The Law of Liberty
The Law of God: Questions and Answers
How shall we understand and apply God’s Law today?
Paul shows us how to gain the perfect liberty available in the Law of God.
I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother.… Philemon 13-16
The end of the institution of slavery as a legitimate practice began with the letter to Philemon. Paul was sending the runaway slave back to his master, but not really. Onesimus having run away was free, as the Law of God explained. Paul was sending him back not as a slave, but as a brother and a “profitable” servant of Philemon, the Colossians, and the Kingdom of God. Paul, himself in prison, could not provide the kind of accommodations for Onesimus which the Law required. He was counting on Philemon to fulfill that part of God’s commandment.
Further, Paul was setting Philemon up for a supreme act of goodness—that of receiving a runaway, useless slave as no longer a slave, but as a welcomed, loved, profitable brother in the Lord. And if anyone in Colossae had any doubt about Philemon’s intentions or sanity, Paul saluted Onesimus as a “faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you” in his letter to the Colossians (4:9). What’s more, Paul placed divine revelation into the hands of Onesimus—his letters to the Colossians and Philemon—entrusting this “useless” runaway with a high and holy mission which, accomplished, would prove his new status and character to all concerned.
Paul as much as flew a wrecking ball into the establishment of slavery in this clear but subtle set of actions. He showed the household of faith how, by keeping the Law of God (guided by its letter to discern its true spirit), they might show the world the way to true life, liberty, and happiness. Paul signaled the end of slavery as an institution, and he put it upon the shoulders of the Church to show the way, by waiting on the Lord, to the goodness of God in the land of the living (Ps. 27:13, 14).
The Law of God is, indeed, the perfect Law of liberty, when it is rightly understood and applied, beginning its work in human hearts and among the community of those who follow Jesus Christ, until it brings its holy and righteous and good power to bear on all of society and culture.
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In the Gates is a devotional series on the Law of God by Rev. T. M. Moore, editor of the Worldview Church. He serves as dean of the Centurions Program of the Wilberforce Forum and principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He is the author or editor of twenty books, and has contributed chapters to four others. His essays, reviews, articles, papers, and poetry have appeared in dozens of national and international journals, and on a wide range of websites. His most recent books are The Ailbe Psalter and The Ground for Christian Ethics (Waxed Tablet).
Scripture quotations in this article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, (c) copyright 2001, 2007 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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