the weblog of Alan Knox

Philemon and Community Living

Posted by on Mar 4, 2010 in community | Comments Off

Consider Paul’s address to his recipient(s) in his 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)

Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke comment on this address:

[Paul] makes the assembled community co-responsible for the implementation of his concern—the brotherly reception and treatment of Onesimus. All those worshiping together, men and women, the rich and the poor, those more and those less educated, including slaves and children, are charged an enabled to exert some pressure on the slave owner, if ever he would prove reluctant to fulfill Paul’s expectations… All those present are expected to hear the reading of his letter, to ponder its substance, and to assist one another in making decisions and taking actions… While the decision to be made by Philemon and his future permanent attitude toward Onesimus are very personal matters, they are yet not so totally his private affair that they are nobody else’s business… [The letter to Philemon] announces an invasion of privacy and reveals that every distinction and separation of personal from private matters contradicts Paul’s thought and intention. In other words: Paul’s ethics is social ethics. (Markus Barth and Helmut Blanke, The Letter to Philemon: A New Translation with Notes and Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 262-63)

They say that Paul’s “social ethic” was revolutionary in his day. It is still revolutionary today. Are we truly willing to invite our brothers and sisters into our “private affairs”?