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Friday, February 17, 2012

A Christian Slaveowner?


Sunday is Freedom Sunday and so I want to talk about slavery and freedom. We have also been reading through the Bible this year as a church and have recently read through a lot of the Old Testament law that deals with slave regulation. This has provoked a lot of questions that are worth spending some time thinking about. Below are some of my thoughts on this in preparation for Sunday.

I moved from my studies about slavery in general to the letter (postcard?) from Paul to Philemon in the New Testament. 

In this letter, Paul basically makes a persuasive case for Philemon (a Christian slave-owner) to free his runaway slave who has recently surrendered his life to Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that slavery was a deeply rooted structure in the Greco-Roman and ancient Near Eastern cultures, Paul presses Philemon on the basis of the Good News to free his slave and then send him back to Paul to work with him in the mission field of Rome. It appears from other writings that Philemon did just that.

This is the crux of what we should get from this short letter. Martin Luther writes,

Even as Christ did for us with God the Father, thus Paul also does for Onesimus with Philemon. (NIVSB note for vvs. 17-19)

What did Paul do for Onesimus practially and spiritually? 


Paul witnessed and led Onesimus to Christ who delivered him from sin and death (principle of witnessing in the harvest)

Paul intercedes for Onesimus (principle of the priest: going to God on man's behalf)

Paul is willing to pay the debt Onesimus owes Philemon but persuades Philemon to forgive the debt (principle of forgiveness)

Paul wants Onesimus to join him in making disciples who make disciples (Principle of making disciples who make disciples - multiplication)

Paul had already done all of this for Philemon (2:2:2 or Paul-Tim-Elders-Others)


Applications for all Christ-followers to consider

1. We must open our mouths about slavery and freedom in Christ. 1) Free physical slaves (Strategy: Pray. Give. Inform. Go. Send.), and 2) Free spiritual slaves through the Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus died to pay our ransom and set us free from the sin and death we deserve. (Strategy: Prayer-Care-Share)

2. We must intercede for the captives. Jesus said this is why he came in Luke 4:18-19

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. (year of Jubilee) -Jesus NIV

Strategy: Fight poverty. Slavery exists because of sin and poverty. 

3. We must forgive. We start at home and work out from there. We lead by example. We must love our enemies, pray for them, and then lead others to do the same.

4. Make disciple-makers daily

5. Pass it on. Multiplication is a theological principle--not just a mathematical principle.


At the end of the day, you can see that Christian slaveowner is an oxymoron. If you're walking with the Holy Spirit, you won't consider other people as potential property. You'll see them for who they are: People created in God's image, damaged by sin but redeemable by Christ.

What am I missing? What questions are still out there? How would you respond to this?