How far are you willing to go to be family for your brothers and sisters in Christ?
I have made the case on this site that true gospel community means living as a family with your brothers and sisters in Christ. That sounds good in theory but what exactly does it mean in practice? I think a good place to answer that question is found in the book of Philemon.
The small letter of Philemon was written by the Apostle Paul to one of his converts in the town of Colossae. Philemon, the addressee and namesake for the book, was a wealthy believer who had several slaves who worked for him. One of these slaves was named Onesimus. Onesimus had apparently stolen some money from Philemon and fled his household eventually landing in the city of Rome. In the kind Providence of God, Onesimus ran into Paul who shared with him the gospel which led to his subsequent conversion. Paul then writes the letter to Philemon as a means of affecting reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus.
What is remarkable about this letter is how Paul uses the gospel to demonstrate how it radically redefines relationships. Consider the following:
I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother.
– Philemon 12 – 16a (emphasis mine)
Is there any doubt that Paul saw the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon radically different in the light of the gospel? Even though Onesimus would still be a slave, or at least and employee of Philemon, he should also be considered a brother.
This is not idle talk because Paul also demonstrated here what brothers do for one another. Look at these verses found a little later in the same passage:
So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
– Philemon 17 – 20
Paul put his standing and his wallet on the line for Onesimus. His use of the word brother was not just talk because he backed it with his walk. This is the kind of family that the gospel makes. This is family.
How you been family like that to one of your brothers and sisters in Christ lately?