonder what Mr Handy thought. Indeed we may wonder why Paul was still using the man’s slave name at all. Although Paul often maintained that in the Christian Assemblies there was no difference of status, only of function, we can see by Paul’s exercise of his function as an apostle, that he assumed the right to make such decisions and to expect obedience. We cannot blame the subsequent development of clergy on Paul, but he never really questions his own authority nor asks himself what would replace it if he became unavailable.NPG D18395; Liberating a Slave (relates to David Livingstone) by Unknown artist, published by  The London Missionary Society

5.  The letter, nevertheless, is revolutionary in its aim, that a runaway slave should be treated as a brother under God,  and in its clear recognition that the spirit of Jesus goes aganist the grain of imperial society. This Spirit like Paul, wants a place in the believer’s home.

Above: cutting through the shackles

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