The power of transforming freedom

If you love something, set it free, if it comes back, it is yours, if it doesn’t, it never was. This sentiment, or some variation of it, was popular in the seventies — the Me Generation.

Inevitably, someone put a cynical spin on it — if it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.

Slavery centers around people and possessiveness

Slavery is a form of possession. It comes in different forms and levels—from human bondage to indebted servitude to some inner enslavement of the soul.

Whatever its form—slavery is slavery. Slavery reduces a person to an object — it is inhumane.

Slavery reduces a person to an object

Slavery has existed for thousands of years and is mentioned in the Bible. Some people question why the Bible doesn’t condemn slavery but seems to accept it. But the short personal epistle of Philemon refutes the idea that God approves of slavery, as does the book of Exodus.

Many of the activists for the abolition of slavery were people of faith. People who believed in God as a Creator of all humanity. It is still the case.

A young woman whom I know and encourage established a ministry that empowers women to resist rape and human trafficking and also restores those who’ve been victims of rape. She’s worked in several war-torn areas.

One of the more notable anti-slavery activists of the 19th century was William Wilberforce. He was a member of Britain’s Parliament and championed an Abolition of Slavery bill that passed three days before he died. His fight against slavery consumed him and his health for more than four decades.

Slavery centers around people and possessiveness

In the time of the New Testament, the majority of people in the Roman Empire were slaves in some form or another and most of the Christians in the early church were servants or slaves because of poverty and inequality.

The epistle of Philemon gives us some insight into how spiritually mature Christians viewed the plight of slavery in the context of the Christian faith.

Maybe Onesimus was gone for a while so that you could have him back forever — no longer as a slave but better than a slave — as a dear brother.

He is especially dear to me, but even more so to you, both as a person and as a Christian. (Philemon 15–16 GW)

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra on Unsplash

Paul appeals to a man of status in Philemon who was a believer—a follower of Jesus. A church met in his home which was the direct result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus—a major city in ancient Asia Minor.

Paul makes the case that Onesimus—whose name means useful—is much more valuable than a slave. Onesimus is a man and a brother in the faith because of the work of God’s grace in his life.

Although Onesimus had stolen from his master (Philemon) and run away, now he was a changed person.

He was forgiven and redeemed by God and Paul had found him to be useful as a fellow-servant in God’s kingdom.

Onesimus gained a new status and usefulness by becoming a fellow believer.

He was a changed person—forgiven and redeemed by God

Since Paul was the spiritual mentor of Philemon, he appeals to his brother in the faith to forgive and receive Onesimus, whom Paul raises to the status of his own child (Philemon 10).

It’s interesting how Paul focuses on the person redeemed by God from his slavery to sin and death—not the right or wrong of slavery itself.

His reasoning with Philemon—the former owner of Onesimus—is based on the equality all three men have in God’s kingdom.

The power of God’s redemptive grace brings true transforming freedom from all forms of slavery. This is the message every believer carries in their heart because of God’s gracious work in their life.

This short epistle serves as a guide for reconciliation in a godly manner.

It underscores the nature of genuine Christian faith — the power of the cross, the redemptive work of Christ—is more valuable and important than any cause, no matter how noble it is.

God’s redeeming grace brings real transforming freedom

Some questions and thoughts to consider—

If God’s grace has set you free — reflect on how it has and how it can extend to others in your life.

  • Are there people you tend to see as inferior to you?
  • Is there anyone you hold resentment or unforgiveness towards?
  • Who in your life can you extend some type of kindness?

Choose to be intentional and gracious towards those you encounter this week, especially if they have wronged you.

Blessed with a great wife & family, called & gifted—only because of God’s grace— to teach and train leaders, disciple, and write—as a pastor/missionary.
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Blessed with a great wife & family, called & gifted—only because of God’s grace— to teach and train leaders, disciple, and write—as a pastor/missionary.

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