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There is a challenge here for myself as a Reformed, North American believer: I have a very narrow view of the Christian world—a too-narrow view. MacArthur made it clear that he did not host this conference in order to critique the Wayne Grudems and John Pipers of the world; if these men were representative charismatics, Strange Fire would have been a non-event or, at the least, a very different event. He hosted the event because there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who make the fraudulent practice of fraudulent gifts the heart of their expression of the Christian faith.

This is the time to address that issue. There is a call here for all of us to build on and even improve what MacArthur began and much of the onus here falls on charismatics to do this from the inside. Conservative Continuationists need to start their own version of the conference to police the excesses as best they can, or they should muster a cheer while the Cessationists do it. Before Strange Fire I did not know just how polarizing it could be, though I suppose others did know, and this is why we have been loathe to address it.

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Based on the reaction to the event and the discussions back-and-forth, it seems clear that this is an issue many of us feel as much as it is an issue we believe by reasoning it out from Scripture. It is one of those issues where we see our own position with utter clarity and look to the opposite position with shock that they can believe something so absurd. Those tend to be the most dangerous issues of all because they can turn sour so quickly and easily.

In the face of such a polarizing issue, I need to consider how I can maintain unity in the faith while still holding fast to what I believe the Bible teaches. I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility.

If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.

So, he appealed to Philemon 's heart, asking him to have compassion on an elderly man in prison, and on the newly converted brother in Christ who ministered to him. And it was from this perspective that Paul introduced his advocacy for Onesimus. After introducing himself as Onesimus ' advocate, Paul spoke about Onesimus himself in verses 11 through He also explained in more detail the relationship between Onesimus and Paul that led the apostle to bring Onesimus ' petition before Philemon.

The Onesimus that Paul described here was a very different man from the one who had come to him asking for a mediator.

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Onesimus had been a worthless slave. But he had been converted to Christ; he had repented of his sin, and mended his ways, showing his good faith by putting forth earnest effort to care for Paul in prison. And because Paul knew that Philemon was a loving Christian, he expected Philemon to rejoice at the news that Onesimus had come to Christ, and to forgive his transgressions as he would any other Christian who sinned against him.

Paul included a wordplay in Philemon verses 11 through 13 that emphasized this change in Onesimus. Specifically, chrestos was remarkably similar to the word Christos, meaning "Christ. Paul also pointed to ways in which Onesimus had already begun to make reparations for his transgressions. As Paul wrote, Onesimus was taking Philemon 's place in service to Paul.

In the ancient world, it was not unusual for a master to loan a slave to another person. This action was rightly considered a gift of sorts, as the master lost any work the slave might have done during the time of the loan, and the friend to whom the slave was loaned benefited. In this sense, through Onesimus, Philemon really was ministering to Paul. This is why Paul said that Onesimus had become useful not only to him, but also to Philemon.

So, Philemon had yet more reasons to be merciful to Onesimus.

Finally, in this section Paul also mentioned that he had sent Onesimus back to Philemon, presumably carrying Paul 's letter to Philemon, and probably traveling in the company of Tychicus. Paul mentioned this in Philemon verse 12, writing:. Onesimus was returning to Colosse to petition Philemon for mercy, in the hopes of being reconciled to him, and perhaps even of being released. Onesimus was not a fugitive, and was returning to face his master 's judgment. After describing his own role as advocate, and Onesimus ' role as petitioner, Paul went on to speak of Philemon 's role as master in verse Here, Paul acknowledged Philemon 's authority over Onesimus, and revealed his own motivation for making an appeal to Philemon instead of commanding him.

Paul wrote these words in Philemon verse Paul wanted Philemon himself to choose to do the right thing. And so, he made it clear that his petition came as a request rather than as an apostolic command.

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It may be that he wanted his friend to gain heavenly rewards by doing the right thing for the right reason. And perhaps he also thought that a voluntary reconciliation between the two men would make their brotherly relationship in Christ all the stronger. Additionally, it appears that Paul wanted to show Philemon respect, and to give his benevolence the benefit of the doubt. Then, if Philemon treated Onesimus well, it would provide greater encouragement both to Paul and to the church.

This was Paul 's reasoning in Philemon verses 7 through 9, where he wrote in this way:. Essentially, Philemon 's past love and faithfulness to the church encouraged Paul to think that Philemon would be loving and faithful to Onesimus, as well. In all likelihood, Paul chose this route for a variety of reasons, leaving Philemon in the traditional Roman role of a master who had to sit in judgment over his slave. He could decide harshly, choosing to discipline Onesimus. Or he could judge mercifully, forgiving Onesimus for the sake of Christ, and for the sake of his friend, the apostle Paul.

The choice was truly his to make, although Paul made it abundantly clear which choice was the right one.

After laying out the various human parties in their relations to one another, Paul reminded Philemon of God 's role as providential ruler in verses 15 and In this section, he pondered the greater good that God might bring out of Onesimus ' sin, if Philemon would only grant his request. Paul referred to God 's providential hand in Philemon verses 15 and 16, writing these encouraging words to Philemon:. The Lord providentially controls everything in the universe. And he often permits bad things to happen in order that his good purposes might be accomplished.

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Paul suggested that in this case, God had orchestrated events to bring Onesimus and Philemon into conflict in order that Onesimus would be forced to seek Paul 's advocacy. And the Lord allowed this in order that, through Paul 's ministry, Onesimus might be brought to faith in Christ, and subsequently reconciled to Philemon as an equal in the Lord.


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By speaking about God 's providential control of the universe, Paul asked Philemon to step back from the conflict with Onesimus in order to see it from the perspective of God 's plan. Yes, Philemon was angry, and he had a right to be. But the problems with Onesimus were insignificant compared to the blessings that God had bestowed through their strife. Philemon was a good man. And once he realized that God had orchestrated the conflict with Onesimus in order to save a lost soul, his anger may well have turned to joy, just as Paul had hoped.

After introducing all the characters involved in the mediation, Paul finally stated his petition in verses 17 through Specifically, he asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus, and he offered himself as Onesimus ' substitute in the event that Philemon chose to exact payment or recompense from his slave.

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Notice what Paul did here: he appealed to Philemon for a personal favor, as if Paul himself were the one who needed Philemon 's grace. He did not argue that Onesimus deserved to be restored to Philemon. On the contrary, he implied that Onesimus deserved punishment. And he did not ask Philemon to show Christ-like mercy to Onesimus. Figuratively speaking, Paul did not stand beside Onesimus as his defense attorney, persuading Philemon to be merciful for Onesimus ' sake.

Instead, he stood in front of Onesimus as his father and protector, shielding him from Philemon, and providing reasons that Philemon should be merciful for Paul 's sake. Paul hoped that Philemon would so respect Paul that he would extend mercy to Paul 's spiritual son Onesimus. And so, in his petition, Paul asked Philemon to minister to the apostle by showing kindness to his son, whom he loved with all his heart. And notice Paul 's language here. First, Paul asked Philemon to "benefit" him, using the Greek verb?

Essentially, he asked Philemon to follow the example of his slave Onesimus in being useful to Paul. Second, Paul repeated his use of the word "refresh. Here, he encouraged Philemon to demonstrate integrity by refreshing the imprisoned apostle as well. Scholars have raised many questions about the details of Paul 's petition.

Some believe that Paul was merely asking Philemon to treat Onesimus with mercy and kindness, and not to seek retribution or even restitution for the wrong Onesimus had committed. Others believe that Paul was asking Philemon for even more, perhaps for Onesimus ' manumission, that is, his freedom. This may be implied by Paul 's words in Philemon verses 15 and 16, where Paul wrote in this way:. It is possible to read this verse as meaning that Paul wanted Philemon to free Onesimus, so that Onesimus would no longer be a slave.

This idea is strengthened when we notice that the Greek word aionion, here translated "for good," is rightly translated in several English translations as "forever" or "eternally.


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But our relationships in Christ really will endure eternally. This makes it tempting to see an allusion in this verse to Philemon manumitting, or granting freedom to, Onesimus. At the same time, it is important to recognize that Paul did not teach that Christian faith required all Christian masters to free their believing slaves. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 21, he did teach that freedom was preferable to slavery. But his instructions to households in which believing masters owned believing slaves did not include manumission. For example, he provided this teaching in 1 Timothy chapter 6 verse In light of the many ways slavery has been an institution of terrible abuse throughout history, it may seem odd to hear Paul speak in this way.

After all, when most modern people think about slavery, our minds immediately recall the horrible atrocities committed in the African slave trade. We think of people who were enslaved by force, torn from their families, and subjected to some of the most inhumane treatment imaginable. They were raped and beaten and branded and murdered. And to our shame, many Christians defended this brutality by appealing to the way the Bible approached ancient slavery. But they were tragically and devastatingly wrong.

Neither Paul nor any other biblical author would have affirmed these practices.

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Instead, they would have condemned them in the harshest terms. But in Paul 's setting, slavery was different. It was usually a positive economic arrangement, especially when both master and slave were Christians. And the reality was that both master and slave lived in the same household, and were required by God to minister to one another and to love one another.