Key verse: Philemon 9
Big idea: Love changes everything.
Philemon is one of the most unique letters in the New Testament. Paul wrote to a slave owner about his runaway slave who had been converted under Paul's ministry and was now returning. The apostle explained that, as an apostle, he had the authority to simply command him to release Onesimus and free him to aid Paul but he preferred to let Philemon choose to do the right thing out of love instead. This is a radical approach and emblematic of the way the New Testament completely undermines the institution of slavery, although it did not call for its immediate total abolition. Rather, it pushed on a basic contradiction between the biblical worldview and the idea of one human being owning another: is he worth more to you as a slave for a lifetime or as a brother for eternity? Paul put his money where his mouth was, offering to pay whatever was necessary to reconcile their relationship.
Maturity often means that we are not given specific answers to every dilemma we face. While a toddler might have very specific rules for every scenario, an adult is going to operate on broad principles which apply in complex ways in the moment. Voting in an election when neither party is perfectly biblical, choosing a spouse or a college, changing jobs or moving are all complex decisions for which there can be no simple proof-text. But when we combine the boundaries the Bible does place on us with the overarching theme of love, we can find the path God wants us to take. When we love, massive social institutions are transformed, not by rallies or gunfire (although those things have been used in history for good), but by the subtle influence of one relationship at a time. When we love, we no longer steal, kill or cheat. When we love, we do not look to be served. When we love, the thought of owning another person, whether through literal slavery or softer forms of power, is repugnant. There is only the desire to give others a small portion of what Jesus has already done for us. Love changes everything.
Discussion idea: Why did Paul not simply call for the immediate abolition of slavery? It is worth noting that slavery in biblical times was usually for a set time as a debt was paid off (like what we would call indentured servitude) rather than the race based chattel slavery which was not invented until the modern era.
Prayer focus: God, transform my heart to live in love. Remove the barriers that divide me from others and help me to see that if I have genuinely been loved and transformed by a holy God, that nothing between me and another human being could ever compare.
NOTE: Tomorrow is our second (and final) catch-up day this year. so there will be no devotion Have a great weekend! Next week, we will pick up Mark, then 1-2 PEter, then John, 1-3 John and Revelation to close out the year. We are almost there!