Study Guide

Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon Family

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If Paul teaches us one thing (spoiler alert: he teaches us about a zillion things), it's that family isn't just made up of the people who share your DNA.

One Big Happy Clan

Paul reinforces the connection between Christians by using the imagery of the family. He calls his friends "members of God's family" (Galatians 1:2) and encourages them to look after others in "the family of faith" (Galatians 6:10). That's right. Make sure no one picks on your (spiritual) brothers and sisters.

He also calls his fellow Christians "children of God" (Philippians 2:15) and "heirs" (Galatians 3:29) to God's promises. Christians are supposed to think of God as their father:

Because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" (Galatians 4:6)

Today, this is a pretty mainstream image, but it basically just means that the connection believers have with God is supposed to be as close as a father and child (translation: super close). The title is also symbolic of God's love for his people. He totally cares about 'em and always wants what's best for 'em.

I Am Your Father

But God isn't the only one who gets paternal treatment. Paul also applies this same language to himself to describe his relationship with the folks he's writing to:

• "My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you" (Galatians 4:19). Paul is so into this parent thing that he actually imagines himself as a mom.
• "Like a son with a father [Timothy] has served with me in the work of the gospel" (Philippians 2:22). Wonder if they ever played catch?
• "I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment" (Philemon 1:10).Please don't keep my kid as a slave. Pretty please!

So does this mean they have to get him a card for Father's Day?

It's clear that Paul is using this image to convey his love for the people in these churches. They're like his little brood of babies. He's either really proud of them—"I thank my God every time I remember you" (Philippians 1:3)—or really disappointed in them—"You foolish Galatians!" (Galatians 3:1). Seriously, Galatians? Why can't you be more like the Philippians?

But he also uses this to justify his concern for them. Why else does he have the right to comment on every single aspect of their lives? You're not hanging out with those false apostles! And don't even think about getting circumcised! Practically everything Paul says is something that might come out of your dad's mouth (um, if your dad lived in 1st-century Greece).

Siblings in Christ

So Paul is the dad and Christians are the kids. That means they're all brothers and sisters, right? But don't forget, Paul's also their brother. Um, weird. Is he his own grandpa, too?

• "Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life." (Galatians 3:15)
• "You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters." (Galatians 5:13)
• "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters." (Galatians 6:18)
• "Brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord." (Philippians 3:1)
• "Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me." (Philippians 3:17)

This is pretty much the crux of his whole don't-you-wanna-free-Onesimus argument. Paul says that Philemon should welcome Onesimus back "no longer as a slave but […] a beloved brother" (Philemon 1:16). They're brothers in Christ, and it wouldn't be very nice to keep your brother as your slave. Shmoop will forgive you if you manage to trick your little brother into being your slave for a day though.

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