Race And Reconciliation – The Wisdom Of Philemon

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And He has made from one blood every nation (Grk. ETHNOS) of men to dwell on all the face of the earth…Acts 17:26 NKJV

“I want an impartation of your anointing for racial reconciliation,” I said to Apostle AK.

I already knew I had it, as evidenced with the Hutus and Tutsis, which is a story for another day if you haven’t heard it. But I wanted my anointing to increase, and I knew Apostle AK, the niece of a great apostle of racial reconciliation, had her own anointing and could impart it.

She said, emphatically, “There are no races!” I said, “I know that – Acts 17:26 says that God has made of ONE BLOOD all the ETHNOS of men.” She said, with fire in her eyes, “I don’t think you believe that!” I replied, without guile, “All I can ask is that you believe what I say.”

She said, “Put your hands up!” When she touched my hands, the lightning of God went through us and we both almost went down. She said, “You got a good dose!”

Afterwards she gave me some of her books. I started reading one while I was involved in ministering to someone. I began to laugh! She looks over at me and says, “What are you laughing about?!?” I said, grinning, “You and your uncle were Trekkies (fans of the TV show Star Trek), like me!”

We both laughed joyfully!

The question is – how do I walk again with my brother when there has been grievance and division?

In order to answer that, we have to set some basic biblical parameters, then build on them with the wisdom of Philemon.

He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? …Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Matt 15:3-7 NKJV

What happens when God’s Word conflicts with my culture and my family traditions?

Some conflicts, like what date do we celebrate Jesus’ birth – December 25th or Tishri 1 – are in my opinion pretty much innocuous. But other traditions demand that we compromise truth, and when we compromise truth, we compromise the very salvation of our souls. The traditions of men can nullify the effectiveness of God’s Word! And people wonder why their prayers don’t get answered and their giving bears no fruit…

Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks (Grk. HELLEN, but meaning the ETHNOS, or Gentile nations) or to the church of God… 1 Cor 10:32-33 NKJV

In addition to the ‘one blood’ principle as stated above, there are also three other truths that we must embrace before we consider how we can walk again with offended brothers, which involve the realities of how God sees people. First is that God only sees three groups of people in the world – Jews, Gentiles and the Church. Therefore, my Irish heritage has no special place before Him, nor does your heritage.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Gal 3:26-28 NKJV

Secondly, within the Church, we are all sons of God, with equal standing before Him whether we are male or female, and regardless of whatever socio-economic situation we may find ourselves. There is no ‘caste system’ in the body of Christ, bishops, priests and pastors are not ‘kings’ to rule peoples lives (in fact, just the opposite), and women have the same standing and access to ministries as men. If that offends your tradition, then adopt a new tradition. Obviously, how much melanin my parents had, or didn’t have, in their skin does not change my standing, or yours either, before God or in the body of Christ. Period.

Finally, I’m not responsible in any way to pay for my father’s sins, nor are you for the sins of your fathers. God is perfectly just – His justice is so perfect, that when I get to see it in detail, it takes my breath away! – and He will reward or judge every man according to the mans works in light of God’s Word. Man cannot judge the things that only God can judge, and guilt has no standing in the body of Christ where the blood of Jesus has washed away every stain. Are you with me?

In Philemon Paul appeals to a believer to receive back a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had gotten saved under Paul’s ministry in the Roman prison. The punishment for a runaway slave could be severe beatings or execution. But obviously, Onesimus was a changed man, in that he was willing to go back to his former master. Paul must now convince Philemon to receive him back lovingly. We will see a strong indication in the text that Paul led Philemon to the Lord. One way to read Philemon is in light of Paul being the Lord, and the Lord is seeking to have two of His children reconciled to each other.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved (Grk. AGAPETOS: little chunks of God’s love) friend and fellow laborer, to the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Philem 1-4 NKJV

Paul humbly addresses himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, even a physical prisoner, not a ‘big dog’ apostle. Humility is the approach of the reconciler. He calls Philemon his beloved! Already, any anger and bitterness in Philemon’s heart is starting to melt as he reads the letter.

I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. Philem 4-8 NKJV

He tells Philemon that he prays for him, and then he compliments him. He hasn’t even gotten to the purpose of his letter yet, and Philemon is very blessed. Can you see the heart of love that the reconciler brings into the situation to knit the hearts of these two men together again? This is how to overcome grievances and assuage anger and bitterness.

Therefore, though I might be very bold in Christ to command you what is fitting, yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you — being such a one as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ —  I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me. Philem 8-11 NKJV

An appeal rather than a command!

I am sending him back. Philem 12 NKJV

Paul knew the potential consequences for Onesimus. But He also knew the heart of his spiritual son Philemon, and that this was the right thing for all involved. Onesimus had the character and courage to go back, as well!

You therefore receive him, that is, my own heart, whom I wished to keep with me, that on your behalf he might minister to me in my chains for the gospel. But without your consent I wanted to do nothing, that your good deed might not be by compulsion, as it were, but voluntary. Philem 12-14 NKJV

Here is the heart of the argument – Paul says, when you receive him, you receive me! Think about that in light of your brother or sister in Christ! We receive each of our brothers and sisters as if they were Christ Jesus Himself. If we could hold that standard in our daily dealings with each other, we would never lose anyone.

If then you count me as a partner, receive him as you would me. But if he has wronged you or owes anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay — not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self besides. Philem 17-19 NKJV

Paul nails the argument, reminding Philemon that just as Onesimus owes Philemon for his damages, Philemon owes Paul for his very life. Thus he says, put it on my account. Brilliant!

Yes, brother, let me have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in the Lord. Philem 20 NKJV

By the end of the letter, Philemon is ready and willing to do anything Paul asks, even receive Onesimus back as a beloved brother in Christ.

Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. Philem 21 NKJV

Philemon is a love letter to the body of Christ, a letter challenging us to love each other even in the trying circumstances of grievances and division, even loving brothers and sisters who have intimately hurt and betrayed us. Its easy to love the stranger that you don’t know anything about, because we project certain qualities on to them. But when you know someone personally and they betray you, that is when love is really tested and brought to a higher level. That kind of love is what brings people together in spite of perceived and real grievances and betrayals. We overcome all in the love of God, and that is the truth in race and reconciliation. Love you!

Remember dear ones, we must be about our Father’s business…