Christian Slavery or Christian Love?

Continuing my study of small books of the Bible I decided to look at the book of Philemon. I must confess I couldn’t even remember the name of this book and were it was in the bible, other than I knew it started with a P and was in the New Testament. I just remembered that it was the one about the slave who was sent back to his master. I was looking at this book again because I remembered it had to do with reconciliation, mercy and goodness, which I’ve been thinking lately.  This unassuming book written by Paul to a house Church leader, Philemon, is well worth the read. It examples how goodness, mercy and love are meant to be lived not just taught.

It’s so simple in its story yet so rich in its message. Onesimus, a slave who ran away from Philemon, is being sent back to Philemon, his Christian master, by Paul after having met the apostle Paul and having his life changed. This letter was written by Paul on behalf of Onesimus. Paul is entreating Philemon to take his former slave back and treat him well. That’s it, that’s the extent of the story, a runaway slave who became a Christian is being sent back to reconcile and serve his Christian master again.

The depth of the book however is so rich and touching. Paul is appealing to Philemon to take back Onesimus and treat him like a brother rather than a slave. The amazing thing is that Paul, knowing the character of Philemon, knows that he will not only great Onesimus as a brother but will even do more than that,  but treat him with love. He will not do the minimum required in reconciliation but that Philemon so reflects the character of God that he will do so much more.

Phil: 21 “Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

It is a stunning account of reconciliation of the indebted to his debtor, the transformation of a useless slave to a useful brother.

This book does not recount the gospel explicitly, nor is it full of theological discourse or apologetics but it is full of love and Christian principles. It is the application of the Gospel to life. As Christ forgives us, us who had been indebted to Christ unto death, so to is a Christian asked to forgive the slave who ran from his rightful master.

It may be noted that essentially Paul is sending a runaway slave back to his master, back to slavery, but we cannot use this as a justification for slavery, as some might, we must use it to breakdown the barriers of slavery and reconcile slave to master not to equal footing but to brotherly love. If a man loves his slave as a brother and a slave loves his master likewise what risk of inequality is there? None!

We are all slaves to sin set free by another, Jesus Christ, in Christianity. The issue is not slavery, its bigger than that, it’s about love.

Jesus Christ is our master who lovingly reconciled us to him but did so much more. God the father has made us co-heirs with Christ, adopted sons and Daughters of God himself, adopted into the family of God by faith alone. When you think about it we should be slaves who grovel before him and plead for mercy but should not receive it because we are not owed it nor do we deserve it because of our sin. Yet, God in his goodness, love and mercy came to us even while we were still disobedient slaves, and didn’t even recognize our need for forgiveness and mercy, and he died on the cross for us.

A man might treat a good slave with kindness but what kind of man would treat a disobedient slave with mercy and elevate him as a brother? Christ would and so should we.

Teaching the Gospel: Step 2

How does the Gospel affect us and play out in our life? It does so in the all encompassing process of redemption and salvation where by we are Justified, Sanctified, and ultimately Glorified.

Justification:

We were guilty, sinners before our God, but when we believe God forgives us and counts Jesus righteousness as our own. We are justified when we acknowledge Jesus Christ as our saviour and repent of our sins. Usually when we talk about salvation we mean that WE WERE once saved, we are talking about Justification.  This is our new life, this is what the Christian is talking about when they say they are born again, that they have believed and Jesus righteousness and death on the cross has made us right before God.

Sanctification:

Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and more like Christ in our actual lives. In Sanctification we are BEING saved.

Even if you are not a runner you can imagine a race. You can imagine that when the gun goes off you begin to run hard and fast with great excitement; or maybe you start out more hesitantly and take your time. As the race goes on your speed might change, faster or slower, you might even stop to catch your breath, or you may trip and fall. Running a race is the example that the Apostle Paul gives for the Christian life. He is emphasising the need to run, the need to push on, to strive for victory.

The Christian life is a marathon and by faith you’ve been given the opportunity to run it. It is not easy but there is a great reward at the end but it takes perseverance to get there. The Christian life is not a ride. We are expected to continue growing in faith seeking after God, If we don’t we might not finish the race. None of us is fully prepared for this race on our own, but the Lord has sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide and our helper, our coach. The lord gives us strength and with his strength we can persevere in faith.

The idea of sanctification might scare many evangelical Christians because they have been taught again and again that they are not saved by works and because of that any discussion of works and salvation in the same paragraph can cause them a lot of hesitation. However the Bible clearly teaches that the response to the unmerited justification that we receive from Christ is good works, again and again and again and again the Bible makes this clear. You see those who are saved by grace not by works are saved by grace to good works.

When I speak of works I speak of the outpouring of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. John makes it clear in 1 john that if we are Christian we are assured if our new life produces love for others. So how can we know we are on the path of sanctification and are being saved? We can know by the state of our heart. If our heart’s deepest desire is to learn how to love God and others more we are on the right track. It doesn’t mean we are perfect yet. The works we produce gain us no special merit but serve as a reflection of an internal change, if these works of love are absent then can it be said of a person that they are saved? The Bible says no.

Glorification:

Glorification is the final step in the application of redemption. It will happen when Christ returns and raises from the dead the bodies of all believers for all time who have died, and reunite them with their soul, and change the bodies of all believers who remain alive, thereby giving all believers at the same time perfect resurrection bodies like his own.

Glorification is what we are striving towards, the prize, the goal the gift from God to those who faithfully persevere. It is in Glorification that we WILL be saved.

What does it benefit a person to begin the race, to lose sight of the goal and fall away or stop racing? Nothing! Glorification is the end result of our pursuit of God and a life lived seeking to love.

Glorification is the final act of the redemption process. When Jesus Christ returns those who believe, and as proof of their belief genuinely continued in faith, they will be rewarded with a new glorified body in a bodily resurrection.

Conclusion:

This is salvation, not that we are saved, but that we are being saved by Jesus Christ. That we are justified to a life of sanctification and when we come before God we will be glorified and it is all a gift of grace from God, not our own power that gets us there.