THINK: It's one thing to believe that people are created equal, but it's another thing to actually treat them as such. It's one thing to know what's right, but it's another thing to actually do the right thing - without having to be pressed or persuaded. Still, from time to time, we all need to be reminded, challenged and encouraged to respond to others in a way that reflects our faith and devotion to God. The fact is that we are all subject to God and equally accountable to Him for the unique responsibilities and opportunities He gives us. Yet through faith and dependence on His Son Jesus, we all have the opportunity to experience ultimate freedom and eternal life, regardless of our earthly situations or status.
RESPOND: Why does Paul call himself "a prisoner of Christ Jesus"? (See 1:1 note.) What does it mean to "be active in sharing your faith"? (See 1:6 note.) Why did Paul pray that Philemon would be active in this way? According to verse 6, how does sharing your faith benefit you personally? In what way will this help you "have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ"? (See 1:6 note.) What do you think it means that Philemon "refreshed the hearts of the saints" (v. 7), and why was this encouraging to Paul? How can Christians be more like this for each other? Why is it almost always more productive to appeal to people on the basis of love rather than to tell, order or demand that they do something that they ought to do (vv. 8-9)? Who was Onesimus, and what was his relation to Paul? (See 1:10 note.) In light of Onesimus's situation, what was significant about Paul referring to himself once again as "a prisoner of Christ Jesus" (v. 9)? What did Paul mean when he told Philemon that Onesimus had formerly been "useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me"? (See 1:11 note.) Why would Paul send Onesimus back to potential punishment and slavery? (See 1:12 note.) What was Paul hoping and expecting Philemon to do, even without telling him directly? (See 1:14 note; cf. vv. 19-21.) In what way does a relationship with Christ "equalize" people and put them on common ground? (v. 16)? How should Philemon's faith cause him to respond to Paul's request and to Onesimus personally? (See 1:16 note.) In what way was Paul following Jesus' example by offering to cover any debt for Onesimus? (See 1:17-19 note.)
PRAY: Ask God to help you become more active in sharing your faith and to recognize every opportunity to do so. Pray that you become known as a person who "refreshes" others. Ask God to help you treat all fellow Christians - and others - with equality and respect.
ACT: First of all, take any and every opportunity to do good and to do the right thing - without being asked. If you've been condescending or disrespectful toward others - even one person - or in any way treated them poorly, then apologize, change your attitude and begin treating them with equality and respect. Also, consider something that you've been wanting or expecting someone to do - something you've tried to demand or tell them to do. Try changing your tone and asking in a more gracious, loving and respectful way.