GPS: God’s Purpose Seeking
Daily scripture readings and brief devotions for your week
Prayer for the Week of January 17
God, you have purchased me at great price and ransomed my soul from slavery to sin. Sin taught me to use power to push myself upward, even if that meant pushing others down. But you, who lowered yourself to become one of us and became obedient to the point of death, show us a different way. Since you became a servant, make me a servant of all. Amen.
Paul’s Letter to Philemon is one of the best examples of a Pastor giving a tough love talk to one of their church members. Paul is trying to make Philemon feel the righteous guilt of having enslaved a brother in the faith. But before Paul can tell Philemon to change, he begins by reminding Philemon of who Philemon is trying to be – someone with “love for all the saints and…faith toward the Lord Jesus.” What kind of person do you aspire to be? Because of what in your character would you want St. Paul to thank God?
Christian morality hinges on two big ideas: (1) we have a duty to act in accordance with the goodness that God wills for the world, and (2) being a virtuous person means choosing to act rightly with your free will. Philemon’s salvation is imperiled by his slaveholding, but Paul wants him to convert his heart – something that would not happen if Paul ordered Philemon to free Onesimus. Paul, the good pastor, sees that Philemon is both a slaveholding sinner and someone who wishes to be saved. Is there a place in your life where you know you are acting in opposition to God’s will for you? Pray to God for the strength to repent and choose to act virtuously. Then make the change.
One of the scandals of Jesus was that he not only had mercy on the oppressed (the sick, the blind, the poor), but he also ate and helped the oppressor (the tax collector, the Roman Soldier). But the kind of conversion that needs to happen for a former oppressor to be welcomed into the Kingdom of God means that “tolerance” of their former subordinates is not enough. The redemption of an oppressor means the people they formerly oppressed must be welcomed as family; there must be a recognition that the former oppressor is responsible for the formerly oppressed’s wellbeing and flourishing. Is there anyone on this earth that you don’t feel responsible for supporting their prosperity? What must you do to ensure that your choices help all others prosper, not just your legal family?
Here we finally get Paul’s ultimatum: if you want to be in fellowship with me (and, by extension, the Lord Jesus Christ), you must not only treat Onesimus as your equal, but welcome him now as your superior. Paul’s argument in this letter moves from demanding for Onesimus basic rights, to equality, and finally to reparation of honor. Philemon is directed to treat Onesimus – his slave – as Philemon would treat Paul – an Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ and Bishop of His Church. Why do you think we so often resist making reparations for our sins or instances when we have dishonored another?
Our actions are never without accountability. Paul tells Philemon to prepare a room for him – a signal that Paul intends to ensure Onesimus’ safety and prosperity. In the same way, we will all be held accountable for our choices at the coming of Christ. Though Christ desires us to choose to be virtuous freely, those choices have consequences. The command to reconcile with those we have injured or oppressed is not only for their benefit – it is for ours on the Day of Judgment. If Christ returned tomorrow, who do you owe a moral debt to that needs to be repaid? Begin the work to repair that breach.