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by Lenora McWhorter  
8/18/2007 / Bible Studies

There are many man-made walls in our society today that divides and separates. They were present in the New Testament era. The Roman, Greek and Jewish cultures
had many barriers. However, Christ came to tear down the partition of sin and remove all barriers that keeps us from becoming one with God and with one another. the Apostle Paul addressed this issue in (Colossians 3:11). "Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised, uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in
all." In Him is freedom and deliverance.

Based on what Christ has done on our behalf Paul wrote to Philemon, who was a slave owner. He was a fellow worker of Paul's and had been led to the Lord by him. Philemon then opened his home and allowed it to become a meeting place for the local church. In a bold and tactfully written letter, Paul affirmed that in Christ all walls come down. He paints a beautiful picture of grace, forgiveness and restoration. Paul wrote from prison to make a personal plea for a slave who had become a friend, and to remind all Christians that Christ calls us to oneness.


Slavery was very common in the Roman Empire, and under Roman's law a slave who ran away from his master could face the death penalty. Onesimus was a domestic slave and Philemon was his owner. Onesimus apparently stole from his master and ran away. He went to Rome and by God's providence he met up with Paul. There he heard the gospel message and was saved. Onesimus served Paul while he was imprisoned, so he was not only a brother in Christ but became a fellow-worker. Accepting Christ changed everything for Onesimus. He had to examine his life and make right those things that was wrong. With Paul's help Onesimus agreed to go back and face Philemon.

Paul became an intercessor for a slave in the same way Christ interceded on our behalf when we were slaves to sin. In preparation for his return Paul wrote a persuasive letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus. Rather than use his authority as an apostle and tell Philemon what he should do, Paul appealed to his love and faith toward the Lord. A mutual relationship of love and trust had developed between these two Christian brothers. Paul was bold enough to believe Philemon would do the right thing.


Paul addressed Philemon as dearly beloved and expressed his admiration for him. Paul knew of his Godly character and of his good works.(Philemon 1:7) He gave Philemon a chance to make a choice. He would have to respond to what Christ had done for him and decide how he should respond to Onesimus. God sends people across our paths and give us opportunities to live out our faith. Slaves masters had the legal right to put slaves to death for this crime. Paul asked Philemon not to punish Onesimus but forgive him. He emphasized that Onesimus would be more useful now than before. He was changed, a new person and desired to make a new start. "Receive him, as you would me" Paul pleaded. (Philemon 1: 17). Forgiveness and restoration was behind Paul's request not punishment. He wrote, "Even though Onesimus ran away for awhile it was a temporary separation. It worked out for good because having converted to Christianity now he will be yours forever.(Philemon 1: 15).


No longer a slave but something much better, now a beloved brother. Paul wrote that Onesimus was not the same person he was when he left. The Master-servant relationship
had changed. They were now brothers and equals in Christ. What a difference Christ makes. How powerful is His grace toward those who accepts Him as Lord. He takes us from a low position as slaves to a higher position as brothers. Paul laid down a principle for all times, that the Christian status exceeds all other distinctions. Philemon himself could reflect on how Christ had picked him up from where he was and made him joint heir to the throne of God. No matter what we may have done grace reaches down to us and give us a new start. No condition is beyond God's grace, it is greater than all our sins. Paul asked Philemon to accept Onesimus back as he would receive him. They were friends an co-workers in the gospel. Now Paul wanted Onesimus to partner with him and invest in the life of a young convert.


The extent of Paul's commitment is evident when he agrees to pay any debt Onesimus owes his master. He writes, "If he owes you anything just charge it to me." How like Christ was Paul's attitude. Mankind owed a debt and could not pay it. In the same way, Christ took our sin debt and put it on His account then paid it in full. He took our sins and gave us His righteousness as an act of His grace. A clear illustration of redemption and reconciliation is shown in this letter. Christ came to restore us back to God by removing the barriers that alienated us. Reconciliation is not cheap, it cost God His only son. God valued souls but He couldn't lower the cost. It required a sinless sacrifice, therefore Christ became the spotless lamb of God to take away man's sin.

Paul ended the letter by saying, "In loving confidence I know I can count on you to go beyond what I have asked." (Philemon 1:21). Paul knew Philemon's heart and held him in the highest regards. From one trusted friend to another, Paul added without hesitation, " I am sending Onesimus back and I will be visiting soon." How admirable to be a friend and co-worker in Christ. Paul started a process to change the relationship between slaves and their masters. He emphasizes that in Christ bridges are built not walls. The epistle clearly shows that the gospel changes the social structure by changing one heart at a time.

I am a retired early childhood educator. Currently Working part time in a senior training program. Writes Sunday School Quarterlies for a Christian publisher, for the kindergarten class. Teaches Bible study and other Christian education activities. Writes poetry as a hobby and enjoy traveling.

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