S (Scripture): Philemon 1:15 For perhaps it was for this reason that he was separated from you for a little while, so that you would have him back eternally, 16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, as a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord. 17 Therefore if you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me. 18 Now if he has defrauded you of anything or owes you anything, charge what he owes to me.
O (Observation): In the Greco-Roman world, people would become indebted to one another for various reasons. A poor person would borrow money, or need food or shelter, and would literally become that rich person’s slave/property. This was how one paid off a debt: servitude.
These slavery situations ranged from fair to extremely harsh. Paul is appealing to Philemon (slave owner) to take back Onesimus (slave). Onesimus and Philemon have both received God’s Word from Paul, and Paul leans on their relationship in Christ for fair treatment and sustenance going forward.
If Onesimus is to be enslaved, may he do so to God’s glory. If Philemon is to continue owning these slave, may he treat them all as if they were his own brothers and sisters. (Note: this doesn’t mean that Paul encourages slavery. Instead of overturning the social structure, he chooses to go to the heart of the matter: how do we treat fellow members of the body of Christ, and all people, for that matter? Addressing that main issue would then, organically, shift the culture.)
A (Application): As a leader in the Church, I sometimes feel like Paul: sending servants out into the world, trusting that God would guide these servants and that those who receive these servants would treat them with respect. I know that won’t always happen.
I sometimes feel like Onesimus, as God calls me to remain humble and step back into a potentially difficult situation, in which I’m at the mercy of others.
And thirdly, I sometimes feel like Philemon, entrusted with servants who I’m call to treat as my brothers and sisters.
All of these viewpoints are a call to lean on our Identity as God’s children, saved by grace.
Only with God’s grace would I send a servant out.
Only with God’s grace could I receive a servant as a brother or sister in Christ.
Only with God’s grace could I receive a calling and trust in God’s protection as I go.
In whose shoes are you walking today? The Sender? The Recipient? The Sent?
P (Prayer): Lord: as we send, receive, or are sent, remind us of the baptismal waters in which you bathe us, bringing us to a place of great humility and responsibility. Amen.