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Lesson 10: Unity and Broken Relationships *

Introduction: How do you deal with broken relationships among fellow church members? Do you just avoid those church members? Do you try to reconcile with them? Do you try not to think about it? Our lesson this week is about trying to heal broken relationships. Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!

  1. Philemon and Onesimus

    1. Read Philemon 1:1-3. Where is Paul when he writes this letter? (He is a prisoner of Rome. The Greek suggests that Paul is bound with a chain.)

      1. Read Ephesians 1:1. How does Paul introduce himself here? (He says he is "an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.")

        1. Why does Paul use such a radically different introduction in Philemon? Instead of saying he is an "apostle of Jesus" he says that he is a "prisoner" bound with a chain? (We will see that Paul is writing on behalf of a runaway slave named Onesimus. By starting out this way, Paul identifies with Onesimus.)

    2. Read Philemon 1:4-7. What do we learn about Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and their home church? (They are good people.)

      1. Are they related? (The letter does not make clear the relationship between Philemon, Apphia and Archippus. It is possible that Apphia is Philemon's wife and Archippus is their son. Since Paul says the church meets in their home ( Philemon 1:2), it is most likely that they are related in some way. For supposes of simplicity, I'll merely refer to Philemon from now on.)

    3. Read Philemon 1:8-11. Let's break this down. First, Paul says that he could order Philemon to comply, but he appeals to him based on love instead. How would you react to a statement like that? (This reflects the way Paul starts out his letter by saying that he is confined, rather than a representative of God.)

      1. How did Paul meet Onesimus? (Onesimus was converted to Christianity while Paul was imprisoned.)

      2. Paul says that Onesimus was formerly useless to Philemon. What does that tell us about Onesimus the slave? (He was rebellious, or lazy or both.)

        1. How do you think Onesimus came in contact with Paul, since Paul was a prisoner? (Paul likely first met Onesimus when he was visiting Philemon and Onesimus was a slave of Philemon.)

    4. Read Philemon 1:12-16. What decision does Philemon need to make about Onesimus? (Whether he will keep Onesimus or send him back to Paul.)

      1. If Philemon keeps Onesimus, how must he treat him? ("As a man and as a brother in the Lord.")

    5. Our lesson is about mending broken relationships. How do you think Philemon felt about Onesimus before he read this letter? (I'm sure Philemon paid money for Onesimus, and thus thought that Onesimus had robbed him. The fact that Paul says that Onesimus was previously "useless," suggests that Philemon already had a low opinion of Onesimus. Onesimus was a bad investment.)

    6. How do you think Onesimus felt about Philemon? (It is hard in our culture, where slavery is universally considered illegal and immoral, to put ourselves in Onesimus' place. But, we can be sure he hated being a slave. No doubt being "useless" was part of his rebellion against his status. As a Christian, he would think slavery was immoral.)

    7. From this we can conclude that when Philemon started reading this letter, he was angry towards Onesimus and Onesimus was resentful and rebellious towards Philemon. How does Paul reconcile the two? What approach does he use? (I would call it a heavy-handed appeal to love. Paul does not "force" (v. 14) or "order" (v.8) Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus, but he mentions those possibilities while making his appeal based on love.)

      1. How do you think that Paul approached Onesimus to get him to return without any guarantee that Philemon would treat him properly? (Paul tells Philemon that even if he keeps Onesimus, he cannot continue to treat his as a slave because he is now a "brother in the Lord.")

    8. Read Philemon 1:17-21. Once again, Paul sets out his argument as to why Philemon should treat Onesimus well. What does this tell you about Paul's confidence that Philemon will do what he asks? (It appears that Paul is not confident.)

      1. As you look at these verses, what arguments do you find Paul making? (He first appeals to him as a Christian - "if you consider me a partner." Later Paul tells Philemon that he wants to have "some benefit from you in the Lord." Notice how this reverses the issue. Philemon is supposed to get a benefit from Onesimus! Paul then offers money to Philemon for any damages Onesimus might have created. Finally, Paul calls for "obedience" on Philemon's part.)

    9. Read Philemon 1:22. Why would Philemon need to prepare a guest room when Paul is a prisoner? (I don't think this is about preparing a guest room, I think it is a message to Philemon that Paul may be checking up on his treatment of Onesimus.)

    10. As you think back on the arguments that Paul makes, are there any that are inappropriate for reconciling church members today?

  2. You and Someone Else

    1. Read Matthew 18:15. Let's look very closely at this verse. First, what is the group addressed as potential sinners? (Church members. The use of the term "brother" means that Jesus is not talking about the world.)

      1. Second, what is the nature of the problem? (It is sin that is being addressed. No doubt there are lots of things that might make us unhappy that are not a sin against us.)

      2. Third, what is the nature of the problem? What is being "fixed?" (Not simply a "sin," but one against you personally.)

      3. Let's say that I read some published statement or argument that is in error. Is that a sin against me? (Not unless it mentions me in a malicious way.)

        1. Am I free to write a public statement saying that I think the statement or article is in error? (Yes. This is not addressing disagreement in public debates.)

    2. Let's look at the last half of Matthew 18:15. What is Jesus' goal? (To keep the problem confined between the two of you.)

    3. Read Matthew 18:16. What if your brother listens, but disagrees? Do you still bring more people to the meeting? What do you think is the purpose of bringing others? Is it just to convince the "sinner?" (My experience is that the person who believes he is the victim, might be wrong. If you cannot get others to come with you, it might be because they also think you are not a victim.)

      1. When the text says, "that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses," what does that mean? (The facts of a controversy are often in dispute. This helps to ensure that when the alleged victim and sinner get together, the factual disputes will be ironed out.)

    4. Read Matthew 18:17. At this point, is there general agreement about the sin? (Yes. As you get larger groups, if they agree with the victim, it shows that the sinner is wrong.)

      1. How would you treat a pagan or a tax collector? Toss them out of the church?

    5. For context, read Matthew 18:12-13, which is the immediately preceding statement. Is a pagan or a tax collector the same as a runaway sheep?

    6. For more context, read Matthew 18:18, the verse that follows our story? How serious is it if the church agrees to throw a person out of membership? (On the one hand, we are told that Jesus runs after those who leave the flock (and so should we), and on the other hand, Jesus tells His disciples ( Matthew 18:1)that their local decisions have heavenly consequences.)

      1. Do you think that being bound or loosed refers to eternal life? (Humans do not make the decision on eternal life for others.)

    7. Read Matthew 18:35. If you have time, read Matthew 18:21-35 for more context. What is Jesus' final statement about conflicts between fellow church members? (That we must forgive because God has forgiven us much more.)

    8. Friend, if you have a conflict with another church brother, will you be guided by the study today to resolve it?

  3. Next week: Unity in Worship.
* Copr. 2018, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or some other visual aid.

© 2021 Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.
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