Giving Transforms: Philemon and the Gift of Mercy and Fellowship

Philemon had lost a valuable commodity - a slave. Well, not lost exactly. The slave had run away, far away, to Rome. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in Rome the runaway slave, Onesimus, meets Paul and becomes a follower of the Way (not necessarily in that order).

Paul writes to Onesimus’ master, his old friend Philemon, the host of the local house church. Paul asks Philemon a favor. Let Onesimus go free! After all he’s a brother in Christ now. Paul goes on to say that if Onesimus owes you anything just put it on my bill. While you’re looking for my bill, I’ve got one here for you. You owe me (Paul) something too-- everything.

Philemon is being put to the test. Paul is asking him to demonstrate his faith through giving. Philemon must give up a valuable material possession, a slave worth a large amount of Roman gold. But that’s not all. Paul is also asking Philemon to give up his pride and his class consciousness by receiving Onesimus back into his house—as a freed man! Philemon would have to show the neighbors that his former slave, a runaway for that matter, is now his equal and his brother in Christ.

The story of Philemon shows us the two sides of giving. Giving may always seem like an external act, a transaction involving material goods. Here Paul teaches us that giving is a demonstration of faith, and in that faith we find fellowship, sacrifice, and mercy. Just as the Lord gives us mercy and material provision, so we too must offer mercy and our worldly goods to honor the Lord.

For Further Reflection:

  • What do we own that is dearer to us than our membership in the Body of Christ?
  • How can we honor God by freeing up our resources for His purposes?
  • In what ways can our generosity free others from bondage to sin, guilt and unbelief?
  • When we consider that we are stewards of all God has entrusted to us, how can we show our love for the Lord by loving our neighbor?

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