Dashing Deals

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Slavery, What the New Testament Has to Say on the Subject!

Reading Response Paper #2: The Book of Philemon
Wendy Glidden

Professor: Dr. Lee
Colorado Christian University: College of Adult and Graduate Studies
May 23, 2015

We are told in our reading of Gundry that “Philemon became a Christian through Paul” (Gundry, pg 454). As brothers in Christ, they must have enjoyed a close relationship. We are also told that there were no church buildings for the early Christians to meet in, so the church meetings were held in individual homes. Since we learn in our reading that Philemon actually had a house church where Paul taught, one can assume they were close brothers in Christ who respected one another and loved one another greatly due to these verses:
[1] Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, [2] and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: (Philemon 1:1-2, NASB)
[7] For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. (Philemon 1:7, NASB)
[9] yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you, since I am such a person as Paul, the aged and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus. (Philemon 1:9, NASB)
On one hand, Paul points out that he could order Philemon to do as he wishes and on the other hand he points out that he loves and respects Philemon as a brother in Christ and with that being said, instead of ordering, he appeals to his understanding of the message of grace alone. Paul makes it clear in his opening that Philemon is more than just a believer of Christ; he is listed also as a worker. These combined verses speak very highly of a mutually respectful friendship.
It is clear in Paul’s letter that he believes Onesimus’ conversion to Christ changes the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus as more than simply master and slave. He even suggests the possibility that the reason Onesimus left the service of Philemon was all a part of God’s greater plan. Now instead of Onesimus being nothing more than a slave to Philemon, he is returning as a beloved brother in Christ:
[15] For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, [16] no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16, NASB)
Seeing how Philemon and Paul were close brother’s in Christ, there is little room for doubt concerning where Paul stood on the subject of masters and slaves; no matter what position one held in life, when you were committed to Christ, everything you did, how you worked, how you treated others, it all was in obedience to the Lord, not man.
A quick read of several verses makes it clear that those who were slaves prior to being called are in essence freedmen while now being Christ’s slave. It is also just as clear how masters were to treat their slaves. These are a few of the verses Paul wrote through various letters regarding the relationship between master and slaves in general:
For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:22, NASB)
Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. [23] Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men, [24] knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. (Colossians 3:22-24, NASB)
Masters, grant your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. (Colossians 4;1, NASB)
[5] Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of your heart as to Christ; [6] not by way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. (Ephesians 6:5-6, NASB)
[9] And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.
When it comes to slaves and masters that find themselves in the position to minister to others, Paul makes it adamantly clear that in order to not have both doctrine and God spoken against, we must be respectful of one another, regardless of social position. (1 Timothy 6:1-2)
Paul also writes about the way that bondslaves are to behave toward their masters in his short letter to Titus. When you consider the ultimate truth; that we are to love one another as we love ourselves, it makes it impossible to deny how we are to behave towards one another, earthly slave and master alike. Without demanding that Philemon forgive Onesimus, Paul insinuates as a follower of Christ this should be a given on the part of Philemon. To ensure that there are no hard feelings between the two, Paul himself offers to reimburse Philemon any debt he may feel he is owed by Onesimus while also reminding Philemon that due to Paul’s teaching, he himself has gained more than he could ever lose and in essence is truly owed nothing:
[18] But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; [19] I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self as well). (Philemon 1:18-19, NASB)
I truly think that Paul is quite a clever writer. He sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter knowing that as Philemon reads it, his heart will be softened in multiple ways. Not only will he have to accept Onesimus as a brother in Christ, he is most likely going to put him to work helping Paul as requested. How could he deny the very one who has risked his own life to share the good news with Philemon and so many others?
This letter certainly does not uphold slavery as an institution and at the same time it doesn’t really point to its demise. I think it highlights the truth that in this world, some of us are slaves and some of us are masters; some of us are employees and some of us are the bosses. Some of us have financial and material blessings and some of us depend on the kindness of strangers, and a few of us have been blessed to have walked in several of these shoes. No matter what our earthly position turns out to be, our role in this life is truly the same. We are to treat each other with kindness, love and respect always knowing that in the end we truly serve the same Master in heaven. In that respect, one could say that we are bondservants to Christ, even if we are considered to be free in man’s eyes.
When it comes to how I will apply what I have learned in both my ministry and my social life regarding this particular session, things have not really changed. For longer than I can remember, I have had the mindset that I don’t work or serve men alone. While I do love praise from my boss or my teachers, in the long run, all I do in this life, I do for the LORD.
When it comes to how I intend to treat others in the world, both through my ministry which in all honesty flows over into my social life, I am drawn to this Scripture:
[31] “But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. [32] All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; [33] and He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. [34] “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [35] For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; [36] naked, and you clothed Me, I was sick, and you visited Me, I was in prison, and you came to Me’. [37] Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give you something to drink? [38] And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? [39] When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ [40] The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
The only thing missing from this Scripture is forgiveness of transgressions. Paul makes it clear that this is something we should be willing to do for our Father in heaven has done as much for us. Since we are children of God, we should behave as Him. My favorite Scripture regarding forgiveness is this one:
[21] Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” [22] Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:21-22, NASB)
Christ is my LORD and Savior. He loves all of us. Much like Paul, I consider myself His bondservant. Therefore, I intend to serve Him all my days with all my heart, mind and soul, in all ways possible.

The MacArthur Study Bible, 2006, John MacArthur, Thomas Nelson Publishing
A Survey of the New Testament, 2012, Robert H. Gundry, Zondervan

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