What Paul asks Philemon to do, as he receives back his runaway slave, just wasn’t done in the 1st century Roman Empire. Asking Philemon to accept Onesimus as “a dear brother” rather than a slave, and to welcome him as he would have welcomed Paul, was completely countercultural. Slaveowners just didn’t welcome back runaway slaves as equals to a beloved friend. With no limits to their power over their slaves, Philemon could have Onesimus killed, branded, or beaten. Forgiveness was not an option.
But that’s exactly what Paul requested from Philemon. For this Colossian slaveowner, living counterculturally meant extending the same forgiveness he received from God to his returning, repentant slave. While living counterculturally can have a certain edginess to it, so cool and energizing, it also can feel weird and lonely.
Following the way of Jesus, swimming against culture’s current, often means you’re the one who goes back to ask for forgiveness or you’re the one who needs to extend it. Both require courage. We all have one area (at least!) where we’re swimming against the current. As you continue your Chair time, commit these areas to the Lord, asking for courage as you seek to faithfully follow Jesus.