I got this from the N.T. Wright Page. It’s a talk he did entitled “Paul for Everyone”. Just follow this link to hear it.He covers the letter to Philemon, some parts of Galatians and 1 Corinthians. Let me just say that anything by this scholar will always captivate our imagination on Christian faith and scripture.
Below are some quotes that I think I got right. I only managed to get the ones which he covered on the letter to Philemon because it aroused my interest to the short letter. Warning, you will have a sudden knack to read Philemon after hearing Wright (even Galatians and 1 Corinthians!).
“…If the only document we had from early Christianity was this letter…we could deduce a very great deal about what Christianity was from this letter alone…”
This is a bold statement made by Wright. According to him, here is Paul at his best, dealing with a theological issue in a pastoral/practical manner. Some thought this letter had not theological contribution but they would have to think again based on what we can learn from Paul. This clearly makes a case that theology is important, not just for the mind but how theology will eventually shape our actions. Quoting from another source on this by Wright “But no parts of the New Testament more clearly demonstrates integrated Christian thinking and living. It offers a blend, utterly characteristic of Paul, of love, wisdom, humour, gentleness, tact and above all Christian and human maturity.” (p.170. Wright, N. T. TNTC; Colossians and Philemon. Inter-Varsity 1986, 1999, 2000, 2004)
“…Paul wanted to make positions clear to people; theological positions, moral positions. But he wanted to do them in such a way that it became embedded in their character and not something super imposed from outside… If you give someone a straight command you get them to do what you want in this particular incident but if you teach a man to think christianly you will enable them to grow as human beings and to figure out for themselves on what God wants them to do…”
I think this is something that pastors should struggle to emulate and do. The quest for christian maturity.
“…He(Paul) has modeled the message which he has preached, the message of the reconciling love of God in Christ, with arms outstretched on the cross to Jew and gentile, black and white, male and female, slave and free…”
This is powerful! Proclaiming a message is only part of the story. The completion of the story, that of Jesus is how the message of Jesus restructures our Christian living. When we proclaim that Jesus loved the sinner but yet have hate towards a certain brother or sister then the message that we are proclaiming is simply nothing. Reconciliation is a powerful message as well as a powerful practice.
(v17-18) “…here is Paul daring in this pastoral situation to be in the middle in the way that Jesus was in the middle…”
Here is Paul emulating Jesus (Philemon 1:17-18 “…If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”) It is sort of like the picture of Jesus taking our place and dies for our sins. (I did some editing the verse above was originally posted as Philippians 1:17-18 but it was supposed to be Philemon 1::17-18, as you can see I changed it already. Sorry for the mistake.)