As promised Paul’s letter to Philemon is short and to the point. After a brief introduction, Paul asks Philemon to forgive and free Onesimus. Paul appeals to Philemon on several levels - this letter is a master class on persuasive rhetoric - but his main argument is found in verses 15-16:
“Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother…” (NIV)
Paul affirms a Christian principle that is echoed throughout scripture - that in Christ there is “...neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28 NIV). God does not view us as black or white, rich or poor, male or female - He sees us as His beloved children, created in His image.
That certainly wasn’t a common perspective in Philemon’s culture - nor in ours. Human beings possess a terrible capacity for divisiveness, as anyone who studies the history of racism, nationalism or persecution can readily see. We almost instinctively draw lines between “us” - the people we love, respect and protect - and “them” - those we fear, hate and shun. We are constantly encouraged to show favoritism toward those who “belong,” while assuming the worst of those who do not. Sin distorts the way we see our neighbor so that we will feel no need to love him.
If we are to follow Christ, we need to begin by seeing those around us the way He does. We must challenge the preconceptions of our upbringing and the prejudices we inherit from our culture. We must continually adjust our worldview in light of the Truth, confirming each new attempt through the clear light of scripture. This task is not easy - and this side of heaven, we will never get the prescription quite right. But through dedication and grace, the lens through which we see the world will get better each day. As it does, we will find it easier to see the path He has set before us.
Who do you treat as an outsider? What person or group do you struggle to love? What prejudices lurk in your heart in need of correction? Ask God to help you to see more clearly and to love with His love.