“Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Phile. 23-25).
Before concluding our study of Philemon, let us address a modern issue in apologetics — the defense of the faith — that often arises in the consideration of Christianity and slavery. As homosexual behavior gains wider acceptance in our culture and the biblical view of love and sex is increasingly marginalized, believers are criticized for not embracing homosexual acts as good and holy, even though most Christians today would never own a slave. How is it possible, unbelievers ask, for believers to have “grown” in their understanding so that they repudiate slavery and yet refuse to grow in their view of sexuality and stop calling homosexuals to repent?
There are many answers to this question, but we will focus on this point: while Scripture does not repudiate slavery directly, it is not inconsistent for Christians to seek its abolition, since the Bible never forbids us to work for slavery’s end. In fact, as the book of Philemon reveals, the biblical view of humanity inevitably leads Christians to abolish slavery and find other ways to deal with debtors and prisoners of war, two of the main categories of enslaved people in the ancient world. Slavery might have been tolerated for a time in the ancient church because of many complicating factors, but once slavery is abolished, it is basically inconceivable that Scripture would encourage its reinstitution. The apostles and prophets had to work with the hand they had been dealt — slavery was foundational to the ancient economy, it could not be unilaterally abolished without making life worse for countless people, and the church did not have the power to end it anyway. Principles consistent with Jesus’ teaching had to be put forth to help believers live with slavery even though it was not the ideal.
On the other hand, nothing in Scripture allows us to stop calling homosexuals to repentance. The Bible never endorses any sexual behavior other than that which occurs between a husband and wife. Even liberal scholars who are honest with the evidence will say that the Bible’s view of homosexuality is uniformly negative, even if they hate what Scripture says about it (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:18–32; 1 Cor. 6:9–10).
Paul’s epistle to Philemon ends with several greetings and a call for the blessing of grace to be upon Philemon (Philem. 23–25). Today we are still in need of God’s grace as we face difficulties between believers in the body of Christ.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
We who profess the name of Christ must follow Him even when He gives rules we do not like. People who are tempted to commit homosexual acts may not like the call to turn from these deeds, but if they are to follow Jesus, turn from them they must. We may prefer to gossip, commit adultery, lie, cheat, or steal, but turn from these acts we must if we want to be the Lord’s disciples. God’s Word is our standard, not our likes and dislikes.