the weblog of Alan Knox

The community and conflict

Posted by on Sep 30, 2008 in community, scripture | 6 comments

Are you familiar with Paul’s short letter to Philemon? Apparently, Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves. Onesimus ran away (an offense punishable by death), and perhaps also stole something valuable from Philemon.

While running away from his master, Onesimus ran into Paul. Through is encounter with Paul, Onesimus also “ran into” Jesus Christ and was converted. For some time, Onesimus worked with Paul sharing the good news of Jesus Christ wherever they went and strengthen the churches that they passed by.

At some point, Paul found out that Onesimus was a slave who had run away from Philemon. Paul knew Philemon and some of the other brothers and sisters in Collosae. Paul told Onesimus that he had to return to Philemon in order to seek his forgiveness. Paul wrote a letter to Philemon which Onesimus was supposed to deliver. This was a very personal and intimate letter dealing with a possibly serious situation.

Can you imagine that conflict that might have occurred between Philemon and Onesimus? Yes, Philemon was a Christian, and, yes, Onesimus was now a Christian. But, we know that Christians do not always act Christ-like.

But, Paul included help for both Philemon and Onesimus his letter. Read the opening of Paul’s letter to Philemon:

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: (Philemon 1:1-2 ESV)

Did you catch that? Paul did not address this very intimate and personal letter ONLY to Philemon. He also included Apphia, Archippus, and the entire church with which they met. Paul did not intend for Philemon and Onesimus to “work this out” on their own. Why? Because relationships between believers is very, very important. And, these relationships are not only important to the people involved, but to the entire church.

We make a mistake when we keep relationship problems – even serious relationship problems – to ourselves. We mistakenly think that we can prevent further problems by not getting other people involved. On the contrary, Paul sets the example for us – the church should be involved in relationship problems, because relationship problems affect the entire church. (See also Philippians 4:2-3 where Paul talks about another relationship problem to the entire church.)

Its time to stop hiding our relational conflict and problems and start allowing God to work through his church to reconcile those problems. (By the way, this assumes that we already have REAL relationships among the people that are part of the church.)


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  1. 9-30-2008

    Excellent observation and I think you are SPOT ON!

  2. 9-30-2008

    Great post! I think that Paul’s example in vv18-19 are equally important. Paul follows the example of Christ–“If he has done you any wrong, charge it to me…I will pay it back…” Paul gets right in the middle of the situation. Are we willing to do that?

  3. 9-30-2008

    Very good, very good indeed. Your post points out that this letter and each little hidden tidbit is a letter well worth meditating on. As we may often find ourselves the receiver of such a letter, the sender of such a letter, the witness to such a letter, and the ones lacking such a letter sent or received, all throughout our Christian lives.

  4. 9-30-2008


    What a refreshing thought! Christians concerned for the other instead of proving themselves righteous!
    You need to be careful:)
    I mean; this is radical thinking! Someone is bound to put a label on you 🙂

  5. 9-30-2008

    Joe (JR),

    Thanks. Have you had any experience handling conflict in the church?


    Yes, exactly. We should do whatever we can – including giving of ourselves, our time, our energy, an dour resouces – to help reconcile broken relationships.


    Yes, we can learn alot from these letters – even the short letters.

    Aussie John,

    I don’t think I’ll have a problem until someone actually has a conflict. Then, we the community actually gets involved, people don’t necessarily like it. They want to keep their problems “secret”.


  6. 9-30-2008

    Oh yes brother… LOTS. Some of it created by my own immaturity,:-) but much of it has been dealing with conflict resolution and helping people work through junk.

    I have chosen to express some of my conflicts through the use of poetry. I also write occasional “3rd person” posts, that are really my own story, but written in such a way as to protect the innocent 😉

    If you have never read it, Making Peace” by im Van Yperen is a great book. He also runs a ministry that comes into churches and helps them work through this stuff.