Summary: Are you a profitable servant?
A lot of people neglect this little book between Titus and Hebrews. My guess is because it deals with a subject that is a political hot potato. No one wants to discuss slavery. Many folks wonder why Paul did not just tell Philemon to sell all his slaves now that he is a Christian. After all, did not Christ come to promote social change?
That is where I think they err. Christ never suggested boycotts or trying to overthrow Caesar to create a democracy or a republic. He did not come to foment civil disobedience to change society by an outward force. He came to change men from within and as the new creation flowed out from their hearts they would change. As more people were saved, society would change because the people who made up the society would change.
You see murderers; prostitutes, crooks and such did not come to Christ and change their ways by force or picketing the brothel. They came to Him because He loved them and offered them a new heart and life. By trading the Gospel for the ballot box and hateful tirades against their sin we have only made things worse. We have switched from spiritual weapons to carnal ones and all that has resulted is that the unbelievers hate us and see us as a nasty pest that they will one day want exterminated.
Yes, apostasy and martyrdom are prophesied for the end times, but I think it will come sooner than we expect and with more ferocity than it would have come if we had lived better lives and not switched weapons and methods of spiritual warfare. Remember, we are enjoined to take care that our sufferings are for Christ and not because of our own sins and stupidity. (I Peter 4:12-19)
Billy Sunday did not close bars by legislation, but by salvation. Prohibition was legislated sobriety and it failed miserably. The failure of the Temperance Union should be an example to us as well. Christ did not refuse to pay taxes to the heathen government who did not spend it wisely or godly. Paul did not form the Coalition for the Abolition of Slavery nor the Committee for the Passage of Senatorial Edict #227 to ban XYZ or eliminate ABC. He did not boycott grocery stores for carrying meat offered unto idols. He stuck to his job of winning people to Christ. The result is that as people changed so did their society. Not overnight or completely into Paradise, but slowly and surely into a better home, a better community and a better city. In essence, it became a better world even if it did not become a perfect world.
Should we vote? Yes, of course. You cannot separate religion and politics because every politician is going to have his legislation influenced by his faith no matter what it is or even if he thinks he has none. Whatever his worldview stems from will influence him. Should we seek to change this evil world? You bet! Just be sure that you use God’s methods to do it. Live a godly life. Witness with love and power of the Spirit to your neighbor and you will be amazed at the changes you will see. As slaves to sin become slaves to Christ the darkness will be overcome by the blinding light of His truth and love.
Now, since we have an idea as to why this is not a treatise on abolition, let us see what we can learn from this exchange between Paul and Philemon.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer,
2 And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house:
The first great thing here is that Paul knew why He was in jail. He did not blame the Romans who kept the jail nor even the Jews whose complaints helped put him there. He did not whine or complain. He accepted this as being a prisoner of Christ. His personal freedom, so to speak, had already been incarcerated by the love of Christ and the burden or the woe put on him by his commission to preach the Gospel. He was bought with a price and belonged to Christ so if Christ allowed him to be jailed, so be it!
He was there because of his witness for Christ and he knew he was there to witness for Christ. People came to here him preach because he joyfully paid the cost for his faith. If he sang in the Philippian jail, I am sure he sung in this jail. The guards heard his prayers, preaching and singing. We are not told how many of them were saved, but we are told that Paul reached some of Caesar’s own household. (Phil 4:22) Maybe people do not hear our witness because our life does not show that we are paying the price or willing to pay the price for our faith. Maybe that is why we do not have Timothy’s to mentor and serve with us because we are not willing to commit the time to mentor and surely do not want to suffer.