Posts Tagged With: new identity

Philemon: A Slave Set Free

In the ancient Roman world, if a person were placed in house arrest as Paul had been he could still receive visitors.  Think of it like a modern prisoner who wears an ankle bracelet that would alert the authorities if he were to leave his house; visitors can still come to your house, bring you things, and even stay awhile but you aren’t going to the movies, on that family vacation, or — in Paul’s case — to Spain to spread the gospel as he wished.

One day while the apostle Paul was under house arrest in Rome, a slave from Colossae (Col. 4:9) showed up at Paul’s front door.  Maybe he had run away from his master Philemon, or more likely he had been sent by his master to Paul with a message, supplies or money.  His name was Onesimus, a name that means “useful,” but ironically as a slave he was anything but (c.f., Phlm 10-11).

While Onesimus was in Paul’s house, the great apostle did what he did best: he shared the gospel with Onesimus and the slave became a Christian.  Now, in the new humanity, in Christ, where God does not see gender, race or social position (Col. 3:11), Onesimus was Philemon’s brother not his slave (Phlm 16).

I love how Paul’s point is driven home by the words he chose to use in this short letter (word frequency cloud done at Wordle.net in which larger words occur more often)

What would Philemon do now?  Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon and it is clear that Paul thinks his friend should release his slave from slavery and send Onesimus back to Paul to become one of the many missionaries that worked with Paul:

Because of all this I could be very bold in the king, and order you to do the right thing. . . . That way, when you did the splendid thing that the situation requires, it wouldn’t be under compulsion, but of your own free will. (Phlm 8, 14)

We don’t know how this situation turned out.  But Philemon is an excellent example of how the theological belief in a new creation was intended to have a significant effect on everyday relationships, as discussed yesterday.

One further historical question: how in the world did Bible-believing slave-owners and slave-traders in the nineteenth century ever read Philemon and think the institution of slavery was defensible?

What caught your eye in this tiny letter?

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Ephesians 2: Reborn

In every letter Paul gives a grand statement of the gospel, always stated a bit differently for the context of that letter.  Chapter 2 is that chapter in Ephesians.

Paul reminds his readers what they were according to the “flesh” alone.

You were dead because of your offenses and sins! . . . We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do.  What was the result?  We too were subject to wrath in our natural state, just like everyone else. (2:1b, 3)

So, then, remember this!  In human terms — that is, in your “flesh” — you are “Gentiles.”  You are the people whom the so-called circumcision refer to as the so-called uncircumcision. . . . Well, once upon a time you were separated from the king.  You were detached from the community of Israel.  You were foreigners to the covenants which contained the promise.  There you were, in the world with no hope and no god! (2:11-12)

Before they came to Christ, the Ephesian church, which must have been largely Gentile, were dead, fleshly, destined for punishment, locked out from the promises and blessings of the Jews, without hope.

Can you remember when the same could have been said about you?

Then . . . because of the great grace of God, not because of anything we had done, lest we boast (2:8-9), we were reborn.  This idea of being new birth is very important to Paul at this point.  He punctuates that idea twice in this chapter with creation and resurrection language:

He made us alive with the king. . . . He raised us up with him, and made us sit with him — in the heavenly places in King Jesus. (2:5-6)

The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two [Jews and Gentiles], so making peace.  God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, though the cross, by killing the enmity in him. (2:15b-16)

With rebirth the Ephesians are not the same person.  They died hopeless objects of wrath; they were reborn children of the King.  They died alienated Gentiles; they were reborn part of a greater humanity that does not see ethnicity and the hostility that too often comes with such differences.  They are no longer defined by their flesh.  They are new creations.

Can you remember when you were very aware that the same could be said about you?

That is the gospel.

What struck you in this chapter?

Categories: Ephesians | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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