THE SERVANT GENERAL
BECOMING LIKE CHRIST
November 11, 2010
Today’s reading brings us to a very short letter of
Paul in the Bible, the letter to Philemon. Often, this letter
is glossed over, as it seems it does not have much to offer
with regard to pastoral or theological inputs. But what Paul
says in this letter is really quite profound. Paul has come
to the point where, in addressing the human situation of Onesimus
the slave in relation to Philemon the master, he has taken
on the very posture of Christ.
was a slave who ran away from his master Philemon, was converted
to Christ by Paul, served him for a time, and now was being
sent back by Paul to his master. How has Paul used this situation
to be like Christ?
although he had “the full right in Christ to order (Philemon)
to do what is proper, (he) rather (just urged him) out of
love” (v.8-9). God our Creator owns us as His creatures,
Jesus our Lord and Master has purchased us with his blood
and we are his slaves, but God never forces us to do what
is right and good. Rather, God in effect appeals to us, providing
us the grace we need, so that we would freely choose to do
good. God, out of love, does not violate our freedom to choose
Paul says, “if (Onesimus) has done you any injustice
or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, write this
in my own hand: I will pay.” (v.18-19a). Jesus paid
the price for our sins. How great and inscrutable is that?
The King of kings took the form of a slave and gave his life
for us on the cross.
Paul tells Philemon, “you owe me your very self.”
(v.19b). By giving his life for us on the cross, Jesus freed
us from slavery to sin and the dominion of Satan. But now
we have become Jesus’ slaves. We are slaves of Christ.
We owe him our very lives, our freedom, everything that we
are. We are to be obedient to him in everything. We are to
live our lives for him.
Paul asks Philemon to accept Onesimus “no longer as
a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially
to me” (v.16). We were all slaves to sin and darkness,
but now we are freed by Jesus. Even more so, we are restored
to our relationship with God as our Father. As such, we are
all brothers and sisters to one another, all part of the one
family of God, who dearly loves us all. If so, then we are
to love one another with the love of God. We are never to
consider anyone as inferior to ourselves, because we are all
children of God.
Paul asks Philemon to “welcome him as you would me.”
(v.17). We are first of all to see Christ in each other. We
are children of God, made in the image and likeness of God,
having the dignity that befits such. Of course our image has
been tarnished by sin, but the reality remains. Further, we
are to work such that indeed such image is restored. This
is why Jesus sends us, his disciples, to evangelize and do
mission. We are to help bring people back to God and to fullness
of life in Christ.
So we see that Paul has taken on being Christ. Now Paul also
says to us, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
(1 Cor 11:1). We look to Paul’s example, knowing that
if we follow in his footsteps we will be following in the
very footsteps of Jesus.
want to emphasize two concrete aspects of this.
we need to realize that hardships, suffering and pain for
the sake of the Kingdom are necessary and even desirable.
Such suffering is redemptive. Often we suffer because of injustice.
That makes our suffering even more beneficial, for we take
on the injustice of the cross of Jesus. This cross is the
icon of our Christian faith. Like Paul then, we are called
to suffer for the cause of Christ, and to rejoice in such
we are to give our lives for the sake of the gospel. By our
work, including the attendant sacrifices and suffering, we
are to participate in the redemptive work of Jesus, by helping
bring people to conversion and transformation in Christ. God
has made Himself dependent upon His people to proclaim the
good news of salvation in Jesus. This is, as Paul claimed
for himself, “God’s stewardship given to me to
bring to completion for you the word of God” (Col 1:25).
This too is our calling. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.
Paul addressed this letter to three people: Philemon, Apphia
and Archippus. He referred to them, respectively, as co-worker,
sister and fellow soldier (v.1-2). In this once again we are
reminded of the call to discipleship, that we are to be brothers
and sisters to one another, fellow workers for the Kingdom,
and comrades-in-arms in the spiritual war that rages around
us then continue to love and care for one another, and be
about the work of the Kingdom through our work of evangelization
is then that we, like Paul, can become like Christ.
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