Philemon: The Gospel Tears Down Walls, Part 3
Have you ever heard someone say the Bible is just a book of rules? The book of Philemon is a strong example of this not being the case! We are finishing our series on the book of Philemon entitled, “The Slave Journey’s Home: The Gospel Tears Down Walls.” What happens when a slave runs away, meets the Apostle Paul, becomes a believer in Jesus, and returns to his master with a letter from Paul? Reconciliation happens! Why? Because of the power of the Gospel. The Word of God is more than a book of dos and don’ts—it is alive!
Paul has the unique privilege of knowing both Onesimus and Philemon. He is able to speak to Philemon in a real and tangible way. He tells Philemon that just as Christ forgave and reconciled him to God, he needs to forgive his new brother Onesimus and welcome him into the family of faith through reconciliation. That is living life through the lens of the Gospel. How do you need to follow Paul’s lead in your life?
If you missed Part 1 of this series, Listen Here
If you missed Part 2, Listen Here
Steve Conover: This is the Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is Chris Katulka and today we're continuing our series on Philemon, A Slave's Journey Home. We've all been hurt by someone before. Maybe you've hurt someone and it's damaged your relationship. It's a natural part of life. But how do we deal with it as Christians? And that is the backdrop to Philemon, which is 25 verses long. And it's a personal letter about a wealthy citizen of Colossae whose slave, Onesimus had wronged Philemon and ran away. Onesimus, after meeting Paul, came to faith in Jesus Christ. And now, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter in hand. A letter encouraging Philemon to welcome Onesimus, not just as a disobedient slave, but as a fellow brother in the Lord. And Chris, last week we looked at the ministry of reconciliation we've been called to through Christ. Where are we headed today?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, we've been going through this, this small letter to Philemon, we've looked at forgiveness. The fact that Paul encourages Philemon to forgive Onesimus, to reconcile with Onesimus, but now we're going to see that Paul is going to do something counter cultural in Roman society and also I think in our society today as well, which is to tear down those societal barriers in Christ and not look at Onesimus just simply as a slave. But now as a dear brother in the Lord. That's just counter cultural.
Steve Conover: That's great. We can't wait to hear the third installment of this series, but first in the news, the Jordanian government suspended the filming of a fictional movie about a boy who uncovers an ancient stone with a Hebrew inscription on it in the city of Petra. The Jordanian government halted the filming over the plot's portrayal connecting the history of the Jewish people to the country of Jordan.
Chris Katulka: This is such an interesting news article that I found because here is Jordan, they're halting a film that's being filmed in Petra that has to do with the fact that they're scared that it's going to show that the Jewish people had a presence in Jordan and there's plenty of archeological proof to show that the Jewish people did have a presence in Jordan. It's there. We have the proof to show it. But see the government, the Jordanian government is scared that this film will open the door for Israel wanting to claim land on the eastern shores of the Jordan River, which is just absurd. What this really shows us, I think, it is that that peaceful relationship that exists between Jordan and Israel is actually quite strained right now. And we can see this happening from the actions like this. Suspending a film that's coming out of Amman, Jordan.
Steve Conover: Chris, how long had Israel had a presence in Jordan? Is there any biblical evidence for that?
Chris Katulka: Oh, it goes way back. Number one, that tribes, like the tribe of Gad was in Jordan at that time under the Davidic kingdom and the kingdom that King Solomon had. There wasn't a Jordan then. It was one big area and it also is included in the promise that God made to Abraham, but that doesn't mean Israel today wants to go in and take Jordan. That's not going to happen.
Over the past few weeks, we've been studying the letter to Philemon, a small letter written by Paul himself to Philemon, a wealthy citizen of Colossae whose slave Onesimus ran away. And in this process, Onesimus encounters Paul. And himself, he comes to faith in Jesus Christ. Onesimus was a very useful person to Paul, while he was imprisoned, but now the imprisoned apostle is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and Paul's purpose to send Onesimus back to Philemon was quite a risky move. In the first episode, I spent some time talking about the differences between slavery in the first century AD in Rome and slavery in the 17th and 18th century in America. And if you didn't get a chance to listen to the past two episodes of Philemon, I encourage you to go to foiradio.org and there you can find the past two episodes that we've been looking at with Philemon and any episode that we've been doing for the past several years. But it's at foiradio.org.
Now, let's get back here. Onesimus was still considered a slave to Philemon. He was Philemon's property under Roman law, and there's no doubt that Paul had asked this runaway slave to return to what could potentially be a severe and life endangering situation for Onesimus. Paul asks Onesimus essentially to step out in faith and to return to Philemon but in Onesimus' hand is a letter Paul wrote to Philemon and in the letter Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of love.
In the first episode, we saw how Paul recognizes that Onesimus wronged Philemon by not only running away from him, but also probably stealing something from him, defrauding him in some way. Paul offers to pay back Philemon whatever debt Onesimus has accrued by his actions. Paul is asking Philemon here to forgive Onesimus, but forgiveness comes with boundaries. Philemon could've said, "Fine, I forgive you, but you have to go work somewhere else." Or, "Fine, I forgive you, but speak to me through this person from now on." Any good Christian counselor will tell you, forgiveness with boundaries is healthy, but Paul wants more out of Philemon. Philemon is a church leader, his home, Philemon's home is actually a place where a local church in Colossae meets.
Because see, Paul wants Philemon to see this experience through the lens of the gospel. Just look at how Philemon and Onesimus are much like the experience between God and His creation. Just look at the connection here. Philemon, is head over his household, Philemon is head over his estate. And Onesimus is a part of that household. Onesimus breaks a relationship with Philemon by wronging him in some capacity and running away from him.
And again, the picture of the relationship with God and His creation. Adam and Eve were created by God to serve God, to love God, to worship God, but they chose to disobey God and they wronged God and ran away from Him. Now watch this, as a result, God and man became enemies. The unique and special relationship that existed between the two of them when God created them was broken, severed, but God made a way through His Son, Jesus Christ. Even Jesus says in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
"You want a relationship with God the Father, you must come through me," Jesus says. And through me is where you find forgiveness. Through me is where you find reconciliation with God. It's through Christ where reconciliation is found. God not only forgives you for how you've sinned against Him and wronged Him, God actually goes a step further and welcomes you back. He welcomes you into the family. He didn't forgive you and say, "Now stay over there so you don't wrong me again." No, He forgives you and says, "You are my son. You are my daughter." He reconciles you and me through Christ to Him.
And this is exactly what Paul was appealing to Philemon on. Paul actually writes to Philemon in verses 15 and 16 of his letter, and listen to what he says, "For perhaps it was for this reason that he, Onesimus, was separated from you for a little while so that you might have him back eternally, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord."
Notice what Paul does here. He doesn't just say forgive Onesimus, he requests that Philemon welcome him back no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother. The reconciliation Paul is writing about here is totally counter cultural. It goes beyond the cultural norms of that time. See, the moment we say the word slave, even for me, it kind of sends chills up and down our spine. When we think of that word and all that it means in the 21st century, we don't even want to say the word slave. But see, for Philemon and for Paul and Onesimus, this is just a normal part of life and what's abnormal is for Paul to say to Philemon, don't look at him just as a slave anymore. He's more than that. See, this is abnormal for Paul and Onesimus and Philemon. He's saying, look at him now as a brother who has finally returned home.
Friends, God shows no partiality. God doesn't judge you on your skin color. He doesn't judge you on the basis of your gender or your nationality or your ancestry. God doesn't judge you on how much money you have in the bank, or how much land you own or how big or small your investment portfolio is. God doesn't judge you on your position at work, how successful you are or how much power you have. Listen, even in God's judgment, He shows no partiality. God's judgment of you will always be based in the currency of righteousness and the one thing we know is that even the wealthiest people on this planet could never afford the righteous standards of God. The only one who could satisfy God's righteous standards is Jesus Christ.
And it's for this reason Paul loves, he used this phrase in all of his writings, in Christ because it's in Christ we find our righteous standing with God. It's in Christ we find salvation. It's in Christ we find forgiveness and freedom. And just think about this, Onesimus tried to find freedom on his own as a slave. Slaves in the first century could eventually buy their way out of slavery into the free world and here is Onesimus, he stole something and he ran away from Philemon in search of freedom. And now Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and Onesimus is no longer looking for freedom in himself because he's found freedom and forgiveness here it is, in Christ.
The apostle Paul says, "Our ministry, even for us today, is a ministry of reconciliation. We are called to connect people to Jesus who is the one and only one who can bridge the divide between God and man. The only one who can reconnect us with God." And just listen to what it says here in Second Corinthians chapter 5, verses 17 through 18, "So then if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. What is old has passed away. Look, what is new has come and all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation."
Listen to what Paul says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." Paul is saying that God shows no partiality. If you are in Christ, you are a new man. And look, God also shows no partiality again when it comes to judgment. Look in Revelation chapter 6, is Christ is opening the seal judgments and God's wrath begins to get poured out. Listen to what the apostle John writes in Revelation chapter 6, "Then the Kings of the earth, the very important people, the generals, the rich, the powerful and everyone, slave and free hid themselves in caves among the rocks of the mountains."
Friends, every type of person is labeled there. Why? Because God shows no partiality when it comes to reconciliation, and He also shows no partiality when it comes to judgment, which for us today, listen, even today is counter cultural. And when we return, we're going to continue this conversation on Onesimus returning to Philemon. Not just as a runaway slave, but again, Paul is challenging everything here for Philemon. He wants him to look at Onesimus, who's wronged him, no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother in the Lord, in Christ. Be sure to stick around.
Steve Conover: When we read the Scripture, sometimes there can be a disconnect between our modern world and the world of the Bible. It's easy to forget that the authors were virtually all Jewish and that we worship a Jewish messiah. And remember, Christianity is deeply rooted in Judaism. To the early church, Christianity was not a different religion from Judaism, it was the fulfillment of all that was written in the law and the prophets.
Chris Katulka: The DVD entitled Jewish Roots of Christianity takes you to Jerusalem for eye opening insights into the link between Judaism and Christianity. You can watch various interviews by Israeli Christians, including the Friends of Israel's very own Pastor Meno Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivor Zvi Kalisher.
Steve Conover: To order your copy of the DVD, Jewish Roots of Christianity, go to foiradio.org or call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Again, visit foiradio.org to order your copy of Jewish Roots of Christianity or call us at (888) 343-6940.
Chris Katulka: I can't stress enough, I said this in the previous episode that when you read your Bible, if you're just reading it to learn more knowledge, then you're doing it for the wrong reason. If you're reading the Bible just to learn about Jesus or to learn more about doctrine, then you're missing the point. The Bible isn't an encyclopedia. It's unlike any other book that's ever been written. Because see, the Bible is alive. Its words are God's words and when God's words, when they interact with the Holy Spirit in your life, it's supposed to do something radical. It's supposed to change you.
And Paul wanted Philemon to see this situation with his runaway slave Onesimus, who wronged him. Paul wanted Philemon to handle this situation through the lens of the gospel. Just as Christ forgave you, Philemon, just as Christ reconciled you to God Philemon, I want you to forgive your new brother Onesimus and welcome him into the family of faith through reconciliation.
Listen, gospel centered reconciliation, which is just another way of saying biblical reconciliation or reconciliation through the eyes of God, it has no social, economic, or racial or national or ancestral boundaries. Essentially, God wants us to see each other, believers in Jesus, the same way He sees us. The apostle Paul says in Galatians chapter 3, verses 26 through 28, "For in Christ, you are all sons of God through faith. For all of you who were baptized into Christ, have clothed yourself with Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither slave nor free. There is neither male nor female for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."
Again, Paul using that phrase, in Christ. There is no aspect of demarcation among anyone who believes in Jesus. There is no Jew or Greek in God's eyes. And here is one that applies specifically to Philemon and Onesimus. There is neither slave nor free and then there is no male or female. Here Paul tears down all ethnic boundaries, socioeconomic boundaries, gender boundaries. By tearing down these boundaries that exist, he gives equal value to everyone in Christ.
But here's the thing, there are still Jewish people and there are still Gentile people. That distinction actually does still exist. And think about this. There are still men and women, contrary to what some would have you believe in our culture today. There's still a distinction between men and women. And after Paul wrote this in Galatians and the letter to Philemon, the distinction between slave and free men still existed in Roman culture. See, I don't believe Paul was telling Philemon to free Onesimus of his slave status. We don't actually know what happened to Philemon and Onesimus. But I believe Paul was saying to Philemon, "Don't just see a slave when you read this letter, but instead see a brother in the Lord. Look at Onesimus the way Christ sees Onesimus."
Because in Christ, both Philemon and Onesimus are equals. Think about that. In Christ, both Philemon and Onesimus are equals. And the same applies to us. We are to show no partiality when it comes to the gospel. Paul's first three chapters in the book of Romans lays bare the truth that everyone needs a savior because everyone has fallen short of the glory of God. Because everyone, Jew, Gentile, male, female, free man and slave has sinned. And the reconciling ministry we've been called to is one that is reconciling the world, as Paul says. That's everyone, to Christ. When Onesimus stands before Philemon after wronging him and running away from him, Paul sends him home with a message. The man standing before you, Philemon, has wronged you just as you once sinned against God. But in Christ, in Christ, the two of you stand united in fellowship, able to serve the Lord together. The two of you stand together, as different as you are, as many boundaries exist between you. The two of you stand together as a sign to the world that in Christ everyone finds true reconciliation and freedom.
Friends, Philemon is a small letter with a heart wrenching scenario and Paul puts his theology in everything he's written down in his letters to put feet to his theology. It's easy to read theology, but it's harder to put it into practice. Let this letter encourage you to make the words of scripture come alive in you. To work through you so that we might live out the ministry of reconciliation, inviting all people into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: For many days I had been asking myself, how do I find people like me who survived the Holocaust so that I may bring them the gospel of Christ? Speaking to them about faith is not easy. They do not want to hear about the Bible, but as we say in Israel, “if God wills it, even a broom can shoot.” Recently, a friend came to my home to ask for my help. "Zvi," he said, "I know a 90 year old man was a Holocaust survivor and does not want to hear about the Lord. Would you please come and speak to him? He only wants to speak with people who have suffered as he did because only they understand what he's going through." "I'm ready," I said,
So I went to his home with my friend. We talked for quite a while and began to develop a friendship. I asked him how he dealt with all he endured during World War II and I listened to his reply. Then he asked me the same question. "In the beginning," I said, "it was very hard for me, but over time I started to read the Holy Bible and grow closer to the Lord and it gave me hope and the courage to go on living. During the Holocaust I was jealous of those who died. I was 10 when the Nazis came through Poland where I lived. I was separated from my family and have never seen them again. When the war was over, I came to Israel and someone gave me a Bible and I read Psalm 27:10 where it is written, “when my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” He gave me courage to live and even enabled me to encourage others who walked that same long road of suffering. And here I am today, no longer suffering because I put my trust in the Lord."
He had many questions and I told them how I came to know the Lord personally. At the beginning of my visit, he was extremely distraught, but he paid great attention to everything I said and in time I saw great joy appear over his face. Then I opened the Bible and began to read to him. He listened and I could sense the Lord's presence.
I have spoken to other Holocaust survivors and they all ask the same questions. How can you speak about faith in God? You know what I have lived through, where was God then? I asked him, "How old are you?" "I am 90 years old," he replied. "And who gave you this long life if not God himself? You could have died in Europe, but He brought you here and is taking care of you. So if you want to know where God was, look at yourself. He was with you the entire time so that you should come to know Him and tell others about Him." I showed him how God had blessed his chosen people by giving us back the land He promised to us and to our descendants forever. Despite all we've gone through, God has not forsaken us. As it is written, "You are my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified."
Steve Conover: We're so glad you joined us today. This concludes our study of a Slave's Journey Home and you can hear the other parts in the series at foiradio.org. Chris, what's the big takeaway from Paul's letter to Philemon?
Chris Katulka: I think in Christ, the thing that we see is that everybody has equal value in Christ. We live in a world today that wants to demarcate and create boundaries and set up systems, and that's fine. And I do think that those things don't break down. I actually think that those systems will always work that way. However, in Christ, the way Christ sees us, is through His forgiveness and reconciliation. He sees me and you as equals. He sees the powerful and the weak as equals. Anybody in Christ is equal to Him and of value to Him. And so I think that's what Paul is really trying to communicate to Philemon that Onesimus, yeah, he might be a slave, but forgive him for what he's done and welcome him in as a brother. Oh, that's just, that's just radical.
Steve Conover: Such an encouragement to our hearts, for those of us that are in Christ. The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. If you feel led to support our work here, or you simply want to reach out to us, visit us at foiradio.org. That's foiradio.org. In the United States, you can call our listener line at (888) 343-6940. Again, that's (888) 343-6940. You can write to us at FOI Radio, PO Box 914 Bellmawr, New Jersey 08099. Again, that's FOI radio PO Box 914, Belwmawr, New Jersey 08099. Call our Canada office at (888) 664-2584. Again in Canada, (888) 664-2584 and please let us know where you're listening when you call or write.
Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern, and our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of the Friends of Israel Gospel ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry, communicating biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
The Jewish Roots of Christianity DVD
The DVD entitled The Jewish Roots of Christianity takes you to Jerusalem for eye-opening insights into the link between Judaism and Christianity. Watch various interviews by Israeli Christians including the Friends of Israel’s own Pastor Meno Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Apples of Gold: You Are My Servant Israel
“How do I find people like me, who survived the Holocaust, so I may bring them the Gospel of Christ?” Zvi often prayed this prayer asking for opportunities from God. One day he was asked to visit a fellow Holocaust survivor who desired to share his story. Zvi was able to talk through the heartache they shared but also the hope God had provided. See how Zvi’s faithful prayers to share his faith were answered in a big way.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available in our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available in our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.