the weblog of Alan Knox

Replay: Learning about community in Christ and conflict from Philemon

Posted by on Sep 29, 2012 in community, scripture | 5 comments

Replay: Learning about community in Christ and conflict from Philemon

Four years ago, back in 2008, I wrote a post called “The community and conflict.” I wrote this post after noticing that Paul’s very personal letter to Philemon (dealing with the issue of a runaway slave) was addressed not only to Philemon, but also to the church. Think about that… Paul was dealing with a very difficult issue that could cause personal conflict between himself and Philemon and/or between Onesimus (the runaway slave) and Philemon. But, he did not think it wise to keep this issue only between himself, Philemon, and Onesimus. He included the community…


The community and conflict

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.)

It’s 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.)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 9-29-2012

    It’s a real challenge, isn’t it?

    I’m aware of a man in the UK who had an affair, breaking his wedding vows, and leaving a lot of emotional pain and damage in his wake no doubt. And this is not someone who had been in the background, hidden and insignificant. He is a great speaker and started a charitable organisation. He accepted many speaking engagements and his name would be widely recognised here.

    He’s now vanished from the church scene and nobody talks about what happened. There is a feeling of shame and disappointment and betrayal. And also, I must say, a feeling of perplexed uncertainty. Nobody knows what to do except keep it all as quiet as possible.

    Paul would have been more concerned about reconciliation, I think!

    Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest are two other people currently in the news here ( ) As far as I’m aware neither of them knows Jesus. But if they had done, how would the church handle the situation?

    People do wrong things but hiding them doesn’t help to resolve them.

    We need to learn to face up to the facts just as Paul did. He set up Onesimus to confess, and he set up Philemon to forgive. He hoped to bring good out of a bad situation. He set us a great example, thanks for reminding us, Alan.

  2. 9-29-2012


    When I was growing up, the predominant response to conflict or sin was also to keep quiet (after getting rid of the “problem” person, of course).


  3. 9-29-2012

    Great reminder, and thanks !

  4. 9-29-2012


    Outsiders would regard the church in a more credible light if they observed the church dealing graciously with the sin of their members.

  5. 9-30-2012

    Aussie John,

    Yes, they would. Thanks!