True Christian ministry challenges people to be better humans. The bar is set pretty high… but it is ripe with forgiveness, restoration, and new starts. The goal is to encourage people from different backgrounds to work in concert to share God’s life-changing presence with the world. It’s not expected that Christians will be perfect or, more practically, pretend to be perfect. It is expected that they will pursue Jesus and, as a result, will be people who are being transformed by God. The personal letter that Paul wrote to Philemon is a great example of this high calling. It gives a real-life example of how one man was radically turned around and given a new status as a partner in life and ministry. It also challenges another man, and an entire culture, to rise to the occasion and accept the God-ordained dignity of this man. In this short letter, which must have accompanied his letter to the Colossians, Paul gently points to the high bar as he boldly defends Onesimus, a runaway slave, as a fully accepted co-worker in Christ. Read what Paul writes about Onesimus:
I became his father in the faith while here in prison…he is a beloved brother, especially to me. . – Colossians 1:10,16 NLT
Paul understood that Jesus frees people from the indignity of caste systems and oppression. Knowing this, Paul writes this letter as an appeal to Philemon, the former “master”, to receive Onesimus as a brother on equal footing:
Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.– Philemon 1:16-17 NLT
To add significance to his partnership-argument, this little letter reminds Philemon that he is part of a larger movement. In all, this letter mentions 10 people specifically by name, along with a church and house group. Look at these letter-closing, human-packing verses:
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you his greetings. So do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my co-workers. – Philemon 1:23-24 NLT
As noted by all of his writings, Paul didn’t believe in a lone-ranger or “hero” approach to ministry. He practiced an EVERY-person, hub-networked, co-worker concept.
HUB NETWORK SERIES: