Have you ever heard this powerful story about a transformed workplace? Against all odds something powerful happens.

Sermon Helps

  • “I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)” (Philem. 10–11).
  • For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philem. 15–16)
  • “In the beginning was the Word. . . . And the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14).
  • “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3)
  • “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16)
  • Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
  • “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
  • “For our sake he [God the Father] made him [God the Son] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him [Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).

Philemon was a wealthy slave-holding Christian who lived in the city of Colossae, about 100 miles (161 km) inland from Ephesus. Apparently during Paul’s three-year ministry in Ephesus (A.D. 52–55), Philemon heard the gospel and was saved. He began serving the cause of Christ in the Colossian community, opening his home for a group of Christians to meet there regularly. At some point, Onesimus, one of Philemon’s slaves, fled to Rome. Possibly having stolen money (or property) from Philemon and now a fugitive slave, Onesimus was living in the most populated city of the Roman Empire, hoping to escape detection. In a rather remarkable set of circumstances—not recounted in the letter but certainly reflective of God’s sovereignty—Onesimus somehow came into contact with the apostle Paul and became a Christian. As he grew in Christ, he spent much time and effort helping Paul, who was severely constrained by his imprisonment. As much as Paul would like to have retained the services of Onesimus, he knew that this fugitive slave’s severed relationship and wrongdoing against his master needed to be addressed. Paul thus wrote this letter as an appeal to Philemon to appreciate the transformation that has occurred in Onesimus’s life and to receive him back not merely as a slave but as a “beloved brother” (v. 16). It is difficult to know if Paul was seeking Onesimus’s full emancipation and freedom (see notes on vv. 16 and 21). It is clear, however, that he was seeking a transformed relationship between slave and master—a new relationship that would defy all of the ingrained status distinctions of the surrounding Greek and Roman culture. There is no doubt that it would have been difficult for the institution of slavery to survive in the atmosphere of love created by the letter, and in fact the elements of Paul’s appeal found in this letter helped lay the foundation for the abolition of slavery. (ESV Study Bible)

Discussion Questions: (Tom Nelson)
How does understanding what work can be in light of the gospel change the way you inhabit your workplace?
How is the gospel transforming the way you do your work?
What are some ways you can be faithfully present in your spheres of influence?

The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord— Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe a holy catholic* church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. AMEN.

* The term “catholic” (with a lower case “c”) did not and does not refer to any specific denomination or group of Christians. It refers to the wholeness of the whole church in all times and places rather than to any specific branch of Christianity.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.