Last week we were thinking about how to place our lives, both individual and communal, before God. For this reason we thought through the importance of the practice of seeking His presence in all of our experiences, both good and bad. I encouraged us all to ask: ‘where is God in this?’.
This week, I would like us to reflect upon a different question together, and that is: ‘Who am I before God?’
One of the primary lessons we learn from Scripture, right from the beginning, is the ‘jealous’ nature of our God – he looks at us with pride and it seems a sense of ownership: you are mine. Yahweh of the OT is angry when the people turn to other Gods; the covenant that he has made with them requires faithfulness and constancy.
In our passage from Luke (14:25-33) we hear Jesus talking in a different way about the sort of faithfulness that his Father in Heaven requires of his followers. Jesus talks about hating father and mother, wife and child and he does so in the context of a few interesting illustrations – the one about building a tower, and the other about a King waging a war. In both instances he is talking about proper planning and preparation for the task at hand. It seems that if we are going to complete the task of loving God, we need to be aware of something essential:
Human relationships, pain and suffering, possessions can all get in the way of, blur and even corrupt our first and primary duty to serve and love God. God’s ways are challenging to us and they will trip us up; this life of discipleship will be difficult.
In Paul’s letter to Philemon we see a real life situation where this tension between following God and other priorities are brought into light.
Paul is advocating for Onesimus (who was Philemon’s slave in
and it seems that Onesimus has run away from his owner. Paul is working out in
his letter the sorts of implications of taking on a new identity in Christ. Colossae
· Who is Onesimus in Christ and before God?
· Can he still be a slave?
· How should a runaway slave be treated by a Christian?
Paul says: Onesimus is now his adopted Son (Paul’s) and a beloved brother in Christ (to Philemon). Paul is willing to take on any debt that Onesimus owes Philemon. Paul is an advocate, a redeemer (in the traditional sense of the word), a reconciler and a bringer of peace. Philemon as a Christian is being asked to give up his rights over Onesimus; to forgive wherever he has been wronged and moreover to enter into a new relationship with Onesimus.
I wonder in what ways today Jesus may challenge us to re-look at our relationships with one another? Are there ways in which we individually or collectively need to hear Paul’s advocacy for a brother or sister in Christ?
Paul’s memorable words resound in our ears: ‘There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’ We can perhaps see how he got there. We could substitute those categories with any number of ones that would be relevant to us today. It seems that humans have a tendency to create division, to generate hierarchies, to limit equality.
If we are to follow God, to be his beloved people, then we must not only receive our new identity in Christ, we must honour the new identity that our neighbour also receives.