Why did the Reverend Jim Jones not preach on Philemon?

(Robert L. Smith, III is a K-12 Teacher, minister, husband to a beautiful wife, father of a beautiful girl, and slave of Christ. He can be reached at Rls5885@Me.com.

(It should be noted that, where Jim Jones used the King James Version of the Bible, Pastor Smith uses the English Standard Version.)


The Reverend Jim Jones used the Bible to build the church he called Peoples Temple. He used the Bible to attract members, to retain them once they joined, to sustain, nurture, and take advantage of them.

The Reverend Jim Jones also misused – and most often abused – the Bible for the same reasons: to attract, retain, sustain, and nurture his followers.

At his core, Jim Jones saw the Bible as a tool to be used, but only when it fit his narrative, when it benefitted his movement or the person in front of him. Jim Jones also knew the Bible well, so well that he could quote scripture one moment to support the righteousness and moral imperatives of his message, while in the twinkling of an eye diminish its value when it stood in the way of that message. He vacillated between the two – proclaiming the Bible as his authority, condemning it as a hindrance to his authority – so seamlessly as to defy detection.

But along the way, he lost the understanding of the Bible and what it truly means. That is what this article is about, especially in relationship to one specific book in the New Testament.

There is no doubt that the Reverend Jim Jones’ knowledge of the Bible was vast, cascading all the way from Genesis to Revelation and almost every book along the way. However, there is one book of note that he never preached, quoted, spoke from, or used in any of his teachings based on the plethora of sermons and materials he left behind. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – there is only one book of the Bible that was written not to a group of people, but to an individual, who happened to be a slaveowner. The book – the name of the slaveowner – is Philemon, and the text is in reference to a runaway slave who belongs to him.

Before we delve into book of Philemon, let us examine the complexities of slavery in the Bible as asserted by the Reverend Jim Jones.

The Reverend Jim Jones’ most formal and detailed attack on the Bible is in a pamphlet called The Letter Killeth, quotes from which will appear in block quotes below. He lists everything that he considers to be the Bible’s errors, contradictions, and defenses of abuse. But no other attack on the Bible was quite levied against it like the attacks on its “promotion of slavery.” It was here that the Reverend Jim Jones, the well-read and eloquent statesman, did not take the time to understand this apparent “contradiction” found in the Bible.


Jim Jones used the King James Version of the Bible in his sermons, one of the oldest English translations. The language is often antiquated. This has led to many false teachings including the Prosperity Gospel of our current day. Language morphs, it changes, it is fluid. Indeed, language has changed in the 50 years since The Letter Killethwas written, and language has morphed and changed even more in the 400 years since the KJV was translated.

Let us then  examine the Reverend Jim Jones’ misuse and abuse of the Bible in regard to slavery according to The Letter Killeth.


(Ex. 21:2-6) “If thou buy an Hebrew servant … If his master have given him a wife, and she have born him sons or daughters; the wife and her children shall be her master’s, and he shall go out by himself. And if the servant shall plainly say, I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free: then his master … shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him forever.”

Three Types of Slavery Allowed in Israel

There were three groups of people who might find themselves in conditions of slavery. We will look at two types here and the third type of slave a little later. The first type of slave in Israelite culture was an indentured servant. Indentured servants agreed to terms to work for a master based on poverty, debt, or simply wanting to have daily provisions. At the end of seven years, such slave were free to go or stay with their master. However, as Leviticus 25 states, only a Hebrew could be an indentured servant or set free. Often these slaves would stay, as they enjoyed their employment, wages, healthcare, shelter, and food. Slaves within the Hebrew community were treated as indentured servants. They chose to become a “slave” or indentured servant.

The second type of slaves were prisoners of war, who were literally fighting against their enemy, the Israelites, as they regained the Promised Land. The Israelites forsook the Promised Land due to famine (Genesis 46). They were taken in by Egypt and eventually forced into slavery. This slavery was not indentured servanthood. It had brutal working conditions. It had whips and chains. The account of the Exodus bears all of this out. Israelite slavery never mentions whips or chains, and contrasts by giving rights to slaves.

Imagine yourself in combat against a warring army and you have surrendered. You are at the mercy of the conquerors. They could torture you. They could humiliate you. They could kill you. The winning Israelites usually offered two options, one of mercy and one of judgment, unless God told them to annihilate a group of people due to their depravity. The offer of mercy was simple: join us, be our slave (indentured servant), worship our God, and you will live. The other option was death. The choice was not in the hands of the winning Israelites. It was up to the defeated enemy on whether to live or die.

This is a beautiful picture of the Gospel. We are born into sin, at enmity with God. Yet, Christ conquered and defeated sin, the grave, death, and hell. In doing so, now we either receive the new life He has won for us or we choose death.

Secondly, a foreigner, an immigrant, a refugee could choose to join the Israelite community. There was only one stipulation: to serve the God of Israel.

And if a stranger sojourns among you and would keep the Passover to the Lord, according to the statute of the Passover and according to its rule, so shall he do. You shall have one statute, both for the sojourner and for the native.
Numbers 9:14

The foreigner and traveler, which included slaves, were to join in the Passover. The Passover was the pinnacle celebration of the Old Testament. This meant surrender to the God of the Old Testament and adoption into God’s family through the covenant. This adoption is what the Jews were supposed to do in the Old Testament, but failed. It was Jesus who fulfilled this perfectly in the New Testament.

For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord.
Numbers 15:15

Here, there is no difference in foreigner (slave) or Israelite. They are all on all equal footing before the Lord: flawed, sinful, and in need of forgiveness. The servant (slave) and alien observed the Sabbath as well. This was abiding by the same rules and laws as the Israelites, but it was also the blessing of guaranteed rest and equal treatment.

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed.
Exodus 23:12

 You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns.
Deuteronomy 16:15

All members of the Israelite community are invited to join in the Feast of Booths, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles. This was to remember that God “tabernacled” and dwelt with His people while they were foreigners out of Egypt, going into the Promised Land. For seven days, all people would celebrate, including slaves!

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.
Deuteronomy 24:19-21

And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
Leviticus 19:10

This is the equivalent of welfare and a safeguard against greed. The poorest, the traveler, and the disabled were taken care of by not being greedy for gain, but by sharing what was left behind.

You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
Deuteronomy 23:15-16

The runaway slave from another country shall dwell with you. Why would a slave run away from one nation and flee to another one? Because Israel was a nation that was called to treat others with civility.

Let us continue with the Reverend Jim Jones’ next claim that God sanctions slavery.

(Lev. 25:44-46) “Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of the heathen that are around you; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids. Moreover of the children of the strangers that do sojourn among you, of them shall ye buy … And ye shall take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit them for a possession; they shall be your bondmen for ever.”

Here the Reverend Jim Jones omits part of the last verse, verse 46, which reads, “but over your brethren the children of Israel, ye shall not rule one over another with rigour.” It is a crucial omission.

Modern translations also support the idea of not abusing slaves (indentured servants). What the text does allow is the children of slaves (indentured servants) to continue to serve generationally in Israel. The caveat is not the slavery, but it is that they are to be treated well. You are to love and serve your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:17-18; Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Galatians 5:14).


(Ex. 21:20, 21) “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand … if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.”

This is rather self-explanatory. If a man abuses his slave, it not only hurts the slave, but himself. Treat your slaves (indentured servants) well, and it will go well for you. No farmer would go outside and set his tractor on fire. No engineer would sabotage his design. No captain would sink his boat. These are objects, nonliving things. Why would a master kill his slave? If the master does kill his slave, he immediately receives his punishment. (Dare I contrast the God of the Bible and the Reverend Jim Jones in why would a leader would lead his people in suicide?)


(Ex. 21:7) “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do.”

Is that true? Could a woman be sold into slavery? Well, that would be a rather drastic oversimplification. Until the influence of the Bible, a woman had no rights in any society, at any time. It was not until Jesus embraced women, made them a part of discipleship group, allowed them to see Him first in His resurrected body, and even named some prophetesses and deaconesses of the New Testament, that women enjoyed any prominence in society. There was no respect for women. Even in the Old Testament, women were judges and civic leaders. A woman’s eyewitness testimony was not even admissible in court, until Jesus. But have we really made that much progress? Consider that in our society today, full of choice and women’s empowerment, women face more abuse, misuse, and are more unhappy than at any other point in the span of civilization. There will never be a perfect world for anyone until Jesus sets up His Kingdom as Heaven and Earth converge (Revelation 21).

If women were not sold into slavery, what does this passage which Jim Jones quoted from Exodus mean? First of all, women were not independent and did not receive an inheritance from their father’s wealth. They were not as productive outside of the home as the men were, in that they did not toil in the fields or hunt for game. Therefore, within the family construct, the daughters as they became of age to marry became more of a financial burden to the family. The goal was to get them married to the best suitor. Whether arranged marriages were right or wrong is irrelevant at this point.

Once a suitor or husband was found, the father of the groom would pay a sum to the father of the bride. This would be a commitment from one family to the other. If we think of this in modern terms, a woman will usually not even consider a marriage proposal from a man unless a sum has been paid, on a ring! This a payment, an assurance, a sign as to the commitment of the man to the woman. The same is true within this family exchange. The money is a payment for the bride from the husband. It shows commitment. In fact, if either family is displeased with the arrangement, they can annul the agreement by returning the money.


(Col. 3:22) “Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God.”

Slaves were meant to follow their masters in all things they commanded, as long as they did not violate God’s law. Through their obedience, they pointed their masters to God.

(Eph. 6:5) “Servants, be obedient to them that are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in singleness of your heart, as unto Christ.”

Slaves were to obey their masters, just as they would obey Christ. What the Reverend Jim Jones omits in this section of Ephesians is that children were to obey their parents with the same vigor. Wives were to submit to their husbands, and husbands were to die for their wives. Guess who did this perfectly? Jesus Christ. He submitted to the Father’s plan and then died for his bride, the church.

(1 Tim. 6:1) “Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own yoke [Author’s note: word should be “masters”] worthy of all honour, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed.”

Again, Reverend Jim Jones is cherry-picking the text, omitting the next two verses, which  clearly state that the slave is not to take advantage of its master, even if he is a believer, because the master loves and cherishes his slaves as himself.

(Titus 2:9-10) “Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; Not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things.”

Slaves are commanded to be honest and the best of workers so that they may point their masters to Jesus Christ.

(1 Peter 2:18-19) “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.”

Slaves were to suffer for the Gospel. Paul was often unfairly imprisoned. Every disciple turned Apostle died a martyr’s death. These sufferings were not in vain (Colossians 1:24), they were to give glory to God, not man.

Slave or Servant in the New Testament?

The Reverend Jim Jones was very critical of the Bible, especially the King James Version. The verses above offer an example of how the KJV translators softened the blow of the Greek word doulos. This word means “slave,” but in its context, slaves were more akin to indentured servants. However, even in the days of King James, there was a stigma about slaves and the slave trade underway. The translators wanted to avoid this stigma and adopted the word, “servants.” Though this substitution was a comparable point for the 17th century of England, it was an unfortunate substitution. The best way to describe followers of Jesus are as slaves, selling themselves out in love of God and love of humanity. They offer unconditional loyalty to God. The poor translation of the KJV of doulos as servant misses the point.

Ruth: A Story of the Treatment of Foreigners, Defectors, and Enemies

 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
Ruth 2:1-10

First, Ruth was an outsider, a foreigner. Actually, she was a pagan worshipper who was the widow of a deserting Israelite, a defector, if you will, a concept that the Reverend Jim Jones was familiar with, even if his plans for them were different than the redemptive plan of the God of Israel.

Ruth was condemned in triplicity: once for being a widow, twice for being a pagan worshipper, and third for being a foreigner. She had no inheritance, no land, no power. She was an outcast and an outsider. She had no right or no claim to anything. Yet, she met Boaz, a distant relative who had the moral obligation, the legal charge from God’s Word itself, to take her in as wife. Boaz proceeded to take care of Ruth by blessing her with extra food, and eventually took her as his wife, fulfilling this obligation, despite the fact that he could have used her pagan background and enemy status against her as a way to get out of the obligation. Or he could have simply been derelict in his obligation. He could have broken God’s Law, just like we do, every single day.

Yet, he did not! He made a way for someone who could not make their own way. He gave his riches when he did not have to. He took Ruth’s shame, her curse, her poverty. He shared his abundant wealth with her, not because he had to, but because he wanted to! This is the Gospel that the Reverend Jim Jones was scared of, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! The one who became sin, when He did not have to. The one who took our curse and shame, while sharing His riches with us. The Reverend Jim Jones was scared of such a god, the one true God.


Note: King James of England, who oversaw the translation of the King James version of the Bible in 1611 A.D. oppressed our early Americans. He was an alcoholic and slave trader who sent the “Good Ship Jesus” to bring back Africans in chains. Thus we need a preacher (prophet) sent from God to interpret the Word. How can we hear without a prophet, How can he preach lest he be sent!

The human recorders of the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of scripture were far from perfect. It was through this imperfection that God was able to show His love. Instead of “White Nights” that tortured, accused, and caused everyone to attack each other, the authors were quick to show their own weaknesses and sins in order to glorify God and not themselves.

Why not Philemon?

We do not have every sermon that the Reverend Jim Jones of Peoples Temple preached, so in all humility, one must acknowledge there many have been an occasion – perhaps even more than one – that he spoke on the book of Philemon. Given the wealth of material we do have, though, the range of books of the Bible he did reference, and the numerous times he returned to various texts, why have we not found a single mention to the book of Philemon?

It is my personal belief is that the power of the Gospel contained within Philemon that stopped him. This Gospel is not a gospel of a spirit descending upon men and manifesting itself in ways to lead or teach people. This gospel was not the so-called spirit of Jesus, or Stalin, or Lenin, or what inspired the Apostle Paul. As Jim Jones would often assert, he was acting in accordance with this spirit.

Rather, Philemon offered a Gospel of hope, of reconciliation, and forgiveness. This was a Gospel that became more and more foreign to Jim Jones as November 18, 1978 approached.

The book of Philemon is a fascinating book. The characters, settings, and plotline are more than applicable to both our current climate and the climate of 50 years ago that allowed the Reverend Jim Jones to lead thousands.

First of all, Philemon was most likely a well-to-do businessman and leader in the city of Colossae, and a prominent member of the local church that met in the house of Phoebe. There’s no doubt that he was powerful, a man of influence.

Secondly, we know the author of this letter to Philemon. The apostle Paul, who was in prison at the time for preaching the Gospel, also wrote a letter to the people of Philemon’s city Colossae, entitled Colossians, at the same time he wrote the slave master.

Finally, we have a runaway slave, known by the name of Onesimus, who had fled from Philemon and become an acquaintance with Paul, although the details are not clear whether Onesimus found himself in jail or encountered people around the jail where Paul was housed.

Let us ponder how significant this would be to our world today. We have a runaway slave, a slave master, and a prisoner. There is no doubt that with the propaganda, misinformation, and – sadly – even the facts of our day, this is a racially-charged story. In the book of Philemon, race has absolutely nothing to do with it. However, as we think about it in our contemporary world, we can assuredly see how this situation would catch anyone’s attention, especially the attention of the Reverend Jim Jones.

Yet the Reverend Jim Jones never mentions it. Why? Because he is missing the Gospel. Because he does not understand that he, as a “god” – or a sit-in god or a self-appointed god – cannot atone for his sins or the sins of anyone else. Yes, he’s capable of amazing feats, commanding the loyalty of thousands of people, and can lead more than 900 to their deaths. Yet he misses the power of the Gospel. If the Reverend Jim Jones would have heard of the Gospel that is shown in this short book composed of only 23 verses, would it have changed the course of history? At first glance, I would argue, “No.” The Reverend Jim Jones was very sure of his destiny and calculated in what he would do and not do. At the same time, one can never underestimate the power of the Gospel as faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of the Lord (Romans 10:17).

So, what exactly is this gospel contained within this small letter? First, we have a runaway slave, assuredly an indentured servant, who had agreed to work for Philemon. Numerous biblical scholars believe that Onesimus not only ran away, but had stolen something of value. He in turn most likely, pawned it, and used it to his own advantage. This was where he possibly got caught and put in prison. While this is inferential, it is likely.

For someone like Onesimus, a slave or – most likely – an indentured servant, running away was not a common occurrence. People chose to be slaves, because in exchange for their servitude, they had a steady job, pay, housing, shelter, food, and healthcare. In fact, some scholars have argued that it is much like when people contract themselves to do a job. They are pledging themselves to a person, organization, or a group. Most people in this society would much do the same. It was in the Greco-Roman society that people competed over jobs as peasants. Indeed, the most job security that you could have, was to be a slave. The only other choice was to live day by day, not knowing what job you would have, and not knowing where you would sleep at night. The best choice for someone of a lower class would be to take on the role as slave or an indentured servant.

We must be very clear in this moment, abuse still happened. You were technically owned by your master. You had to do what your master said to do. There were sexual atrocities. There were verbal abuses. There was manipulation. There was oppression. There was sin. These are all things that are going against what was clear expectation of the Bible.

In contrast, the Christian standard would be to love and serve your neighbor as yourself, and in fact, in this very letter, Paul actually challenged Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave or indentured servant, but as a brother. In other words, he was calling for Philemon to treat Onesimus, the runaway slave and probable robber, to be a part of the family. For good measure, Paul says that he will be by to follow up on his request.

This takes us to Philemon. If he was the man that Paul believed him to be, Philemon was kind, patient, and loving towards his slaves. There is little doubt here that if Philemon was abusive towards Onesimus or mistreated him, Paul would have called him out, just as he called out other believers, including other apostles, including Peter for mistreating Gentiles when Jews were around at meals (Galatians 2:11-14). In context, then, we can conclude that Paul perceived Philemon as a kind and generous man towards his slaves (indentured servants).

What about Onesimus? His act of running away indicates that he was trying to walk away from his commitments. He had agreed to work for his master and, by the law of that society, was bound to it. Whether this is right or wrong in some 2000 years later is trivial. The fact of the matter is that this was the way the world worked at this time.

Why would Paul not condemn slavery outright?

This is a question that I have wrestled with myself. The fact of the matter is that nearly two-thirds of the population at this point in history were slaves. Much like today, you have your elites and people at the very top and then you have other people that do the work for the elites. To be fair, this does not mean that the elites do not work or have not earned their status. That’s not my argument here. The fact of the argument is that in a real sense we bear a resemblance to what was happening then. Many of us agree to terms and contracts, often taking less than what we feel like we deserve in order to provide for ourselves and our families. We take less money, we work more hours, and we give up many freedoms to commit ourselves to do a job, earn a wage, and receive healthcare, shelter, and food.

This works both ways, though, and when someone does not fulfill the job they have been contracted to do, when they receive their wages but do not honor their commitment, legal actions can be taken. This is likely the situation to what happened with Onesimus.

It would be reasonable for Philemon to be livid with Onesimus. If Philemon was the type of caretaker or master that we can infer that he was based on these texts, we can see that he would take it personally and be hurt by what an Onesimus has done.

This is where the story becomes Gospel. Paul was in prison, even though he had done no wrong other than preaching the Gospel. He had not hurt or offended anyone in any way that would cause him to be placed into a prison. And yet, despite his own misery and circumstances, he did not lose hope or become depressed, but rather actually appeared to be energetic and happy. Much like Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Paul used his imprisonment as a way to continue to spread his message. In this regard, the apostle Paul and the Rev. Dr. King are not alone. Some of the best work and most profound thoughts in history are found in the darkest hours where people do not have answers. I know those reading these words now can already contrast this with how the Reverend Jim Jones handled his darkest moments. Instead of reflection, there was deflection. Instead of self-sacrifice, there was the sacrifice of others.

Instead of wallowing in his circumstances then, Paul wrote: he wrote the people of Colossae in the book of Colossians, and he wrote to Philemon on the behalf of Onesimus.

The name Onesimus means a “good worker.” Paul makes a play on words in his defense of Onesimus by saying that he has been good to me and he has been good work for me.

After writing this letter to Philemon, Paul asked the runaway to take it to his master. In actuality, Onesimus returned to his master with two letters: one with Philemon’s name on it; and one to the people of Colossae.

Imagine the idea of having to go back to the one that you have wronged. Imagine making that long journey and knowing you will have to face the person that you have let down. This is a very humbling experience and one that the Gospel causes to happen. When someone realizes that Christ took the place of their sins on the cross, it humbles you.

In his letter to Philemon, Paul did something truly extraordinary: he offered to pay Onesimus’ debt, which is what leads many people to believe that Onesimus had stolen something. Paul is willing. Whether this was time lost working or if something was stolen, Paul was willing to pay. Here, Paul is willing to pay a debt that he has not incurred. To be sure, this was not a debt Paul had incurred or a wrong he had committed. Rather, the apostle was willing to pay the price for someone else’s wrong. Paul is willing to sacrifice of himself to benefit someone else.

This is the Gospel that the Reverend Jim Jones was scared to death of. The Reverend Jim Jones had to create an enemy. He learned from Father Divine that a people who have a common enemy will rally together and get more done. The Reverend Jim Jones did not want people to understand forgiveness, unless it was forgiveness that he offered. He did not want people to understand that there was the God-man, Jesus Christ, sent from the Father that would bear the sins of people. He would be the innocent one, the blameless one, the spotless one and he would take the place of others (1 Peter 1:17-21).

The Reverend Jim Jones did not preach on Philemon because of this reality. It would point to the One that was willing to do the thing that the Reverend Jim Jones could not do, lay down his life for his people for the forgiveness of their sins. Instead, the Reverend Jim Jones would ask other people to lay down their lives for him and his cause.


The Reverend Jim Jones could not ever mention the book of Philemon, the slave master. He could not mention this letter and its characters, because they embody the beauty of the Father’s plan, the Son’s sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s convicting power. The Reverend Jim Jones was an intelligent man who knew how he could misuse the Bible to his own personal gain. His negligence and dereliction in pastoral duty helped build his own little kingdom, establish himself as a “god,” led to the loss of life for nearly 1,000 people, and emotionally scarred the ones left behind to make sense of his senseless schemes.

However, despite this evil, someone like myself can be touched, saddened, inspired, and challenged to love other people, not “as a means to an end,” but to simply love and serve others as ourselves.