June 19, 2011

Gain Is Loss & Loss Is Gain

The paradoxical story in the letter to Philemon and how it ties into the Bible at large.
Freedom isn't as free as you think it is and slavery in Christ isn't what you think it is either.
Philemon was free
Onesimus was a slave
Paul is prisoner

Paul is in chains literally but is free figuratively
When a valuable or property (Onesimus) was lost he was not quite as valuable
When the valuable or property (Onesimus) is returned he was of unsurpassed value
Loss is gain
Gain is Loss

Philemon lost his property but gained a brother. He lost what was commonplace but gained something in its place of much more value. What was lost monetarily was regained ten fold spiritually. When Onesimus ran away, spiritually he as worth little. When he returned he was priceless. All because of the work of God.

...no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord." ~Philemon 16

He had to temporarily loose to gain much more in return. A recurrent theme in the Bible. We loose our old lives of sin in exchange for the much more valuable gift from Jesus Christ, eternal life. To loose the world is to gain God, to gain the world is to lose God.

Philemon temporarily lost Onesimus when he ran away from his master. He lost the slave and lost the productivity of the slave in his absence. Runaway slaves in the time of Philemon and Onesimus was essentially a capital offense and worthy of stoning. For Philemon to accept Onesimus back and not punish him would have at least been uncommon but for Philemon to accept him back as a brother in Christ would've been unheard of.

Paul not only encouraged him to do the latter by taking Him back as a brother, Paul also sung the praises of Onesimus and strongly remind Philemon that if it hadn't been for Paul he really wouldn't even have himself.

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. ~Philemon 11

I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. ~Philemon 19

Paul is asking essentially for leniency on behalf of Onesimus if not outright freedom now that the former slave is a believer and part of the body. He is also asking on account of Onesimus' utility and usefulness for the Lord. Onesimus initially ran away because his "utility" and "usefulness" were being used and taken for granted as a slave. He is now returning for the exact same reasons he left. The difference is Onesimus left serving as a slave to man, he returns serving as a slave to Christ.

The tremendous irony in the letter is Paul himself. Paul on the other hand being and excellent servant of the Risen Christ, is still a form of slave himself as a prisoner to the world's system for serving Christ.

"I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel." ~Philemon 13

The real truth is neither Paul nor Onesimus was truly guilty of a crime of immorality or moral violation. Paul was preaching the word of the Lord and Onesimus was a slave but according to the world system (which is corrupt), they had violated mans laws.

This entire small letter is riddled with quirks of fate, irony, juxtaposing and is layered thickly with analogies. It is an often overlooked book in the New Testament but it speaks volumes by saying little which is another of its interesting contrasts.

In the end, what looked like a disaster from man's point of view was a great outworking of God's grace and providence. It is also a wonderful example of the Christian's new life and the change it should have on the believer. A small but very mighty book. The longer the letter to Philemon is studied the more value it produces. The return is vastly greater than the time put into it.

They are paradoxes that our day and age have a hard time getting their heads around. Paradoxes are situations or statements that leads to a situation which defies intuition. Our intuitions are often defied because they are flawed. Paradoxes require us to rethink our presuppositions. They are completely counter intuitive to our individualistic me-me-I-I society. The more I see paradoxes like these in the Bible, the more it amazes and astounds me.

Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. ~Luke 17:33

And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. ~John 12:23-26

The loss of Jesus' life was necessary for God to grant propitiation for our sins. In allowing Himself to be crucified God highly exalted His name above all names. Jesus Christ. In our humblest service for God and fellow man we exalt Him and He in turn rewards us whether it be in this world or the next. When we exude the "mind of Christ" we best exemplify what it is to be Christian. Serve others and you will be lifted above by God.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
~Matthew 5:3-10

To the world they appear as paradox but they are not so much paradoxes as they are a need to embrace a way of thinking that is not of this world or its system. Where we end, He begins. When we die to this world of sin it is then that we truly live in Christ as it was intended a long time ago. Praise God.

I rarely ever reference Eugene Peterson's "The Message" Bible paraphrase but his paraphrase of this passage is excellent in today's jargon and sums up many of these paradoxes nicely:

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don't see many of "the brightest and the best" among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn't it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these "nobodies" to expose the hollow pretensions of the "somebodies"? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That's why we have the saying, "If you're going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God." ~Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Little is much when God's in it. We need to realize that there are no paradoxes from God's point of view. He is the source of all knowledge and truth. Being so he knows all and doesn't base His thoughts on intuition or presumptions. He is all, and we should praise and worship Him.

Sometimes our ideas of what is proper, what is right...its not being seen correctly through God's eyes. It is only when we see things the way the Lord wants us to that we can truly see things they way that they're suppose to be seen. When we finally start to see things the way God intended, it may very well stand everything we understand on it's head.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...