July 21, 2011

Prisoner For Christ XX: Grasping The Paradoxes

The irony or paradox of Paul writing this letter from prison is that he is writing it on behalf of a runaway slave. Two men that are/were being held against their will for what appear to be sinful reasoning by their holders: Slavery and preaching the Gospel. By legalities, Onesimus should still be a slave but in reality he is currently free - illegally of course. Paul on the other hand has unjustly been made a slave to a prison (Evans 693, 694, Wiersbe 270) for preaching the Gospel as is noted in verses 1, 9 & 23. Because of the Gospel, Paul has become a slave to Christ and in so doing has also had his freedoms restricted under house arrest. Had Paul actually not been in prison he could’ve rightfully taken custody of Onesimus and accompanied him back to Philemon in Colossae. Under the circumstances he had to settle for writing a letter that would eventually be read by generations of people. Perhaps we should thank God Paul was in prison, had he not been this letter probably would never have been written (Rupprecht 460).

Philemon being the master and free is being asked to restrict his worldly legal rights by allowing Onesimus more freedom of movement as a fellow worker (Evans 693) and a fellow Christian or brother in Christ (Keener 646, Ridderbos 318). Paul is effectively asking Philemon and Onesimus to become servants/slaves of Christ. Paul who is in chains literally is freed by the thought of ultimate freedom from death the promise of the Gospel and Resurrection…the very thing that he proclaims that has imprisoned him (Evans 693, 694, Wiersbe 270). By Philemon losing his slave, he gained a brother. By Philemon’s temporary loss of Onesimus as a slave, Paul also momentarily gains fellowship and a brother while he is with Paul, hence Paul’s statement in (v.11), “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me” (Evans 695).

Philemon lost what was commonplace property but gained something much more valuable in return…a new member into the family (Kingdom) (Hendriksen 220). What was lost physically for the moment was regained ten-fold spiritually for eternity. At the time Onesimus ran away, spiritually he as worth little until he reaches Paul. When he returned he was priceless. Philemon’s loss is a gain for all Christians since Onesimus’ story now helps all Christians and has done so for the last 2000 years. Ironically, this is the same as when we lose our old lives of sin in exchange for the much more valuable gift from Jesus Christ, eternal life. To lose the world is to gain God, to gain the world is to lose God. Undergirding this all is the work and sovereignty of God. The real truth is neither Paul nor Onesimus was truly guilty of a crime of immorality or moral violation and are in bonds because of dubious reasons/reasoning. Paul was preaching the word of the Lord and Onesimus was a slave against his will. They are paradoxes that our day and age have a hard time getting their heads around. The more I see paradoxes like these in the Bible, the more it amazes and astounds me. Loss is gain and gain is loss in God’s equations.

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