Archive for September 7th, 2010

 A Bible Study of Philemon:  Part I


      This past Sunday (the 5th, and for the Lexington Lutheran Mission, LLM, Saturday the 4th) an entire book of the Bible was read for the second, or Epistle, lesson.  The Book of Philemon is about a page long letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to his brother and co-worker in the Lord, Philemon, regarding Philemon’s runaway slave, Onesimus. It has 25 verses, only one chapter.  Read or re-read Philemon and then read on! I plan to look at selected verses from Philemon every day this week

       I think it would make sense at times to read the lessons in their chronological order:  Old Testament, Gospel, and then the Epistle reading.  Many times the Epistle is actually a commentary on the Gospel as the Gospel is the fulfillment of the Old Testament.  This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Luke 14:  25—35, our Lord speaks on the right ordering of family in following Him.  Philemon, in an indirect way, is about family in Christ Jesus as testified in the lives of Paul, Philemon and Onesimus in the Lord’s Church. 

      Jesus had been teaching folks to invite people to the banquet of the Kingdom of God.  He commands us to invite the least, the last and the lost (Luke 12:  12-24).  Then comes that hard saying in which He teaches the crowd about hating family and self if they would follow Him:  Luke 14:  26.   Yet Jesus quotes the 4th Commandment as absolutely valid (see Matthew 15: 3—5) as all the 10 Commandments:  so, how He can say to hate family and self?   Family, your self, and “the wealth we call our own” (see Luke 12:  22—34), are gifts from God.  But in following the Lord,  when the gift is seen as the Giver, then they are death and so our Lord commands, take up your cross and follow Me (Luke 14:  27). When self, money and family, are ultimate, then they are death. It is then slavery…and Philemon on many levels is about slavery.  And the Cross means the one thing necessary:  His forgiveness.  After all: the 4th commandment is not the 1st one and we tend to idolize quite easily family, wealth and the self on a daily basis! So daily, we take up His Cross, His forgiveness and receive the same in Word and Sacrament as His Church, His family.

      Notice the many references in Philemon that bespeak of family in Christ:  “brother” and “sister”:  verses 1, 2, 7, 16(!), 20;  father/Father:  verses 1, 10(!));  “my child”:  verse 10.  Following the Lord, even our families of origin, our households, (can) become part of the wider family of His Church.  The Church was meeting in Philemon’s home (verse 2: it would not be till centuries later that there would be church buildings, but house-churches, and the Church grew).  Obviously, Paul knew Philemon which meant he maybe had known Philemon’s slave Onesimus prior to seeing him in prison. (BTW:  Onesimus means literally “useful”:  see verse 11!).  Now Paul imprisoned (verse 10), probably in Rome, and Onesimus, who has run away from Philemon, finds himself in Rome in the slammer with Paul!  There, a slave, certainly one of the least, becomes a brother in Christ through the Word preached by the Apostle Paul.  And there Onesimus becomes a Christian!  In prison, along way from home, Onesimus becomes Paul’s child in the Faith (verse 10). Coincidence? 

 Thought/Discussion/Study Questions: 

 1.  There is an old saying, “You can choose friends but you can’t choose your family”.  Does that describe our families of origin and the family in Christ Jesus, the coming Kingdom?  Why or why not?  

 2. Have there been “coincidences” in your life that you knew the Lord was leading the way for you or someone else?

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