For this week’s Bible study, we’re opening Paul’s letter to Philemon. In the letter, we see Onesimus and Philemon so divided that their relationship seems irreparable. However, Paul believed Jesus’ good news made these two men equal partners in God’s grace, so he inserted himself into the middle of their conflict to appeal for their reconciliation.
In our world there are many personal, political, racial, and socio-economic dynamics that create division. Followers of Jesus ought to be the first to insert themselves into the middle of these conflicts to bring about peace, but all too often we allow these same matters to damage the Body of Christ. For Paul, division and inequality in the body of Christ isn’t a minor issue––it strikes against the very heart of the good news about Jesus, who came to redeem, create, and unify all humans into a new family.
How does the meaning of the word koinonia help you better understand Paul’s letter to Philemon?
One of Paul’s shortest and most explosive letters, the book of Philemon demonstrates the gospel through action. It’s written to Philemon whose slave Onesimus ran away and became a believer under Paul’s teaching.
Paul urges Philemon to forgive Onesimus and accept him back as an equal. Because they are both believers, God’s grace and healing mercy have made them partners under the new humanity Jesus’ established.
While Paul doesn’t mention Jesus’ death and resurrection directly in this book, he offers to take on any punishment Onesimus deserves, a demonstration of what Jesus did on the cross. He encourages Philemon to do the same as he reconciles to Onesimus before God.
In the letter to Philemon, Paul inserts himself into the middle of the conflict between Philemon and Onesimus. Paul modeled the good news, believing that it held the power to unite against incredible odds.
Philemon is a believer in Jesus and Paul’s fellow worker. His slave Onesimus ran away but became a believer who ministers to Paul in prison.
Believers in Jesus must recognize and act on the truth that His followers are equal partners who share the gift of God’s love and grace.
Paul asks Philemon to embrace God’s new humanity, forgive his former slave Onesimus and welcome him back as a brother, partner and equal in Christ.
Paul willingly takes on any consequences of Onesimus’ wrongdoing so that Onesimus and Philemon can reconcile before God and to each other as equal partners.
Paul ends the book of Philemon with an affirmation that he’s confident Philemon will do what he requested and more regarding accepting and forgiving Onesimus.
How is Paul’s example like Jesus?
Name a conflicting situation or relationship that feels difficult to unite. What is one way you can humbly step into the middle of this conflict to promote love, equality, and healing mercy?
In this passage, Paul is describing the characteristics of a life that’s fitting to all followers of Jesus and a life that is not. Jesus followers are called to throw out the greedy, lustful, angry markings of the old life and instead adopt the loving, patient, and humble traits of Jesus’ new resurrected life. The old way of life separates people from God and from one another. The new way of life in Jesus unites people to God and to one another.
Consider how you have recently interacted with the political, racial, and socio-economic dynamics of your culture. In your interactions, what old instincts are especially difficult for you and/or others to overcome (see verses 5-9)? What relationships might have been avoided or damaged? What is one step you can take towards repair?
Read verses 10-11 again. In the new creation family of Jesus, all identities are made equal and unified into one redeemed identity. What might the list in verse 11 sound like if Paul rewrote it for your culture and time?
Consider the qualities of your new identity in Jesus: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love (verses 12-14). Reflect on how Jesus inserted himself into humanity’s conflict while perfectly expressing these qualities. Pray for God’s help to do the same while living from these qualities this week. Pray the same for your family, church, and city