Summary: This sermon is designed to inspire the reader to include others into our fellowship, regardless of what they once were. We must break down the walls that divide us and have a heart of "inclusion" with everyone we meet.
Illustration: Many years ago, my wife and I visited my parents in Florida, and we attended my Mother's church. She was relatively new to the congregation but she was proud to have us. As we entered the foyer, she began to introduce us saying, this is my son Jeff and daughter- in- law Rita. Each person smiled and asked where we were from and what I did for a living. After about 4 introductions, they all asked the same questions. At the time, I was still on active duty with the United States Air Force, and when I said "I'm in the military", each person ended the conversation and walked away from us. I found this very strange and I mentioned to mother that people seemed very interested in my occupation more than anything. I was sufficiently annoyed by this and quickly realized my "status" was not very appealing, and they found no reason to further the conversation.
One last little elderly lady asked "and what do you do up there?" (everyone is from "up there" if you are visiting Florida), and before answering her, I turned my head to my wife and winked. She knew my next response was going to be something cute (at least I thought it would be cute), and I said "Mam, I'm a garbage collector". (not that being a garbage collector is bad in any way. Just used it to make a point)
From that moment on, nobody greeted us nor wished us well when we left. I realized one's "status" was very important to the attendees of this church. Sad.
The Apostle Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:11(NIV) - "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all"
Read the book of Philemon verse 1 through 21:
Status. What is the definition of status? Simply put, it's what identifies us. The world identifies us..... comparing us to the world. Christian status is what our identity is in Jesus Christ.
What was it really like to go from a slave, to a brother in Christ? What was it like to have a status change almost overnight, then be included as a Christian Brother? Just ask Onesimus.
Verse 1 & 2 tells us who Paul was writing to. 1. Philemon (a fellow worker and a wealthy man and church member in the city of Colosse) 2. Apphia (may have been Philemon's wife) 3. Archippus (may have been Philemon's son) and 4. to the church that meets in Philemon's home. (of course it was written to you and I as well)
This letter was written by Paul and would be known as one of the "prison letters". Paul was under house arrest in Rome and guess who shows up? It was a guy by the name of Onesimus. Apparently Onesimus knew Paul and journeyed to see him. He was in a pickle. He fled from Philemon. Onesimus was his slave. He was tired of being a slave. This was a no no back then. Usually, if a slave ran away, he faced the penalty of death if caught. Slaves were regularly executed because they were a nothing. They held no status and were useless. Ironically, the name Onesimus means "useful". I don't know if Paul or Philemon knew this, but it's more than coincidence that Onesimus eventually ended up being useful to both Paul and Philemon.(verse 11).
Verse 8 and following is an appeal to Philemon for Onesimus. Paul said he could "order" Philemon to take him back, but Paul appealed out of a sense of love. Verse 10 indicates Onesimus was converted when he said "I appeal to you for my son....who became my son while I was in chains". Verse 11 starts with the word "formerly". I like that word. Before we became Christians, we all were formerly....something or another. We all were once useless, but we became "useful". This is the thrust of the entire story. We all were equal.....lost sinners. Now we are equal in another way. We are saved sinners.
Paul said he was "sending him back" in verse 12. Apparently Onesimus was a great guy because Paul said he would have liked to keep him. My guess is it would have been hard for Onesimus to stay with Paul since Paul was actually imprisoned in his home by the Roman authorities. Paul sent him back....to be restored not as a slave, but as a man of worth.
Paul knew what he was doing and found this situation as a teaching moment for Philemon and to the church of Colosse. That teaching moment inspires us today. It teaches us "inclusion" and "acceptance".
On national TV, President Ronald Reagan appealed to Soviet Union President Gorbachev concerning the Berlin wall. One may remember those famous words "Mr. Gorbechev, tear down that wall". When I heard this, it sent chills up and down my spine. President Reagan was preaching inclusion, solidarity, fellowship, and unity. The great Apostle Paul was preaching the same. Paul appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus not only as a forgiven slave, but as a brother in Christ. Viola! Status changed. He went from garbage collector to Christian.