He departed for a season

Devotional thoughts for the month of February 2020

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... where I discuss the thinking that led to this article.)

For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; Not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? (Philemon 15-16)

Paul’s brief letter to his friend Philemon reveals how God uses human-to-human relationships to advance his kingdom — and it has a plot that would make a novelist drool! In previous days, Paul had won Philemon to Christ. Subsequently, Philemon’s slave, Onesimus, escaped and stumbled onto Paul... and then Paul won him to Christ! But Paul felt compelled to return Philemon’s “property” ... so he took the opportunity to teach Onesimus the value of being a profitable slave.

Given our evil history with slavery, we Americans recoil at the image of slaves and “owners.” But we should not recoil against God showing people of all estates the value of a brother... because — slave or free — we are equal in the eyes of the Lord. The problem is, we are often stratified socially — and that’s just fine. Hierarchal relationships are ordained by God... and we suffer when they break down in society.

Onesimus’s story is like that of the Prodigal Son’s, and Paul wanted Philemon to play the father in the parable. After all, God the Father welcomes his children back after seasons of disobedience. When we stray, our salvation doesn’t. It’s the congenial relationship of the family that needs to be restored... not the spiritual DNA.

But the book of Philemon ups the ante: we are also someone’s property; we were bought with a price — the precious blood of Jesus Christ! (Galatians 3:13). So, we may run off too, but that does not change the fact that we are owned — and that we are responsible for that relationship... but again, do not think of American slavery here. Slaves in the Ancient Near East were often treated like family members. As such, a familial style of restoration was still on the table.

Should one run-off to find one’s self? No. A relationship’s highest value is love, and love should manifest in deference and obedience. The prodigal son had a brother who remained at home (although less than graciously), and if Philemon had other slaves, they probably remained at home too. So, although running off is inferior behavior, it does not disqualify us from enjoying the blessings of home after we return.

That being said, it is natural (and good) to be down on yourself if you have strayed and have been restored — and depending on the offense, you may be disqualified from certain ministries. But you will not be disqualified from serving God. You will just be in new circumstances. So, come home to God, turn your eyes upon Jesus... and serve him with gladness and thanksgiving.

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20200127 He departed for a season).

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