Though the New Testament epistle of Philemon is just about 455 English words, it packs a powerful punch in its one chapter—that a new gospel identity should produce new gospel interactions. (Listen or watch the message here.)
But there are connected truths as well in Paul’s postcard to Philemon, as well as other applications. And the questions texted in during the message centered on those elements. So here’s a postscript to my message that I trust will provide some insight for our readers and listeners.
Q: What is your theology of giving? Can you give too much? If not, then why not give it all?
A: Though I don’t believe a tithe (i.e., 10%) is required, I do believe Christ’s followers have the responsibility to give sacrificially to and through His church. This is the pattern found in Acts and taught in the Epistles. I have laid this out in much more detail in our church’s position paper on this topic.
Your last two questions pose an interesting conflict, for I do believe we should “give it all.” But, ironically, I do believe you could give too much. What do I mean? Jesus consistently asked for everything, meaning a willingness to even sacrifice our life if necessary. So there is an attitude that undergirds all our giving and living—we don’t own anything and have already released any control or right to it. This encompasses everything—our time, talent, and treasure.
Yet, we are stewards. So there are things that we must manage and oversee, things that sometimes require money. If we neglect being an effective steward in specific areas because we have misused the money needed to do that (i.e., care for our family or pay our debts to name two), even by “giving it all away,” then we have poorly managed our resources and responsibilities. Essentially, we must consider ourselves as having already given up ownership of everything to God, yet responsible to manage what he entrusts to us in a proper way.
Lastly, keep in mind that Solomon encouraged saving for the future and planning ahead. This does not conflict with having faith, but rather is one of the wise ways to do exactly that. When Jesus called upon the disciples not to worry about the future, he wasn’t saying not to plan or save for it. He simply said don’t stress about it.
Q: How do we use the lessons from today’s study to repair a relationship with a family member who may not be interested in doing so?
A: Let me suggest one word in regards to your specific scenario: Time. I’ve listed the “lessons” below, but since you can’t force anyone to reconcile, and since you can’t mandate change in others, your best course of action is to be patient and consistent over the long haul.
For those who are wondering what the lessons are referred to in the question, here are the four action steps I drew from Philemon for redeeming relationships:
- Operate from a foundation of love. (4-14)
- See what God is doing in the bigger picture. (15)
- Put your money where your mouth is. (18-20)
- Assume the best: above-and-beyond obedience. (21-22)
Q: Do we know what kind of consequences there may have been for a runaway slave?
A: Frankly, I don’t know. It is commonly thought that they could be put to death. But this may be more of a pagan consequence as, at least in the Old Testament law that pertained to Israel, runaway slaves were not to be returned to their masters (Deut 23:15) but were to be allowed to live among a new community and family and be treated properly (v 16). Then again, maybe that’s why they weren’t to be returned—an angry slave owner might actually disobey the law!
Paul’s overall and consistent teaching to slave owners in the New Testament was for them to treat them fairly (Col. 3), so I don’t personally think Onesimus was worried for his life. Maybe he was concerned he’d be rejected, but I don’t think he was thinking he’d be executed.
Apart from that small bit of insight, I don’t have any historical or biblical facts. Of course, you could always use America’s most common method of info-finding and Google it.