I enjoy a good demolition project, tearing down walls, smashing things with a sledge hammer, prying, pulling and incinerating the consequent debris. Sometimes I like to dream big, on a much larger demolition scale I was thinking about a wrecking ball. I would love to sit in the operator’s seat of one of these wrecking machines, my hands controlling the swinging action of the massive ball of forged steel as it smashes through concrete, steel, and any other obstacles in its path. A ten-thousand-pound ball of steel has the potential to bring even the strongest barrier to the ground.
Paul’s letter to Philemon describes a different process of breaking down barriers, barriers that rise up in our personal relationships. Much like in Paul’s time, these barriers might include social or economic status, heritage, or even geographic location. Paul writes a very personal letter to Philemon in respect to a mutual acquaintance, a man named Onesimus who was a run-away slave from the house of Philemon. The barriers I am talking about in relationships are broken down by love, a love that is found through the power and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our relationship with Christ. There is a “bond among brothers” in this letter. Paul calls for the barriers of social status (Philemon as master and Onesimus as slave) to be disbanded, “welcome him as you would welcome me… no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother”, brothers in Christ. If you read through this short letter you will find some great insight into what a God honouring relationship looks like, you will see love, trust, respect, confidence and most importantly, Christ.
Brothers and sisters in Christ loving one another without judgement and without fear, that is a beautiful picture that I hope to see one day. The foundations of the barriers that get in the way of authentic Christ centred relationships are made up of the things of this world, things that focus on us. Exemplified through the life and death of Jesus Christ, the foundations of all our relationships need to be built with one key ingredient, love. Our first love should be for Christ and in the knowledge of Christ’s love for us, when that shines through so then will our love for others. Lives are transformed by love, we don’t need wrecking balls to remove barriers, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome them.
Boldness, confidence, love, prayer-fulness, thankfulness and encouragement. These are a few of the themes we can discover in the short 25 verses that make up the words of Paul as written in the book of Philemon.
Paul displays for us the boldness he had and the boldness we ought to have in approaching our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is a boldness shaped by the confidence that he had in God to prepare the heart of Philemon to receive Onesimus back into his home as a new brother in Christ. Understanding the source of love in his own life we see how Paul communicates his love to others through this letter. Prayer and thankfulness are poured out between the partnership Paul and Philemon shared in their faith together. This models for us a need to continuously pray for each other as believers, to carry on loving and caring for each other. Not only is Paul encouraged but he is filled with joy because of the work that has been completed through Philemon, he continues to encourage him as a friend and Christ follower to accept the changes in the new life of Onesimus.
As I journey ahead I pray that with God’s help and using the people He puts into my life that I can apply all these examples (actions) to my own life.
Have you ever been in a conversation with a friend or co-worker and used this expression “it’s a small world”? I am referring to the intricate web of human connections that are a part of all of our lives. I believe that God in his own timing connects each of us with other people according to his plan for a purpose.
As I look into the personal letter written by Paul to Philemon I see how God used their relationship (their connection) to not only help change the life of Onesimus but also as an example for us of Paul’s passion for the lost and his influence as a leader.
Onesimus, a runaway slave from the house of Philemon is hiding out in Rome and through God’s design connects into Paul’s life that at the time is imprisoned and becomes a Christian. Knowing that Onesimus needed to right himself with Philemon Paul sends him back to Colosse with this personal letter urging Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to welcome him as a brother in Christ.
“I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of Love”(vs. 9), this appeal as leaders should be the focus of how we should not only lead but in how train new leaders… in love. How better received is an appeal in love than a command or order from those who lead. In Paul’s words to Philemon we get a sense of respect and appreciation for the work that he has done and for the future work ahead of them.
As leaders we need to look back at 1 Corinthians 13 and be reminded of what leading in love requires. Leading requires patience, leading requires kindness, leading requires being humble and leading requires being truthful. As leaders when we come to the table with an attitude of love for others and for our creator we will be used to help build His kingdom.