by Christopher Harbin

Paying Debts
Christopher B. Harbin
Philemon 13-25

There are many ways to look at the issues of life we face. Take yesterday's World Hunger Yard Sale here at FBC-Huntersville. Thousands of people showed up to purchase items donated by thousands of others, sorted by hundreds of people, and marketed to alleviate issues of hunger locally, in West Virginia, and in Haiti. We can say that was an exercise in compassion. We could call it an exercise in team and community building. We could say that it is a way that some worked to repay debts, paying it forward for all those times they have themselves been helped along the way by the generosity of others. If we find ourselves helped by someone, do we incur a debt that must be repaid? If so, to whom do we make payment and how much do we owe?

There are some strange and interesting motifs built along the lines of debt repayment in Paul's letter to Philemon. The letter begins we a chaotic, economic disaster concerning debt, service, advantage, and abuse. Paul found himself in the company of Onesimus, enjoying the benefits of his service without the knowledge or blessing of Onesimus' owner. Onesimus was an escaped slave who found himself attracted to Paul's teaching, became a disciple of Christ Jesus and placed himself at Paul's service. Paul had taken advantage of Onesimus' service, yet he knew that from a legal standpoint he needed to send the escaped slave back to his master.

Paul had a legal economic debt to Philemon for having made use of his slave. Onesimus had incurred economic debt to Philemon for having escaped his service. On the other hand, Philemon had a debt to Paul, as Paul was responsible for bringing him a message of grace and salvation. Philemon, Paul, and Onesimus all shared in debt to Christ Jesus, before whom they were all slaves to the will of God. In Christ Jesus, none of them were truly free, and yet they were all equally free under God's grace. They were all slaves, they were all free, there was ...

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