Useful — No Longer a Slave, He’s Family

3 min readFeb 6, 2018
Paul Undermining Slavery Through Reconciliation — The Letter to Philemon

17th Street Church is a micro-church. Most of us at 17th exchanged the mega-church fog-machine world for a smaller dynamic with focus on personal engagement.

Last Sunday we worked through the NT book of Philemon together. The story is about a runaway slave risking everything to return to his former master in hopes of replacing retribution based on the injustice of slavery with reconciliation based on the new identity in the Kingdom of God in Christ Jesus.

It was encouraging.

We C.A.N. Master the Text

The homework following our gathering was to reread the little letter in various translations and then to write a paraphrase. The goal is to be aware of C.A.N. in re-communicating:

Clear — Remove clutter that confuses the message.

Accurate — Remain faithful to what was actually said.

Natural — Relay the experience the text gave its original audience.

Karla Minick has honed this skill of retelling ancient writings with a fresh voice in several of her books, most recently, Apocrypha-Lite.

Here is Karla’s excellent paraphrased translation of Paul’s letter to Philemon:

Philemon verses 1–3

Hi Y’all, this is Paul (and the folks with me) and I’m writing to Philemon and to everyone who meets at his house-church.

Many blessings from Almighty God, our Master and Jesus, our promised Saviour.

Philemon verses 4–7

You guys are really getting good at living out love. I thank God for you and I love the way your faith grows and leads you to good choices as you reflect on the love you have been given through Jesus. Y’all have been blessed to be a blessing and you are doing it! Keep up the good work; it brings joy and encouragement.

Philemon verse 8–20

Philemon, do you remember the slave you used to call “Useful”. Well, guess what? Onesimus is now a brother and a partner in the Goodnews work. I could not be happier! He has been such a great help to me here as I’m in chains in my old age. (I would really like to just keep him here, but there is more in store for him and for you.) Just like how Onesimus was reconciled to Almighty God, I’m giving you the opportunity to forgive him and to make peace too. You know I could tell you to do this (it is the right thing to do), but go ahead and think it through on your own. I know you know this, but it is worth bringing up again: Reconciliation is not just something you receive but it is something you also give. The choice is yours.

Think about it: Sometimes separation helps the process for forgiveness to come. I’m telling you, it is worth it! I’m so glad that we have another brother in the Kingdom, and now there will be no more separating for we are all in the Lord’s family.

You know I’m all about restorative justice. So, if Onesimus owes you anything, I’ll venmo you the amount. You know I’m good for it; just think back to how I freed you back in the day when your very life depended on it. You also went from being a slave to darkness and now are living the free life in the Light. This mindset of reconciliation is so refreshing.

Philemon verses 21–25

I really got a feeling you will do the right thing here, Philemon. Oh, and by-the-way, thanks for praying for me to visit. My hope is to pop for a bit, so please prepare a room for me. Those you know and respect, who are still with me here, say, “Hey.”

Many blessings

and see ya soon,


We C.A.N.

That was fresh! Now check Karla’s paraphrase against other translations, and maybe even try to do your own C.A.N. paraphrased translation. It is a wonderful way to move from familiarity with the Text toward mastery of the meaning of the Text. The more mastery we have of the Text, the more the Text masters us.

Give it a try…