Perseverance of the saints

An Exemplary Comfort

 

            Douglas Maurer was 15 years old was he was diagnosed with Leukemia. The doctors told him that his chances of survival were slim and that he would have to endure three years of chemotherapy. The side effects would be severe. He would go bald and his body would bloat. It was a lot for a 15 year old to take in and the diagnosis sent Douglas into a deep depression. His aunt tried to encourage him by sending flowers to his hospital room. She told the clerk at the flower shop that the flowers were for her nephew who was battling leukemia.

            When the flowers arrived at the hospital there was an additional note from the clerk at the flower shop.  It said, “Douglas—I took your order. I work at Brix florist. I had leukemia when I was 7 years old. I’m 22 years old now. Good luck. My heart goes out to you. Sincerely, Laura Bradley.” Douglas was surrounded by millions of dollars of hospital equipment and the best doctors in the country, but it was the note of a 22-year-old clerk making $160 a week that gave him comfort and the will to carry on in midst of his trials[1].

            What brings you comfort during trials? The Bible promises that we will face trials and persecutions.  “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:13). Acts 14:22 says that Paul and his travel companions went about “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12) We know that trials are promised to us, but when trials come where will we look for comfort? Will we find comfort in our bank accounts or health? Will we find comfort in our possessions or accomplishments? There may be more than one place to draw comfort, but God’s Word shows us where we can find comfort. I pray that from this text you will find comfort and the will to carry on in the hope of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Comforted by the Faith of God’s People v. 6-7

Acts 17 shares how Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica preaching the gospel, causing an uproar and forcing them to quickly leave the city. Paul had been concerned for the faith of the Thessalonians, fearing that they had walked away from Jesus because of their persecution. When his grief and worry had reached an all-time high, he sent Timothy to find out how they were doing. Timothy came back with a good report. 1 Thessalonians 3:6-7,

But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you, for this reason, brothers, in all our distress and affliction we have been comforted about you through your faith.

Paul and his companions were suffering emotional distress because they were worried about the church. They were worried that the afflictions they were facing had caused them to abandon the faith and they were worried that their afflictions would cause a break in their relationship. Paul is overwhelmed with joy when he learns that the Thessalonians are standing strong in their faith and that their love for them had not changed. 

            Why was Paul so comforted by the faith of others? He was under his own distress and facing his own affliction. Paul had his own pressing concerns, except that the pressing concerns of his life was the faith of others. Paul lived for others. He did not count his life as anything, but was glad to lay it down so that others would have faith in Christ. This concern was not unique to the Thessalonians, but was the pattern of Paul’s entire ministry.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, Savior; (Titus 1:1-2)

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. (2 Corinthians 1:24)

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God…to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ, (Romans 1:1, 6)

And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:3-5)

Our hope is that as your faith increases, (2 Corinthians 10:15b)

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. (Philippians 2:17-18)

Paul lived his life for the faith of others, so it was only natural for him to find comfort in the faith of others during his affliction. His trials were worth it if others had faith. He said, “Even if I am to be a sacrifice for your faith, I am glad and rejoice!!” Think about that!! He was comforted by their faith because he was consumed by it. The faith of the saints was Paul’s driving passion. Is it yours?

            My heart has been comforted by the faith of the saints of Park Baptist Church: the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite their bodies being ravaged by cancer, the faith of those who believe in Jesus despite an absent spouse, the faith of those that leads them to sacrifice time in our gatherings to serve our kids in the nursery or children’s church, the faith of those which leads them to labor for hours in preparing Sunday School lessons, and the faith of those which leads them to give sacrificially. I have been comforted by the faith of those who stand up to unethical practices at work and the faith of those who open their lives to the hurting and those who visit the sick. One of the greatest joys of my life is to see the faith of the people of Park Baptist Church. You exemplify a pure and sincere faith in Jesus Christ. Your faith in Jesus has comforted my soul so many times and in so many ways.

I have been so comforted by your faith, but have you been comforted by the faith of these fellow saints? Have you noticed how much our young people are growing in their knowledge of the Word? Have you noticed how much compassion and tenderness our seniors have for one another? Have you noticed the boldness growing in our ladies? Have you seen the steadfastness of our men? Have you noticed how people have started to gather more frequently? When you see the faith of the saints, are you comforted? One of the reasons we are not comforted by the faith of others is that we are not looking to be comforted by their faith. It may be because we haven’t been trained to look, or that we are too consumed with ourselves.

            Do not miss that Paul and his companions were also comforted because of how their faith in God was expressed in love towards them. They were comforted in how people they loved also loved them. Timothy reported that the church always remembered them kindly and longed to see them. (1 Thess. 3:6) Their comfort was connected with their relational unity with God’s people. Their lives were intertwined. This is what I pray for our church. I pray that our lives would be so interconnected that we would experience comfort and joy when we see the faith of others even if our lives are filled with distress and affliction. And I also pray the opposite would be true. I pray that when we see a lack of faith in our brothers and sisters lives, that our hearts would grieve. Does your heart hurt when you see others walking away from the faith? Or withholding love from the body? Or absent from our gatherings? Would your desire for their faith in Christ be so great that you would have the courage to admonish or rebuke them? Would you love them enough to discipline so their soul could be saved on the last day?

            The Christian life is others-focused. If we do not find comfort in the faith of others, it may say more about our own faith than we would care to admit. Be comforted by the faith of God’s people.

Comforted to Persevere for God’s People v. 8-10

If our eyes are looking and longing for the faith of others, then it will be natural for to find courage to press on in living for the glory of God. 1 Thessalonians 3:8-10,

For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord. For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?

I can imagine Paul, Silas and Timothy sitting around a room thinking and reflecting about the Thessalonians faith finding the resolve to continue to press on for the faith of saints.

            Paul and his companions are looking and longing for the faith of others, but it is the faith of the Thessalonians that to pushing them on to persevere. Eunice Smith has been a great encouragement to our church family. She has demonstrated a lifetime of service to the church and a sincere faith in Christ. Over the last several years, her hearing has gotten so bad that she barely could hear what was happening in the service. At 95, she would get in her car and drive to church. She barely heard anything that went on in the service, but that doesn’t mean that she got nothing from the gathering. Her presence and her faith spurred others on to persevere. Her example and presence, and others like her, is a constant source of perseverance for the saints.

            Mrs. Eunice’s faithfulness to Jesus has given the saints of Park faith to press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Her faith has spurred the saints of Park to continue in the faith. Beloved, your faith does a lot more than you realize. I hear stories upon stories of how you have been encouraged by others in the church. You will never know how much your life and faith in Christ means to others this side of heaven. We only see glimpses. My friend CAM Wagner died a little over a year ago with leukemia. He had a lot of friends and family visit him in his last months. He told one of his friends, “I am so blessed.” His friend gave him a quizzical look thinking that a strange thing for a dying man to say. He said, “Most people never get to see how much others love and care about you. I get to sit in this hospital room and hear how my life has impacted others. I am blessed.”

Friends, you are blessed. Your life matters to the people of God. Your presence and faith in Christ is a source of joy and perseverance for the saints. Do not let your eyes define the impact for your faith. Things are happening through your faith that you may never see, but one day all will be revealed. Until then, stand firm in your faith for the faith of others. Give others the opportunity to say, “For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.” And this perseverance is not mere drudgery, but done in joy. Listen, “What thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God.”

I have been accused of being too church-centric in my teaching and preaching. Some have said that I focus too much on church, but the Christian life cannot be lived faithfully outside the fellowship of the church. Our lives are meant to be lived for the faith of others. Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) There is an imperative that Christians should meet together in the faith (i.e. go to church), but notice the why we should go. The text begins, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” which will be encouraging one another to persevere as the Day of the Lord is drawing near. Do you notice the reason why you are to go to church? You are to encourage others to have faith until the Last Day. Beloved, you have the great privilege to help others safely enter the Sabbath rest of the people of God, to see Jesus face to face, to enter into the eternal joy of the kingdom of God, and to enjoy the pleasures at His right hand for all time. What a privilege!! Why would you forsake it?

The faith of the Thessalonians comforted Paul and his companions to persevere in the faith and to continue to serve the Lord in the midst of much affliction. Be comforted by encouraging others to persevere in the faith.

Comforted by the Beauty of God’s Plan v.11-13

            God’s plan is so beautiful. There is nothing more precious and more glorious that God’s plan to redeem the world through Jesus Christ creating a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. This is a great prayer to offer to the Lord for the church. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13,

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

We were filthy, unrighteous sinners. We were mockers and rebels. We were haters of God and children of the Devil. We were…But now in Christ, we have been justified through his blood, sanctified by His Spirit and declared blameless before God, adopted as his children and co-heirs of the world to come. Never stop marveling at the gospel. Never stop beholding the glory of our Savior displayed in his death and resurrection.

            Friend, if you are not in Christ, the Bible says you are in sin. And to be in sin is to one day stand before God alone and pay for that sin. The punishment for sin is death in Hell for eternity. Our sin makes us unholy and therefore unfit for heaven. And yet, God sent his Son, the Righteous One, to suffer for the unrighteous to bring them to God. Jesus died for you. He died to bring you to God. His resurrection is a promise of a future resurrection for all those who turn from their sin and trust in Him. Friend, behold the beauty of the Savior and be comforted in Him. Turn from your sins and trust in Christ. You can be declared holy and blameless before God today in Christ.

            One of the greatest things of this letter is that it continues to lift our eyes to the Day of the Lord. Christians live for two days: today and that Day. 1 Thessalonians is a great help to lift our gaze to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to notice how Paul connects our life together now with our holiness on the last day. See how verse 12 and 13 are linked together,

May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

There is a connection with the love we have for the saints and our state on the last day. The Lord wants a supernatural love for one another. A supernatural love has to come from Him. The Lord increases our love for one another. The Lord creates love in our hearts for our brothers and sisters. It is not natural. It is a work of God. And that love is a sign that God is working in us to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father. Do you see how our love for each other and for all is a sign that God has saved us?

If you do not love the church, what confidence should you have before God on the last day? The message of Christianity has not changed since the beginning. 1 John 3:11-14,

For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother's righteous. Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:11-14)

Love is the mark of a Christian. Therefore love should be the mark of a Christian community.

            The love we have for one another is not only for us, but for those watching on the outside. Francis Schaeffer writes,

One cannot explain the explosive dynamite, the dunamis, of the early church apart from the fact that they practiced two things simultaneously: orthodoxy of doctrine and orthodoxy of community in the midst of the visible church, a community which the world could see. By the grace of God, therefore, the church must be known simultaneously for its purity of doctrine and the reality of its community. Our churches have so often been only preaching points with very little emphasis on community, but exhibition of the love of God in practice is beautiful and must be there.[2]

As Christians behold the beauty of God’s plan, we will become a beautiful people which will display God’s beauty to the world. Love and doctrine must always be linked. Love without doctrine and doctrine without love are false representations of church. We must be full of grace and truth.

            One night at an evangelistic meeting in Chicago, Booth Tucker preached on the sympathy and comfort of Christ. Someone came up to him after the meeting and said, “If your wife had just died, like mine has, and your babies were crying for their mother, who would never come back, you wouldn’t be saying what you’re saying.” The man was not comforted with Christ and did not believe Christ was sufficient for his trials and distress. In our trials, will the comfort of Christ be sufficient?

Sadly, Tucker’s wife was killed in a train wreck a few days later. Her body was brought to the same building where he gave his last sermon. After the service, a grieving Tucker looked down at his wife and then turned to those in attendance and said,

The other day a man told me I wouldn’t speak of the sympathy of Jesus if my wife had just died. If that man is here, I want to tell him that Christ is sufficient. My heart is broken, but it has a song put there by Jesus. I want that man to know that Jesus Christ speaks comfort to me today.[3]

Our greatest comfort should always rest on the comfort given to us by Jesus Christ. He is enough. Our greatest distress has already been conquered in the cross. Jesus overcame the grave and promised us a glorious resurrection.

            We are going to face distress and anguish in our souls, but God has provided comfort in Christ. He has comforted us in the gospel and through his church. Therefore let us press on in our faith in Christ, our love for the saints so that God will establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father on the last Day. 

           

           

 

[1]https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1982&dat=19870706&id=H5BRAAAAIBAJ&sjid=pjMNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2685,604423&hl=en accessed 9.24.15

[2] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/brothers-build-a-gospel-culture accessed 9.27.15

[3] https://bible.org/illustration/christ-sufficient accessed 9.27.2015

A Friend's Reminder (Philemon 17-25)

Human beings naturally forget. We have developed techniques to increase and enhance our memory. The calendar, whether electronic or paper, helps us recall the important dates and events in our lives. The strength of the calendar is not in having a calendar, but using it to recall important details. The more we look at the calendar, the more we bring the calendar to our minds and therefore we remember. Reminders intentionally bring the important things to our minds so that we can remember them. We all have different techniques to remember. Whether you are Michael Scott trying to remember people’s names or a student creating an acronym to remember the parts of the circulatory system, we all use different reminders to remember important details of our lives. Regardless of the technique, the key is that we have reminders that force us to recall important details.

            God has built in a weekly reminder for his people to recall and remember what he has done for us. Every week we remind our hearts of God’s goodness through the fellowship of the saints, and the singing, praying, and the preaching of God’s Word. God wants us to remember, so he has given us reminders so that we would never forget what has done for us. He has given us two physical reminders in the Lord’s Supper and Baptism where we actually get to participate in symbols that portray God’s love for us in Christ. There are also reminders in the natural world. Each day the sun rises declaring his glory over the earth. Every night the sun sets showing our utter dependence upon him. Our world is full of reminders of God’s sovereign power.

            And yet, we are a forgetful people. Deuteronomy is full of references where God tells his people “take care, lest you forget.” Even the title “Deuteronomy” means “the law again”. The whole book is the retelling of the law so that the people would not forget. And with so many reminders, God’s people forget. The Apostle Peter summed up his ministry as one of reminding the people so they could recall the great works of God. 2 Peter 1:15, “And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” The job of parents and pastors is that when we are gone, those under our care will be able to recall the things of God. The Apostle Paul is nearing the end of his letter to his friend, Philemon, and wants to remind him of his responsibility in the gospel to forgive his repentant slave Onesimus. I pray that as we look closely at Paul’s reminder to Philemon that we would be reminded of our responsibility in the gospel to forgive our repentant brothers and sisters.     

Reminder of Partnership

            Paul ends his letter by reminding Philemon of their partnership in the gospel. The most important aspect of Paul and Philemon’s relationship was their partnership in the proclamation and the spread of the gospel. Verse 17, “So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.” Paul reminds Philemon of their partnership in the gospel and then tells Philemon that Onesimus is one of us. Paul is saying that, “Onesimus holds the gospel as dear as we do Philemon. He is one of us.” And with that one sentence, Paul is bringing the crux of the whole letter to the forefront. Will Philemon act as a prosperous businessman or a partner in the gospel? What will be his main allegiance? What will be the driving force for his decisions?

            It would be very hard for Philemon to remain a partner in the gospel if he did not live for the gospel. Philemon has sacrificed his money, his time and his resources so that people will know more about Jesus. He has opened his home to the church so that people will hear and believe the gospel. The question is not what has Philemon has done, but what will he continue to do? As Christians we do not live in past, we live in the present. We do not ask “Did I obey Jesus yesterday,” but rather “Will I obey Jesus today?”

            It may be easier to pacify our consciences to think about all the things we have done in our life for the Lord, but God wants to know if we will remain with him? Will you abide with Christ? Paul again uses Greek word koinonia translated “partner” here. At very key points throughout this letter, Paul uses this word to highlight the importance of fellowship among believers. Christians are called into the fellowship of the Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the saints. How we interact and receive God’s people will be one of the greatest markers if we truly have fellowship with Jesus? If we have true fellowship or partnership with other believers, we should be confident that we have partnership with God. And if we do not have fellowship with others, how can we say we have fellowship with God?

            The first command used in this letter is the word receive. Paul says if you are my partner in the gospel than you must welcome in, take in, gather together and bring along your fellow partner Onesimus. There is no exclusion from the receiving of a repentant brother. All sinners who turn away from their sin and trust in Christ as their Savior should be received into the fellowship of the church. Onesimus was a thief. He had taken from Philemon, disrespected him and his family, but he had repented. Onesimus came to Christ. He too was a partner in the gospel therefore Paul uses the imperative to show there is only one option for a true partner in the gospel…to welcome the errant brother. Jesus says, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:14-15) Forgiveness is an essential mark for Christians. It is a non-negotiable. If you want to be one who has fellowship with Christ and his people, then receiving the repentant brother is essential.

            What sin is unforgivable? What action would restrict fellowship in the church? There are all sorts of horrific sins that we can imagine, but if someone truly repents, they, too, can be forgiven and restored to fellowship of the church. The church welcomes into fellowship repentant sinners. Friend, if you are in sin, as Christ’s ambassadors, we implore you to be reconciled to God. Turn from your sin and trust in Christ. Christian, if you are in sin, turn to Christ and be restored into fellowship of the saints.

Reminder of Payment

            Paul continues to charge Philemon to forgive Onesimus, but does something profound; he offers himself up for the sin of another. Verse 18, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.” (Philemon 1:18-20) Most of Paul’s letters were written by someone else, so scholars believe that when he says, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand,” that would have been a contractual arrangement. The reader of the letter would have seen the handwriting change putting additional weight and force upon the reality of Paul’s statement.

Paul offers up himself to pay for Onesimus’s crimes. Friend, this is exactly what Jesus Christ does for us. We are the ones who have sinned and rebelled against God. We are the ones who have robbed God of his glory by living for ourselves and our agendas. We are the ones who deserve to pay. We are guilty. And yet, Jesus steps forward and stands before the father saying, “If they have wronged you at all or owe you anything, charge that to my account.” Jesus paid the full price for our sin on the cross. He died in our place. He became our substitute paying for our crimes. And upon his death, God raised Jesus from the dead accepting his sacrifice on our behalf. So now we have hope because Jesus gave himself up for us. Paul is acting in the way of Christ. He is laying his life down for Onesimus.

Christian, are you willing to act like Paul here? Are you willing to pay the price for someone else’s sins? There is a story of a good king who cared well for his people. He was kind and fair and always did his best to provide for his people. One day, one of his men informed him that someone stole food from the palace. He gathered the whole town together and pleaded with them for the person to confess, saying, “I have always provided for your needs. If you needed anything all you had to do is ask and I would have provided it for you. But because I am a just king, anyone caught stealing will receive 10 lashes.” A week went by and someone stole from the treasury again. The good king again pleaded with this people to not steal, but bring their request to him again pleading with them to confess. He increased the lashes to twenty for the one caught stealing. A week went by and a servant came to the king and saying, “The thief has been caught, but it is your own mother.” Pain gripped the king’s heart. What was he to do? He promised that anyone caught stealing had to be punished.

      The day arrived when his mother was to be punished. The whole town was wondering what the king was going to do. Would he let his mother go free or would he have her punished? His mother was walked into the center of the town and tied to a pole. The guard looked at the king and the king nodded his head for him to begin. The guard looked on in shock, but right before the first lash was struck, the king yelled, “Stop.” The king walked over to his mother wrapped his arms around her and said, “Now you may begin.” The guard began to whip the back of the king to pay for his mother’s crime. Friend, this is what Christ has done for us. He was beaten in our place. He was whipped that we might go free. And this is exactly what Paul is doing for Onesimus.

      Paul is asking to credit Onesimus’s thief to Paul. Would you be willing to do the same? Would you be willing to pay someone else’s debt? Why would Paul do that? Because he knows how he was forgiven. Paul writes of himself, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:13-15) Never forget that you have been forgiven, for this is what Paul reminds Philemon of, saying, “your owing me even your own self.” Paul reminded Philemon of how he came to Christ under Paul’s ministry and encourages him to repay him be welcoming Onesimus.

Philemon should forgive Onesimus, but that does not make it easy to forgive. Forgiveness is not easy. Forgiveness is supernatural. We need divine help to forgive. Would you readily forgive someone who stole $20 from you? What about $20,000? Forgiveness is hard, but worth it, for we have been forgiven of a great debt. Here this story from Jesus,

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35)

Friend, we forgive because we have been forgiven.

Reminder of Preparation

Paul adds another reminder to Philemon as he closes this letter. Paul tells Philemon to prepare for his coming. Philemon would eventually have to look his dear friend Paul in the face and explain how he handled Onesimus. It may be subtle, but knowing that Philemon would have to confront Paul most likely encouraged Philemon’s obedience. This was not a threat, but a reality. Philemon would be held accountable for his decision to forgive Onesimus. Paul was confident based on Philemon’s character and partnership with the gospel, but this is no slam dunk case of forgiveness. Philemon would eventually have to explain his decision to an elder brother in Christ and a dear friend.

            In this way Paul is modeling how one day we are going to stand before God. As Philemon had to prepare for Paul’s coming, we have to prepare for the Lord’s coming. Have you ever had projects around the house that needed to get done, but you never quite had the motivation to complete? Then you discover your in-laws are coming in town for a visit in a month so you scramble to finish all the unfinished projects in preparation for their coming. When anybody of importance comes to your home, you want to be prepared for their arrival. Friend, this is how we should be for Lord’s return. We should be prepared for the coming of the King. We are going to be held accountable for the decisions in this life. Philemon will be held accountable for his forgiveness as we will be held accountable for our own. Are you prepared for the coming of the King?

Reminder of Perseverance

            Let me encourage you to pay attention to the names Paul highlights as he closes this letter. Verse 23, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 1:23-25) We have the benefit of the hindsight. We can look at these names and know if they persevered in their faith.

Did Philemon forgive Onesimus? We cannot be sure for the New Testament does not explicitly tell us, but we can assume since the letter was preserved that he did. Church tradition states that Philemon eventually would become the pastor of Colossae, and along with his wife Apphia, was martyred for the Gospel. He persevered until the end.

A man named Onesimus eventually became the pastor of Ephesus a couple of decades later. We cannot be sure this was the same Onesimus, but we know that this Onesimus also laid his life down for the gospel dying for his faith. This Onesimus persevered until the end. 

Paul, the peacemaker, would also lose his life for the gospel being beheaded during his last Roman imprisonment, but blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God. Paul persevered to the end.

Luke would go on to write half the New Testament and according to tradition died at the age of 84. Luke persevered to the end.

Mark, the author of the gospel that bears his name, was reconciled to Paul. He was with Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey only to leave and return home. On the second trip, Mark wanted to rejoin the mission and Paul refused. The disagreement became so sharp that Barnabas and Paul split company and went in opposite directions. We know that Paul reconciled and forgave Mark at the end of his life as he wrote in 2 Tim 4:11 that Mark was, “very useful to me in ministry,” asking Timothy to bring Mark to him. Mark would eventually travel to Alexandria and became the pastor there before also being martyred for his faith. Mark persevered to the end.

Epaphras, a fellow prisoner with Paul, was most likely the pastor of Colossae. Tradition says he was released from his imprisonment only later to be arrested and martyred for his faith. Epaphras persevered to the end. Aristarchus mentioned here and in Acts endured persecution for the gospel. He later became the pastor in modern-day Syria and he too was martyred for the gospel. Aristarchus persevered to the end.

Do you see a trend here? These men held the gospel so dear that they would rather face death than deny the gospel. In persevering to the end, they persevered in forgiveness. They chose to die rather than to withhold the forgiveness of the gospel.

There is one more name on the list that should serve as a warning to us all. Demas, once a partner in the gospel laboring for the forgiveness of the saints, is said to have fallen in love with this world deserting Paul and the gospel. His love did not persevere. It has been said of the two thieves at Calvary, “One was saved that none might despair, but only one that none might presume.”

We have been studying the story of another thief who was reconciled to God by Calvary. Onesimus is a reminder of God’s offer of forgiveness. Philemon is a reminder of one who extended forgiveness. Paul is a reminder of one who encourages forgiveness. Demas is a reminder of one who walked away from forgiveness. What do you need to be reminded of today? We all need reminders to persevere in the gospel. And I pray that this short letter has reminded you of the beauty, the power and glory of the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and would remind you to persevere until the end.