Summary: Broken relationships are among the Christians thorniest problems - yet relationships are so vital to our life as a believer. Paul gives us some good ways to help break down barriers we put up between ourselves and restore broken relationships through the
Relationships - they are among the most important things we have as humans. Studies have shown that if newborn babies are not touched - if they don’t have some sort of a relationship with another human - they will literally die. Our need for relationships never stops.
A recent study among seriously mentally ill people found that the top three barriers to a good quality of life were personal achievement, lack of a job, and difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships.
Among the family of God relationships are vitally important as well - yet for some reason we Christians have a hard time getting along together as well. We suffer so many broken relationships - and so much hurt and sorrow.
This can come from at least three different causes:
1. We disappoint each other
2. We disagree with each other
3. We disassociate with others because of our own personal hurts.
Philemon is a book about restoring broken relationships. It’s also a book about breaking down barriers.
Think for a moment what makes you different from the person sitting around you. Male/female, old/young, management/labor, blue collar/white collar, young in the Lord/mature, cool/not cool.
Whether we realize it or not, we make these kinds of comparisons automatically. We tend to rank ourselves against others - their position in society, how they dress or talk or look. Sometimes these differences become barriers between people - "I’m a boss and you are just a worker" or "I live in a fancy house and you live in a single-wide" or "I can’t really associate with you because you dress way different from me and I’m much cooler than you."
At times, the barriers we create can keep us from mirroring the character of the Lord - a person, by the way, that lowered Himself infinitely to take on our form - to become like us. This little letter addresses the idea of barriers - and how to address them in the body of Christ. The example is a real life situation - a slave, Onesimus, had run away from his master - a man by the name of Philemon. The slave came to Rome and got saved under the Apostle Paul. Paul then told Onesimus to do the right thing and go back - but he sent with him a letter - packed with hints and downright demands that the master act like Jesus - instead of how his culture modeled. And it is a good model for us when it comes to relationships with members of the body of Christ.
Background: Written about 60AD (same time as Colossians and Ephesians). Philemon was a leader in the church - a church which met at this house. Onesimus could have been beaten, jailed, or even killed for running away.
Slavery was taken for granted in the first century -- 85 to 90 percent of the inhabitants of Italy were slaves. Usually those with financial means would own slaves. Under Roman law, a slave could expect to be set free in seven years. How slave owners treated their slaves could vary greatly, depending on the temperament of the owner and the performance of the slave. Owners could inflict cruel punishments upon slaves, considered as their property, usually by whipping or beating with a stick. Like thieves, runaway slaves were branded on the forehead. Others were imprisoned. Many slaves died from mistreatment or imprisonment, but it was illegal to take the life of a slave without a court order. Philemon had the power; Onesimus was powerless.
(from The Life Application Commentary Series copyright (C) 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000 by the Livingstone Corporation. Produced with permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.)
Onesimus was a runaway slave and a thief. He met Paul while the Apostle was imprisoned in a rented house (his 1st imprisonment in Rome). Onesimus became a believer.
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.
(4-5) Paul is very strategic, even in his greeting. Notice that he thanks God because of his faith (he believes in the teachings of Jesus) and his love for all the saints. This will become very key as he delves into the matter of asking that Philemon accept Onesimus back without retribution.