Just 445 words long, Paul’s shortest New Testament letter is to a man named Philemon, a well-to-do merchant in the garrison town of Colosse, who was also a leader in the Christian church there. He was a businessman, a family man, and someone respected among the community of believers.
But Paul challenges Philemon to take his faith a step farther, to love not just the people who are like him, but to love a person he might not have considered loveable – his runaway slave named Onesimus, a prisoner with no social importance, who had come to know Christ while incarcerated in Rome. Paul asserts that Christ’s love and grace should impel Philemon to welcome this redeemed ex-prisoner back as a guest, a brother, and an equal.
Friend, Christ’s call is the same for His people today! He is inviting us to welcome back the redeemed ex-prisoner – not as a second-class citizen, but as a brother or sister of incalculable worth in the Lord’s sight – just as God welcomed each of us when we did not deserve His grace. Welcoming ex-prisoners, and offering them grace, belonging, and accountability within Christian community, is a vital expression of the Gospel in our day, especially when at least one out of every 37 adults has spent time in prison. Today is the day to go a step farther than we’ve gone in the past!
Through the bridge church program, Prison Fellowship® offers congregations practical training and guidance on how to go about fulfilling the commission given to Philemon and to all of Christ’s Body. To learn more, click here.