Tag Archives: Church as family

Church as Family: Paul’s Letter to Philemon

Let’s step back for a moment and survey the first century landscape. The earliest church members were almost all Jewish. They were convinced that Jesus – the crucified Jesus – was Israel’s messiah and believed God had raised him from the dead. This was in accordance with their own Scriptures and it proved that Jesus was Lord of all.

Their confession of Jesus created a gulf between them and their fellow Jews. It isolated them from their communities and often separated them from their families. They were excommunicated from their synagogues. They lost so much, but they kept each other. The church became their primary family.

The older men were fathers. The younger men brothers. The older women were everyone’s moms. The younger women were sisters. They looked out for each other. Helped each other; were each other’s friends.

Then non-Jews started confessing Jesus as Lord and that threw a wrench into the works. As Jews, the church family had looked on non-Jews with suspicion. Gentiles were, and had always been, outsiders. Now these outsiders were believing in their messiah. What were they supposed to do with them? How were they to relate to them? Were non-Jews kingdom citizens or resident aliens? An emergency family meeting was called (Acts 15 tells the story) and it was decided to accept these people into full family membership. Never before had Jews and Gentiles related to each other like this.

Most of these new Gentile family members came from the lower socio-economic classes (1 Cor. 1:26) and many were slaves. This threw another wrench into the works. When someone with money confessed Christ and joined the family, they found themselves worshiping alongside poor people, even slaves – sometimes their own slaves! In fact, their slaves might even be leaders in the church – now their leaders!

In the church, people called each other “brother” and “sister,” but how could a rich landowner call a slave – especially his slave – “brother”? What would the rich man’s peers think if they heard that? What would the other slaves think? Wouldn’t they become presumptuous? Shouldn’t a line be drawn?
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