Philemon

A Forgiving Friend

Pastor Dave's New Book, "A Forgiving Friend."

"Mark Twain writes, "Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." Forgiveness is one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of our human experience. Although forgiveness is so beautiful, it also is extremely hard. If you have ever been severely wounded by a close friend or spouse, you know how difficult it is to extend forgiveness. The pain of forgiveness sometimes outweighs the pain of the wound, but without struggling through the painful process of forgiveness we will never experience true peace. Forgiveness is hard, but necessary. And because it is hard, we need faithful friends and need to be a faithful friend to encourage forgiveness when the wounds seem too deep to overcome. The Apostle Paul provides a wonderful example of a forgiving friend. He steps into a very real conflict between two close friends with gracious words that encourage reconciliation. In the book of Philemon, God gives us a picture through the apostle Paul, of how real people should deal with real sin and work for real reconciliation in a community of real people. Pick up this book and be encouraged to become a forgiving friend for your good, the good of the others and the glory of God."

You can purchase it here: http://amzn.to/1Mnrogo

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. 

A Friend's Appeal (Philemon 1:8-16)

            In 1905, Thedore “Teddy” Roosevelt, became the first sitting president to visit the post-Civil War South. Roosevelt was raised in New York and the impact of the Civil War had a drastic impact on his life. His father sided with the Union while his mother, Georgia born and bred, leaned towards the confederacy. Teddy’s Uncle James Roosevelt was a prominent leader in the Confederate army. Growing up as a child during the Civil War helped shape Teddy’s future bravado in dealing with foreign affairs, but not for the reason many may think. Teddy Roosevelt had a deep respect for his father. In his 1913, autobiography, Roosevelt wrote,

My father … was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness.

[1]

His sister Corinne later recounted how Teddy said that he never made a serious decision for the country without first thinking what step his father would have taken. Although he dearly loved his father, there was one thing for which he probably never forgave him.

            His father, Thedore Roosevelt Senior, was a wealthy businessman and paid $300 for someone to take his place in the Union Army. It was a common practice of the day and Roosevelt Sr. was probably convinced by his wife, Mattie, not to fight in the conflict against her family and to risk losing his life, leaving her distraught. Regardless of the reasons for Roosevelt’s decision not to fight, it deeply affected young Teddy. His sister Bamie wrote that Teddy, “felt that [father] had done a wrong thing in not having put every other feeling aside to join the fighting forces.” And his sister Corrinne added that he was determined to build a strong military reputation for himself to compensate, “for an unspoken disappointment in his father´s course in 1861.

[2]

” It would not be a stretch to say that Teddy’s unforgiveness of his father’s decision shaped his political life. One act of unforgiveness changed the direction of Teddy Roosevelt’s life.

            I wonder how many of us are like Teddy Roosevelt.  We may be appear well-adjusted and successful, but in reality are driven to make a name for ourselves because of our own unforgiveness. Maybe our lives have been controlled and shaped because we have been unable to forgive or maybe because we feel unforgiven? Are there people in your life you have not forgiven? I heard a story this past week of a man whose whole life was shaped by his anger towards God. He lost a child and for years could not forgive God for allowing it to happen. Friends, forgiveness, or the lack there of, will have a dramatic impact on the direction of your life.

            The Apostle Paul knew that, which is why he penned this brief letter to his friend, Philemon. Paul loved Philemon dearly and wanted him to forgive for his own good, for the good of the church and for the glory of God. I pray as we look at Paul’s friendly appeal for forgiveness that you would be challenged to pursue forgiveness with the people in your life.

Appealing for

Love

’s Sake

            Paul begins this plea by not appealing to his status as an apostle, but rather on the basis of love. Philemon 8-9, “Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” Paul was not afraid to command Philemon to obey his words. There are times throughout Paul’s letters that he uses his position as an apostle to command obedience, but here he appeals on the basis of love. He wants Philemon to make the right decision for the right reason. God cares why we do what we do. If Paul commanded Philemon, Philemon could have begrudgingly obeyed, but that would not be complete reconciliation. As we will see, Paul wants Philemon to be fully reconciled with Onesimus.

            Paul is giving Philemon an opportunity to show him love as well. He writes, “I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” These words would have been weighty for Philemon. The impression is that he does not have a lot of time left on the earth. He is an old man facing the end of this life stuck in a Roman prison. Philemon’s love for Paul should encourage him to honor Paul’s request. I know of many stories within this church when a father looked at his child and said, “Take care of your mother when I am gone.” The love that a child has for their father motivates the child to care well for their mother. Paul is appealing to Philemon’s love for him as an old man who has labored well for the gospel even to the point of imprisonment.

            This is instructive for us because we also should want people to love others from the heart rather than out of mere duty. We obey the Lord out of love. It is a joy and a privilege to be able to obey God. We should not obey begrudgingly, but should delight in honoring our Master and our Savior. We cannot make anyone do anything. We cannot control a man’s will. We, therefore, should not try to constrain a man’s will by force, but appeal on the basis of love: love for one’s fellow man, love for one’s fellow brother or sister in Christ and love for our Savior. The basis of our Christian obedience is love. We love God and others, because He first loved us. When we were sinners deserving of wrath, God gave us mercy in Christ. Love should be the motivation for the entire Christian life.

Appealing for a

Son

’s Sake

            Paul appeals on the basis of love for someone he loves and who has become like a son to him. The English translations of the text change the word order to make it sound more like we speak today, but the original Greek places Onesimus’s name at the end so it would read, “I appeal to you for my child, whose father I became in my imprisonment – Onesimus.” It appears that Paul kept Onesimus’s name out of the letter until he had sufficiently appealed to Philemon. You can almost imagine a collective sigh or gasp among the people when his name is mentioned. It is like the buildup of the NFL Draft when the commissioner walks to the podium and says, “With the first pick of the NFL Draft the Carolina Panthers select out of the University of Manitoba, Onesimus Smith.” Sounds of shock and disbelief would most likely fill the room. With the calling of Onesimus’s name, things just got a lot more interesting.

            Remember the congregation would be listening to this letter and they would have known the back story of Onesimus. Onesimus was one of Philemon’s slaves who appeared to have stolen from Philemon (we see that alluded to in verse 18). We do not have exact details on why Philemon left, but we can assume that he left because he desired a reconciliation with his master. There was a law in the 1

st

century Roman Empire that a slave could appeal to a friend of their master if they believed they were being mistreated. The Apostle Paul would have been well-known to Philemon as he would have heard his name often during their church meetings in the house. It appears that Onesimus left Philemon’s house in search of Paul, for if he was looking to escape with Philemon’s money or goods, he would have pulled a Jonah and gone in the opposite direction of Paul. Although it is possible that Onesimus randomly and by Divine coincidence ended up in the same prison cell as Paul in Rome with God orchestrating his steps. It is possible, but unlikely. Onesimus went in search of Paul so Paul could help bring about an earthly reconciliation with Philemon.

            Onesimus met Paul and was reconciled to God. Paul says that Onesimus became my child clearly referring to him becoming a child in the faith. Onesimus wanted reconciliation with Philemon only to discover his reconciliation with God. Friend, before we move on, have you been reconciled with God? Do you know of your need to be reconciled to God? The Bible says that everyone has stolen from the Lord. We all have robbed him of His glory and therefore deserve to be punished for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Isaiah 42:8, “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” God has to rightly punish those who steal his glory. It is a matter of His justice. And yet, God meets the demands of our thievery by sending his Son to die between two thieves on dark Friday afternoon. Jesus called out on the cross, “It is finished,” and gave up his spirit. He paid for our sin in full. And we know God accepted that payment for our sin by raising Jesus from the dead. Jesus now sits at the right hand of the Majesty on High ready to forgive anyone who would turn from their sins and trust in Christ alone for salvation.

            Friend, Onesimus was a thief, but he was a forgiven thief. Jesus paid for this theft on the cross so Onesimus could be a free man. So Onesimus, a slave, had to go to prison to find freedom. Friend, you can find freedom from your sin today by trusting in Christ. Let me appeal to you as a friend: for love’s sake come to Christ. Come to Christ and experience freedom.

            We know that Onesimus truly believed because of the change that happened in his life. Onesimus literally means useful. It was a common name of a slave so Paul is using a play on words in verse 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is useful to you and to me.” Something happen to Onesimus when he heard the gospel. He believed and his life was changed. He was serving Paul in the same manner Philemon was known for serving Paul; with love. Roman prisons were awful during the 1

st

century. Our prisons today require three meals a day for every prison. A Roman prison did not offer food or blankets to its prisoners. If they did not have someone on the outside to care for their needs, they would starve or freeze to death. So Onesimus is one who is no longer stealing, but giving back to those in need. Reminiscent of Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” Onesimus was changed.

            Paul desired to keep Onesimus with him, but preferred rather to send him back to Philemon. Verse 12-13, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel.” (Philemon 1:12-13) First notice, how Paul speaks of Onesimus, “sending my very heart.” Have you ever led someone to the Lord or watched someone grow tremendously before your eyes? Have you seen someone grow and development from immaturity to maturity? If you have, you probably know what Paul is talking about here. Paul dearly loves Onesimus as he dearly loves Philemon. He has seen them both come to Christ and grow in their love for Jesus and his people. Paul notes that the care he has received from Onesimus is similar to the service he would have received from Philemon himself.

            Isn’t it remarkable that a wealthy businessman and a slave have become equal through the cross? The cross is the great equalizer. The cross does not value the wealthy over slaves, but all can be useful in the kingdom. This equality makes Christianity revolutionary. Mrs. Lavinia Bartlett was a lay teacher at the historic Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. She began her ministry with 3 prostitutes that she met on the street. After six months her class grew to over 600 people. Women with social and moral problems were repenting of their sins and coming to Christ. After 16 years of labor, Lavinia Bartlett died leaving scores of her students in her wake. Her faithful teaching led countless women to the mission field and to become teachers. Metropolitan Tabernacle was known for their young gifted preacher, Charles Spurgeon, but the women were drawn to the humble wisdom of Mrs. Bartlett. Over a thousand people attended her funeral showing their appreciation of her influence on their lives. Mrs. Bartlett did not look at people’s worldly value, but their value in God’s kingdom. Man looks at outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. Are you seeing people like Paul saw Onesimus or how Mrs. Bartlett saw those prostitutes? Are you seeing people through the lense of the cross?

Appealing for the

Spirit

’s Sake

            Paul wanted to keep Onesimus, but instead sent him back to Philemon. This may appear strange in our understanding of slavery. If one escaped from slavery, why would they be sent back their master? Is Paul affirming slavery? Paul did not outright oppose slavery, but he undermined its practice. The reputation of Christians among the world was that of insubordinate rebels. Christians were characterized as those who stir up trouble in towns and bring social unrest, seen repeatedly in the book of Acts. Paul wanted Christians to honor the government so that there could be a great spread of the gospel of Christ. Paul encouraged slaves to submit to earthly masters so that they could adorn the doctrine of God our Savior. And yet, although Paul did not directly oppose the institution of slavery, he undermined it in this letter to Philemon.

            Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that Philemon could act out of his own accord by the Holy Spirit. “I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. (Philemon 1:13-14) Paul wanted Philemon’s goodness directed towards Onesimus to be done freely without compulsion. The goodness shown from Philemon would have been a sign of the Spirit’s power at work in his life. Only the power of God can change someone’s heart to extend true mercy and grace to someone that does not deserve. Onesimus was a thief and a useless one at that. How could Philemon welcome him back? He could only do it by the power of the Holy Spirit. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7) Those who are born by the Spirit of God love one another.

            Paul was giving Philemon an opportunity to show the goodness of his conversion freely asking him to love a repentant brother in Christ. Onesimus is no longer a bondservant, but a brother in Christ. Do you view conflict and reconciliation as an opportunity or trial? I think most people view conflict as something that is only negative, but conflict in the church always comes with an opportunity. Peter makes this point in his first epistle in that how we experience trials now prove our faith in Christ, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Philemon is given an opportunity to show his faith in how he handles this conflict with Onesimus, and the church has been given the opportunity to witness a display of the Spirit’s power. By keeping Onesimus with him, Paul would have robbed the church of sweetness of seeing true reconciliation.

            Paul is giving Philemon a chance to show what really matters in his life. What matters more: his runaway slave or his repentant brother? How about you? What matters most in your life? Maybe the conflict in your life is giving you an opportunity for you to learn what really matters in your life and to show that to the watching world. Friend, if you have the Spirit of God, then you have the power of love! I appeal to you to be reconciled to those in your life so that you can display the manifold wisdom of God displayed and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Appealing for

Sovereignty

’s Sake

There are always things happening that we do not understand. Although we may not always understand, we can trust that God is moving in ways far greater than we can imagine. We do not always know the why, but we do know that God is working for our good, for He works all things for the good those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Paul doesn’t give a definitive reason on why Onesimus stole from him, but he gives him a “perhaps.” Paul writes, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. (Philemon 1:15-16) Paul reminds Philemon to have an eternal perspective. Forgiveness has eternal ramifications. Paul encouraged Philemon to look past what he lost in Onesimus’s sin, but rather what he gained in his repentance. Philemon may have lost Onesimus’s labor temporarily, he may have lost the money Onesimus stole temporarily, so that he could have him back forever. Do you see how Paul is encouraging him to think with an eternal perspective? How many times do we need this reminder?

            Beloved, we do not always know the plan and purposes of God. God’s ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Paul cannot give Philemon the exact reason for the conflict with Onesimus, but he says that “perhaps” something far greater than you can imagine is going on. Friend, can I encourage you to dwell on the “perhaps” in your life? No one can give you the exact reason why you are dealing with relational conflict, financial problems, marital strife or physical pain, but “perhaps” God is using your struggles for eternal purposes. Perhaps you may be suffering temporal loss so that you can receive eternal rewards. Jesus Christ suffered temporal loss as he gave up his spirit that dark Friday afternoon. And yet, looking back we know his temporal loss brought eternal gains. His temporary death led to eternal life. His temporary pain led to eternal payment. His temporary struggle led to eternal salvation for all who would trust in Him.

            Friend, you may be struggling today, but perhaps God is using your temporary pain to bring eternal pleasure. As Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” God is good and He is moving in ways we cannot imagine. Let me encourage you to trust God’s heart. We will face temporary trials, but God promises an eternal resurrection. Perhaps God wants you to view your struggle today in light of the God’s promise of tomorrow. Charles Bridges writes, “That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God's eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good

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.” Our pain is not pointless, but under the sovereign power of Almighty God. Will you look at your pain through the “perhaps” lenses of God’s sovereign all controlling power? We do not live in the temporary, but set our hearts on the eternal. Jesus did not come to solve our temporary problems, but to give us His eternal presence.

            Following South Africa’s Apartheid, Bishop Demond Tutu established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During the Commission’s hearing, both blacks and whites testified to their crimes of murder and torture. The crimes recounted were horrific and heart-wrenching to hear. Two of those people who came to share their stories were Mrs. Calata and her daughter. One writer recounts her testimony,

Mrs. Calata's husband had been an advocate for black South Africans in rural communities. Because of his work, he'd been arrested, detained, and tortured by the police numerous times. But one day he disappeared. On the front page of the newspaper, Mrs. Calata saw a photograph of her husband's car on fire. She cried so loudly during the hearing, describing the autopsy's report about his torture, that the commission had to be adjourned.

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When they reconvened, her daughter testified. It had been years since her father’s murder and she had become a young woman. She pleaded with the commission to find her father’s killer, but not for the reason you may think. She said, “We want to forgive, but we don't know whom to forgive.” Rather than seek out vengeance and revenge, Mrs. Calata and her daughter were looking to forgive.

            Paul wanted Philemon to do the same. He appealed to him as a friend not to look for vengeance, but to extend mercy. He wanted him to do what God had done for him in Christ. An eternal perspective, which brings our minds to the reality that one day we are going to stand before God to give an account for our own forgiveness and how we have forgiven others, should lead us to look for an opportunity to forgive. Paul appealed to Philemon and I appeal to you. Will you look not to vengeance but to show mercy? Will you choose to follow Christ? Will you forgive?

[1]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[2]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

[1]

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/nov/13/theodore-roosevelts-divided-house/?page=all

accessed 8.6.2015 9:12 am

[2]

Ibid.

Ken Kryvoruka

[3]

Jerry Bridges

,

Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[4]

http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2009/september/1092109.html accessed 8.9.2015 7:49

am 

The Friend’s Welcome (Philemon 1:1-7)

Have you ever forgiven someone? Have you ever hurt someone and needed forgiveness? Have you ever been hesitant to forgive someone? Is there someone in your life today that you haven’t forgiven? Is there someone today that you need forgiveness from? Have you ever encouraged a friend to forgive and/or help them see their need of forgiveness? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then Paul’s letter to Philemon is for you.  If you answered “no” to any of these questions, I would wonder if you know any actual people.  Philemon is a short letter written from a friend to a friend encouraging the forgiveness of another friend. The heart of this letter is about reconciliation to God and to each other which is at the very heart of the Christian life. In the book of Philemon, God gives us a picture through the apostle Paul, of how real people should deal with real sin and work for real reconciliation for the glory of God.

             I pray as we study this letter over the next several weeks you will desire to reconcile with those from whom you need forgiveness, extend forgiveness to those who need it, and, most importantly, you will experience the sweetness of your own forgiveness in Christ Jesus. And it all begins with a friend’s welcome, Philemon 1:1-7,

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Paul begins his letter to his beloved friend Philemon, reminding him of their common faith.

A Common Faith

            This is the only time in any of Paul’s letters where he begins with the title, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” Paul may have wanted to remind Philemon of his chains and what he was risking for the gospel, but he also was writing more as a friend to a friend that his customary servant or apostle title. He was not writing to Philemon commanding his obedience, but as a friend encouraging his obedience. Paul wrote the letter from a Roman prison because one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, ran away from Philemon’s house. Onesimus eventually ran into Paul, whether by accident or intentionally is unclear, and became a believer of Christ. Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon so that they could be reconciled. We will look more at the relationship of Onesimus and Philemon next week, but for today we want to zero in on Paul’s relationship with Philemon.

            Philemon came to Christ under Paul’s ministry, most likely in nearby Ephesus. We do not know the specifics of his conversion, but know that he developed a close relationship with Paul, most likely as they labored together for the gospel. Philemon was probably from Colossae and a leader in the church, as the church met in his house. He was probably a successful business man having a house large enough for the church to meet in as well as the ability to own slaves. The impression from the letter was that Philemon was not only a patron of the Lord’s work, but also was actively involved in the mission himself, being labeled as a fellow worker.

Philemon was far more than just one of Paul’s colleagues, but a dear friend. Paul calls Philemon our beloved fellow worker. Beloved means dear one or dear friend. By using beloved Paul is showing his deep affection for Philemon. Philemon and Paul would have been dear friends. There is a great level of intimacy here. Paul also addresses Apphia, a feminine name, most likely Philemon’s wife. Paul is addressing a matter of the home so it would be natural to include her in the correspondence. Archippus is most likely Philemon’s and Apphia’s son. He is probably at least a teenager if not older as he was labeled a fellow soldier and is told in Colossians to fulfill his ministry. Paul is a family friend and addresses his letter to the family, but notice he doesn’t only address it to the family. The end of verse 2, Paul adds a 4

th

recipient of the letter “and the church in your house.” The implication of the church being addressed was that this personal letter dealing with Philemon and his family would have been read out loud in front of the entire church.

There are several applications that I would like to make from this implication. First, Philemon would have likely recognized the church’s right to take an interest in the affairs of his household and for the church give appropriate guidance. Philemon was probably a leader in the church so how he conducted the affairs of his home were important to the life of the body. The interconnectedness of the church strikes right at the heart of individualism. Philemon knew that how he conducted his personal life would reflect upon the church and the gospel of Christ. Do you view your personal life the same way? Do you invite the church into the important decisions of your life? Where to work, where to live, who to date, what ministries to participate in? Do you delight in the counsel and advice and the influence of the church, or would you rather the body to stay out of your affairs?

A few months ago a friend shared of a couple going through marital problems. I asked if they talked with their pastor and she said, “No. She said that she would never talk to her pastor about that.” Beloved, do not shield your lives from each other. God has designed, as this letter shows, that the church should be intimately involved in your life. We should not get angry when people step into our lives, but rejoice that someone loves us that much. Paul shows Philemon how much he needs the church in his life and in doing so shows us our need as well.

Friend, if you are not already, have you ever considered becoming a member of a local church? Do you realize how important the church is for your soul? God has created us for each other. He says that once we were not a people, but now we are a people. Jesus gave his life as a ransom to purify a people for himself who are zealous for good works. He purchased the church with his own blood. When people do not make the local church a vital part of their lives they may not fully understand what Jesus died for. He did not just die to save you from your sins, but so that you could be the righteousness of God. Jesus died and rose from the dead so that we could live a new life as a part of his resurrected people, the church. Do you realize without connecting yourself to a church and willingly submitting to the teaching of the elders you are hurting yourself? And you are hurting the church. How much stronger would churches be if people laid down their individualism for the corporate community? American individualism may be great for career or image, but it flows against the interdependence of the Christian life. Christian, consider joining a local church, and if you want to talk more about that I would be happy to set up a meeting with you.

If you are not a Christian, I want you to pay particular attention how Paul finishes his customary greeting. It may appear like a simple greeting, but it is filled with two of the most precious words that shape a Christian’s life, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” It is a customary greeting for the day, but grace and peace are deeply profound theological words that shape the Christian life. Friend, if you are not a Christian, please understand why Christians love grace and peace. Grace is the unmerited favor of God. The Bible says we are sinners and have rebelled against God. We all know that we have not lived perfect lives. We have done or said things we regret. Our conscience condemns us. We know we are sinners and deserving of eternal hell because of our sin, a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. But here is the good news, while we are deserving of hell, God gives us grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins. And after he was dead and buried, God raised him from the dead accepting his sacrifice for sinners. So we bring our sin, our shame, our guilt and regret to God and he gives us grace, unmerited favor. Jesus has made peace for us through his blood on the cross. God gives us grace by making peace. Non-Christian, please know that the grace and peace we have received is also offered to you. All you have to do is confess your sin and turn to Christ. Trust in Jesus as your only hope before God. Friend, the reason this letter is so important is because it speaks about forgiveness and we all need forgiveness. Before we can extend forgiveness, we first must receive forgiveness from God. Are you ready to receive forgiveness?

The former president of World Vision Bob Seiple shares a story of a woman named Mary as she visited in a Lebanon hospital. In the 1980’s, during civil war, Druze militia slaughtered 33 of her Christian relatives in a single day. A young man about 20 came up and said, “Renounce the cross of die.” And Mary said, “I was born a Christian and I will die a Christian.” And he shot her. The bullet passed through her jaw and neck. The soldier then carved a cross on her chest with a knife. The next day they came back and discovered her alive and miraculously brought her to a hospital. Seiple recalls her conversation with Mary who was a quadriplegic asking why would they shoot you one day and try to save your life the next. She said, “Sometimes bad people are taught to do good things.” Seiple responded by asking, “How do you feel about the person who pulled the trigger? Who made you strapped to a wheel chair? A ward of the state? How do you feel about the man?’ She said, “I have forgiven my enemies because Christ has forgiven me. And I am looking for the man who hurt me so I can tell him I forgive him.

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” Beloved, when we understand that we have been forgiven by God, how can we not forgive those who sin against us? Forgiven people forgive.

Grace and peace might be a customary greeting, but to a believer they remind us of the common faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves us from hell. Philemon and the church would have treasured those words as Christians do today.

A Common Mission

Paul was in a Roman prison because he was arrested for preaching the gospel. Philemon, a fellow worker, would have known the risks of partnering in the same mission. He opened up his home for the church to meet in his house. His wife and his son were intimately involved in the mission of Christ. It appears that Archippus may even have been given a unique task to be fulfilled separate from the work in Colossae. Paul reminded Philemon of their partnership in recalling how often Paul prays for him in his work. Paul writes, “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers.” Paul often thanked God for how he was moving in churches. Paul’s focus was to give praise and thanks to God, because he knew that all good and perfect gifts come from above. Paul knew this in his own life for he said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 2:20)

The credit for Philemon’s life and faithfulness goes to God. Thanksgiving should be a common part of the Christian life. Thankfulness is one way Christians keep their hearts focused on the gift of God’s salvation. Thankfulness creates humility in the life of the believer. If you struggle with pride, spend more time in prayer thanking God for his work. Your thanksgiving will cultivate humility in your heart. And this is what Paul is trying to get Philemon to remember. Paul is thanking God for how God has changed and transformed Philemon’s heart for the same God who changed him also changed Onesimus. Paul wisely helps Philemon remember that God is the one who desires all the praise and thanksgiving for his life. In a way this is preparing his heart to live on the basis of that thanksgiving.

When Paul prayed, he thanked God for Philemon’s life because Philemon loved the saints and his strong faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Philemon trusted Jesus Christ as His Savior and it was evident to everyone around him. His faith was manifested in love towards others. There is no such thing as faith without love. If people claim to have faith, but do not love the brothers then their faith is dead and futile. The Christian faith should always be expressed in love for others, which is one of the reasons why the church is so important. The natural life will always lend itself toward self-preservation. We naturally look out for our own interests and do things that serve ourselves and our families, but when we come to Christ that changes. Christians primary motivation is no longer self-survival and to care for ourselves, but to love others. The love we have for one another proves that we are disciples of Jesus.

When we are tethered to a specific people in a local church, we are forced to sacrifice our own desires for the body. We give our time every week to one another as we gather in worship. The simple fact of showing up to the gathering is a statement that we care more about each other than we do about ourselves. When we use our gifts to serve the body we show practically that the “us” is more important than the “I.” This was Philemon’s testimony and is the testimony of every faithful believer in Christ. I want people to be more heavily invested in the local church, not only because I want the local church to grow, which I do, but I want Christians to experience more of God.

The love that we experience from the saints in the body of Christ pales in comparison to the love we have experienced from God in Jesus Christ. We are fundamentally always forgiven sinners. Our rebellion and sin was so great that we deserved to pay for it for all eternity, but that great debt we owe was forgiven by God through Christ. When we understand how much we have been forgiven, we will gladly and happily give ourselves in love for others. Jesus gave himself for us so now we give ourselves to one another. Paul prays for Philemon that he will experience the full knowledge of every good thing when he shares his faith. Many Christians read verse 6 and interpret the sharing of faith as a reference to evangelism. And it is true that when we share the faith with non-Christians we are reminded of God’s faithfulness and grace given to us, but I think Paul is not referring to sharing one’s faith with non-Christians here. Paul is focusing on Philemon’s sharing of his faith with other Christians.

The Greek word for sharing here is koinonia, which means “fellowship”. Paul wants the sharing or the fellowship or the participation of his faith among the saints to become effective so that he will experience the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. Paul wants Philemon to experience more of God as he loves the church. Fellowship, koinonia, is a key word in this book. It appears at very specific points in this letter, because the issue Paul is addressing is not sharing of one’s faith with non-believers, but with believers. Paul is primarily concerned with how Philemon will share his faith with his brother Onesimus. He wants the church to have true fellowship so people within the church can more fully experience the love of God in Christ.

Beloved, do you realize how important is the fellowship of the saints? We have been called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ and one another. 1 John 1:6-7, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus is Son cleanses us from all sin.” Isn’t it interesting that living in an interdependent fellowship with one another helps us walk in the light and cleanses us from sin? I think most Christians underestimate the importance of the local church for their spiritual growth. Many are so focused on their own individual spiritual growth that they forsake the church, and in doing so cripple fellowship with God. When we are walking in the light, walking with Jesus, we have fellowship with God and with one another. This is what Paul wants for Philemon and I want for you.

How are you sharing your faith with the people of Park Baptist Church? How are you loving each other? Are you spending time in prayer together or the study of the word? Are you intentionally using your words to encourage one another? Are you using your gift to serve others? Are you regularly praying and thanking God for members’ faith in Jesus and their love for the saints? The fellowship of the church should not be first thing to cut out of your life when things get busy. The church should be central in your life because it is the primary way you will experience the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

A Comforting Joy

            Paul finishes his friendly welcome to Philemon with a personal note of what Philemon’s live has done for Paul in verse 7, “For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Paul was filled with comfort and joy because how Philemon loved others. What a great example Paul gives for us. His primary cause for joy and comfort was not Philemon’s love for him, but in how he has refreshed the saints. You can hear how dear Philemon was to Paul even how he addressed him, as “my brother.”

            Paul encourages Philemon before he exhorts him. It is a great example in how we should look how God is moving and growing in someone’s life before we point out what they are lacking. Paul wants to show Philemon the cause for his joy so that Philemon will be spurred on to continue to refresh the hearts of the saints specifically in how he forgives and reconciles with Onesimus. Philemon’s relationship with Onesimus has far-reaching ramifications beyond their personal relationship, but will have an impact with the fellowship, koinonia, of the church and the witness of Christ lived out for the gospel. Paul was reminding Philemon to continue in love so his life would be marked by Christ’s forgiveness.

            Friend, do you realize how important forgiveness is? Forgiveness will have ramifications for eternity for yourself and for others. Friend, we will all one day stand before God and the reality of our forgiveness will be all that matters. We may want to pursue many things in this life, but are we pursuing that which will matter most at the end of life? D.A. Carson wrote a book about his dad, an Ordinary Pastor, who was not well known, but well loved by God. He finishes his book writing about his father’s death and the most important thing about his father. He writes,

When Tom Carson (he) died, there were no crowds outside the hospital, no editorial comments in the papers, no announcements on the television, no mention in Parliament, no attention paid by the nation. In his hospital room there was no one by his bedside. There was only the quiet hiss of oxygen, vainly venting because he had stopped breathing and would never need it again.

But on the other side, all the trumpets sounded. Dad won entrance to the only throne-room that matters, not because he was a good man or a great man—he was, after all, a most ordinary pastor—but because he was a forgiven man. And he heard the voice of him whom he longed to hear saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your Lord.

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Friend, will you hear the same words? Our entrance into glory is not the basis of great works, but on the forgiveness of a great God. On the day judgement the most important thing will not be your accomplishments, but your forgiveness. Are you forgiven? And if you are forgiven, will you also forgive?

[1]

Bloomberg, Craig. Interpreting Parables. Pg 321-322

[2]

Caron, D.A. Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor: The life and reflections of Tom Carson.