Earlier this month I had the privilege of teaching a group of Grade 10 students at Saskatoon Christian School the Inductive Study Method. (More information about that method can be found here.) It was my third year being asked and the last two years we studied Jude, but as I began to pray about this year’s opportunity I clearly felt the Lord leading me to Philemon, the shortest of Paul’s surviving letters. What.a.journey.
From the moment we entered into our learning time together, it was evident that God was working in the hearts and minds of these students. They asked lots of questions. Good questions. Questions such as Do you think Philemon forgave Onesimus? How did Onesimus find his way to Paul? Was Paul manipulating a response out of Philemon? Who are Apphia and Archippus? (Philemon’s wife and son, in case you’re wondering.) ALL wonderful, thoughtful questions that promoted great class discussions and teachable moments!
As a group we came to understand that there are times we have to stand in the gap for people. We agreed that the ground is level at the foot of the cross and that every single one of us, at some point or another, does something that requires forgiveness from another person. (Life is messy!) We found ourselves in this letter and we were forced to think about how we would behave if someone stole from us. We lingered a while around the truth that Christ changes our lives and how in Christ we become new creations. New creations that are sometimes sent back to places where people are acutely aware of things we’ve done wrong or what we used to believe. (Before running away, Onesimus was an unbeliever in Philemon’s home.)
And while examining and questioning (some questions were left unanswered as the text does not tell us everything we want to know), we came to understand this: Christian love is lived out in ways that will stretch us, may make us uncomfortable, and it often requires us to do something. And not only that, we agreed that being in relationship with Christ and other believers changes us. Why did it matter what Philemon’s choice was? Because he was Christian and a leader in the church.
One of the greatest joys of my life is to see the scriptures, sometimes deemed boring and hard to understand by some, come alive. God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
Philemon’s a short letter, so my challenge to you this coming week is to read it. Feel free to share your questions and discoveries!
“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your Spirit.” Philemon 25.