We Are Called to More Than the Minimum

A sermon idea based on Philemon 1-21.

Philemon 1:1-21 NRSV

[1] Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, [2] to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: [3] Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

[4] When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God [5] because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. [6] I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. [7] I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

[8] For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, [9] yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. [10] I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. [11] Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. [12] I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. [13] I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; [14] but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. [15] Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, [16] no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

[17] So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. [18] If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. [19] I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. [20] Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. [21] Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.


The relevant topic I would be addressing, based on this text…

Everything about how we treat people changes once we’ve made a decision to follow Jesus.


Information about the text that matters to the message…

Paul wrote this letter, from prison to Philemon, his beloved friend. While he includes Archippus as a recipient, it is clear that his primary audience was the individual, Philemon.

His message began with encouragement in the faith but quickly turns to the subject of Onesimus, who had escaped from slavery under Philemon’s ownership. And Paul’s appeal is loaded heavily with the ethical considerations of being a follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Paul wants the decision to free Onesimus to be voluntary, based on the impact of God’s grace on Philemon, rather than by compulsion under a set of rules or laws.
  • Paul, himself, is willing to personally pay a debt he doesn’t owe for the freedom of Onesimus, which is a reflection of Christlikeness.
  • Paul points out that, acting in grace to release Onesimus would be a refreshing act to all of them.

There is much to be learned here about the Christian ethic. Yes, obviously we stand in opposition to any kind of human enslavement. No person created in the image of God has any right whatsoever to own another person also created in the image of God. But that feels like the bare minimum requirement of the ethic of Christ. There is more.

There is also the need to release others from unfair debts they shouldn’t owe, to treat all people as co-created siblings, and to infiltrate the world around us with the refreshment of freedom.


The big call-to-action in the message…

How can you go beyond the basic minimum expectations of following Jesus to go the extra mile and extend a new sense of freedom, of belonging, and of refreshing to those around you?

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About the Cover Art: Philemon and Apphia, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

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