WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
An international Sunday school lesson commentary
For Sunday May 23, 2010
A WELCOMING COMMUNITY
(Extend mercy as you have received mercy from GOD)
The world will never have any use for Christianity, unless, we as Christians, prove through our behavior, that Christianity produces the best men and women. And one of the best ways for Christians to reflect GOD’s image, is by showing forgiveness and mercy towards one another.
Paul’s personal epistle to Philemon is a terse, but wonderfully written letter to a friend and close co-worker in CHRIST, by the same name. It is written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome in the early A.D. sixties, just a few years prior to his death.
Philemon was a wealthy Christian who lived in the city of Colosse, and, who was the employer of a run-away servant named Onesimus (Oh-NESS-ih-muss)., whom Paul indicates, had refused to work off his debt to Philemon, and, had probably, in addition, stolen from him to finance his own escape (Philemon verse 18).
In biblical times, it was quite common for a person to trade menial services for money, food, or other things, or, to place themselves in bondage to another person in order to pay off a debt that was owed to that person. They became that person’s servant for as long as it took to pay off the debt (up to six years for Hebrew male servants – Exodus 21:2), and in some instances, the debt would even fall to the servant’s offsprings for payment, becoming the burden of the next generation (Exodus 21:4-6).
In the King James Version of scripture, the word "slave" or "slaves" is translated from the original language only twice, once in the Old Testament (Jeremiah 2:14), and once in the New Testament (Revelation 18:13). In all other occurances, including this passage of Philemon, the word "servant" is translated from the original Greek and Hebrew text, not "slave". The definition of the word "slave" is "one who is bound in servitude to another without payment for services (beyond the food and clothing necessary to sustian)". The word "servant" is defined as “one who is employed to perform services for financial gain, or in lieu of payment of debts owed”.
Onesimus was indebted to Philemon and thereby was his servant. He had run away from his responsibility of serving off his debt. However, while he was on the run, and hiding in Rome, he came across Paul, who converted him to CHRIST. He then began working with Paul in the church and became quite an asset to Paul’s ministry in Rome.
However, Paul realized that Onesimus had a responsibility to Philemon and that he should somehow make restitution for his wrongdoing. He felt that Onesimus must return to Philemon, offer to make things right, and ask for mercy regarding his offensive actions against his superior.
Here in this letter, Paul pleads with Philemon on Onesimus’ behalf, asking him to show mercy on the Christian brother who voluntarily returned to face punishment for his transgressions, not the unbeliever who had wronged him earlier by violating their agreement and stealing from him. Paul asked this graciously as a favor to him, rather than demanding, as Philemon’s superior, that he comply to his wishes (verses 8-9).
Paul wanted Onesimus to be reconciled to Philemon, who was also a Christian, so that he would have a chance to demonstrate his new approach to life as a Christian who desired to render honest service to a superior.
I believe that it would be safe to assume that Philemon yeilded to Paul’s stirring request. In fact, there is great historic speculation that this is the same Onesimus who later became the Ephesian bishop whom the great early church leader, Ignatius, mentions in several letters to the church at Ephesus.
GOD wants us to show love, mercy, and kindness to those who live around us, and, to everyone, whom we may come in contact with on a daily basis, even if they are not related to us, or, don’t look like us.
Christianity challenges us to become a welcoming community that can grow beyond our discriminatory practices and behavior and become more like CHRIST, by allowing “self” to wither away, and die from our hearts. And it also requires us to show mercy, and to forgive our debtors, just as GOD forgives us our debts, through the vicarious sacrifice of CHRIST JESUS.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
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