by Christopher Harbin

This content is part of a series.

Answering for a Slave (28 of 52)
Series: Discipleship Part Two
Christopher B. Harbin
Philemon 8-20

There are times we wish the Bible were simply more direct on certain issues. There are many such issues and concerns. Then again, it is often a question of simply paying attention to look for what the Bible does say and stopping to concern ourselves with how that would apply to our own lives, our culture, and our social structures. At the end of the day, the Bible is often much more direct than we like to consider it as being. We just have to be willing to listen with open hearts, minds, and ears. We have to be willing to allow the demands of the gospel to interfere with our standard operating procedures.

Part of the problem is that we want complex issues to be resolved with simple answers. There are some simple answers. For the most part, however, life is complex and one issue interferes with the next. One line of thinking impacts the real world relationships of another person, and what at once seemed simple quickly becomes messy.

In writing Philemon, Paul was caught in one of those precise situations where the simple became much more complex. Paul was caught in the middle of a merging of economic, social, religious, and moral concerns that collided to create a great deal of confusion.

There were established parameters in the Hebrew Scriptures that addressed some of the concerns at hand. There were teachings of Jesus that impacted others. There were relational considerations between Paul and Philemon. There were social and economic constructs that collided with all of the above. On one hand, Onesimus was a slave to Philemon. He was property to be used and disposed of, as well as counted on as a source of labor and income. He was also a fellow believer now after coming in contact with Paul as an escaped slave.

Jesus had not addressed slavery directly as an economic institution. At the same time, he was very clear about treating one another in love ...

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