Perhaps the reason [Onesimus] was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother.
- Philemon 15-16a
According to the law, Onesimus’ relationship with Philemon is unchanged. Slave-Master. Philemon has every right under Roman law to punish or even kill Onesimus for his theft and flight. A kind-hearted Roman master might quietly sell the slave to someone else, washing his hands.
And, in this arrangement, the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon would have been temporary. Until Onesimus was sold or purchased his freedom, he would belong to Philemon. But a financial transaction could end the connection. So could death. So could a radical act of manumission. But the relationship was – even if long-standing – temporary.
In Christ, those who have been at odds with each other have a new relationship. The new relationship goes deeper and lasts longer. Brother-Brother. One brother may be older or may have more money, but they are brothers nonetheless. Adopted into the family of God, they eat from the same table, work in the same mission field, and answer to the same loving Father.
This new relationship lasts forever. Geographical transitions may create distance, but the bond still can’t be broken. Financial and vocational changes may re-arrange rhythms of contact, but the bond still can’t be broken. Death may step in and cause some havoc, but the bond still can’t be broken.
The bond between them will never weaken. The bond between them will never depend on their behavior. The bond between them will never be renegotiated. The bond will never expire, will never end, will never die.
The bond between them was forged on the anvil of the cross of Christ, signed by the Ancient of Days, and sealed by God’s very own Spirit. They didn’t create the bond and they can’t get rid of it.
But, then, this applies to us as well. When we’re included in Christ, new bonds spring into existence between us and each and every individual who is connected with God. We may not like them. We may not feel comfortable with them. We may not even know them. But the bonds exist nonetheless.
Will we seek to reflect that reality in the way we live?