Hard to imagine any document more truly ennobling to the reader than St. Paul’s letter to Philemon. My dime-store summary:
Your beloved slave Onesimus (whose name means ‘useful’) found me here in prison. Since running away from you, he has become a Christian, like you. As I know that you aspire to a true practice of the religion of Christ, I point out the following to you.
1. You owe me your life, as if you were my bondslave in the Lord, since I preached the Gospel of salvation to you and baptized you. I won you from the devil. You are, in the sight of God, my chattel.
But as I, too, strive to follow in the footsteps of the humble, divine Servant of mankind, I will not give you any orders. I leave you free to choose what you believe is the best course.
2. Mr. Useful, according to the calculus of this passing world, has a discrete monetary value to you, as your slave. By running away from you, he has effectively robbed you of that amount. If you wish, I myself will pay you that debt in cash, in order to make you whole monetarily.
3. Now that he, too, has been redeemed by Christ from the eternal slavery of sin, you must regard Mr. Useful as a brother. No longer just useful, but now beloved. I would rather that he stayed here with me–since he really is remarkably useful! 🙂 But that would be stealing; that would be me forcing your hand—which I will not do. So I send Mr. Useful, my beloved brother, back to you, who are also my beloved brother. I will not use either of you.
I request, I beg you to be useful to me, and treat Mr. Useful as something more than useful.
Being useful can lead to a person feeling used. The Christian never uses another human being as a means to an end. Because the Christian is free with the freedom of God.
Seeing a fellow human being as a slave, as a means, a tool—to see the world that way is the worst slavery of all. It means being trapped in the jail of a world without love.
But if I see in my neighbor’s eyes the doorway to an invisible throne room, where a human person chooses the good, chooses love, chooses God—if I behold the tabernacle of freedom in my neighbor, then I have been liberated from the slavery of using people. And I live now in the wide-open freedom of the only absolutely free One, namely God.