An Exemplary Love

On June 28, 1919 Harry married Bess. Harry and Bess attended school together from elementary to high school, but Harry claimed he fell in love with her when he was 6 years old in a Sunday School class in Independence, MO. Sadly, Bess spurned his advances throughout school. It wasn’t until a “chance” encounter when Harry returned a dish for his aunt to her neighbor and Bess opened the door that their romance began. Their relationship of love grew for one another and after Harry’s service in the war, they married and would spend 53 years together as husband and wife. During their courtship and marriage, Harry wrote 1,300 letters to his beloved Bess almost every night he spent away from her[1]. Harry loved Bess. And Harry was a very busy man, as he was the 33rd President of the United States of America. Harry Truman wrote to his beloved Bess during times of campaigning, diplomacy and war.

            On June 28, 1948 on their 29th Anniversary, Harry was in Washington and wrote to Bess in Independence, “You still are on the pedestal where I placed you that day in Sunday school 1890. What an old fool I am.[2]” Harry Truman did not need to be told how to love his wife, for it was clear to everyone around him that he loved his Bess. There are 1,300 letters documenting various ways he expressed his love to his wife. His love was undeniable. Could the same be said about our love? Is our love undeniable?

            Love is the distinguishing mark of a Christian. If a person does not love, then they do not know God. The Apostle John writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8). Love is the undeniable mark of the Christian faith. Therefore love should be the undeniable mark of the Church. Are we known for our love? Is the love in our congregation undeniable to those inside and outside our congregation?

            The Thessalonians were known for their love. If we want to become an exemplary church then we must have a love that is undeniable to others. In our text, we will see one theological aspect of an undeniable love. Then, we will focus on three specific applications on what that love will look like to those around us.

Powerful Love of Others

            Paul is closing the letter with specific exhortations to the church. He begins the final section of the letter with highlighting the importance of sexual purity. The church must have a different sexual ethic than the world. Remember the church would have been full of young believers since it was only a few months old and those young believers would need to be taught and re-taught on how to live for Christ. After addressing sexual purity, Paul makes a sharp transition to address brotherly love. 1 Thessalonians 4:9, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.” The Thessalonians had been taught by God to love one another.

            The first theological truth is that true love is supernatural. It is a gift from God. We cannot love without God powerfully changing our hearts. In John 3, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We were born sinners, born in the flesh with a heart against God. Our natural desires were to serve ourselves. Ephesians 2:1, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Ephesians 2:3 says that we “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The fact that the Thessalonians love each other like a family was a demonstration of the power of God, because of the total depravity of the human heart.

            If we understand how sinful our human hearts can be, we will be amazed at the power of God’s regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. R.C. Sproul helps us understand the difference between total depravity and utter depravity. He writes,

The Bible teaches the total depravity of the human race. Total depravity means radical corruption. We must be careful to note the difference between total depravity and "utter" depravity. To be utterly depraved is to be as wicked as one could possibly be. Hitler was extremely depraved, but he could have been worse than he was. I am sinner. Yet I could sin more often and more severely than I actually do. I am not utterly depraved, but I am totally depraved. Total depravity means that I and everyone else are
depraved or corrupt in the totality of our being. There is no part of us that is left untouched by sin. Our minds, our wills, and our bodies are affected by evil. We speak sinful words, do sinful deeds, have impure thoughts. Our very bodies suffer from the ravages of sin.

Perhaps "radical corruption" is a better term to describe our fallen condition than "total depravity." I am using the word "radical" not so much to mean "extreme," but to lean more heavily on its original meaning. "Radical" comes from the Latin word for "root" or "core." Our problem with sin is that it is rooted in the core of our being. It permeates our hearts. It is because sin is at our core and not merely at the exterior of our lives that the Bible says: "There is none righteous, no not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12[3]

We are sinful to the core which is why we need conversion. We need God to teach us how to love for this is exactly what he did with the Thessalonians.

            If you are not a loving person, it may be because you have never experienced the new birth. Churches may not be full of love, because they may be full of people who have not experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in conversion. Conversion is not a mere modification of behavior, but a radical transformation of the heart. Our passions change. Our desire change. Our very core changes. We no longer are set against God, but are brought into his family. We are changed from enemies to sons and daughters adopted by his grace. We must repent of our sins and trust in Christ. And when we turn from our sins, we are transformed from the inside out.

We even see that in how Paul defines love in saying, “now concerning brotherly love,” he is redefining how we are called to treat one another. We are a family. A family of people who have been born of God whose hearts have been transformed to love another. We are taught by God to love. It is supernatural. One sign of this supernatural love is how we treat all the brothers. The Thessalonians were loving all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Jesus says,

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? (Matthew 5:43-47)

Do you love all? One of the marks of an exemplary church is when people love those who are not like them. When the rich love the poor and the young love the old, and the singles love the married, and black loves white. An exemplary church is full of undeniable love for all the brothers.

            So the first theological aspect of love is that it comes from God. We must be born again. Jesus tells Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” If you want to love, you must believe in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. He died and rose again so that for whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. The first step of love is conversion. We love, because God first loved us.

Peaceful Love of Others

            There is always room to grow in our love for one another. The Thessalonians had an undeniable love, but are told to continue in that love. 1 Thessalonians 4:10-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs.” Christians are called to aspire to live quietly. This is a very interesting phrasing by Paul because he puts to opposite ideas together. We are to aspire or work eagerly to live quietly and at peace. They seem at odds, but Paul’s focus is that the church would live in such a way to make the gospel attractive. Although we could make an application from verse 11 to the church, I think the primary focus is how the church interacts with the world.

            Christianity had a bad reputation in the first century. The Jews were constantly bringing rumors before the Romans that Christians were stirring up trouble and causing dissension in society. Paul wanted Christians to strive to be at peace and lead a quiet life so they would be able to draw more attention to the gospel. Christians are called to engage in our society and live as good citizens so that we give a good witness to the world. Christians are not primarily called to transform the culture, but to be a different culture. The greatest impact that Christians will have on the world will be through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We, therefore, have to be very careful in how we engage with our culture. We are called to promote justice and truth in every area of life, but we do so with wisdom and grace. We must live well before our culture, meaning we must strive to be at peace within our neighbors so that people will listen to our message.

            Who do you think will have a great impact in their workplace for the gospel: the employee who is constantly challenging his boss to change their business practices or the one who faithfully does their job without grumbling? I believe Christians should focus much more on being good and faithful employees than working to transform their work culture because I believe the best way to transform their work environment is by being a faithful employee. Christians do not have a great reputation in our culture. We need to be wise in how we interact with others so that the gospel will be attractive. The main goal of Christians is not social revolution, but to adorn the gospel and draw people to Jesus Christ. It does not mean we should not care about society, but rather societal transformation should not be the main goal.

            The second exhortation Paul gives to the church is to mind their own affairs, or mind your own business. We should be focused on what we are called to do rather than focusing on what we think others should or should not be doing. We do not know exactly the context in which Paul gives this exhortation. It could be a general statement or referring to something specific going on in the community that he knows about from Timothy’s report. Either way, Christians are called to love others by keeping their own affairs in order without meddling into other people’s problems. We should avoid gossip and talking poorly of our brothers and sisters. The best way to enter into the affairs of our brothers and sisters is through prayer. Let us first bring our brother and sister’s needs before the Lord.

            As our culture continues to evolve and drift away from traditional Christian values, it will become even more important that Christians are careful in how we interact with the world around us. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. How should Paul’s exhortation to aspire to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs govern our cultural involvement? We should think about the various applications of these twin truths for our jobs, our neighborhoods, and our politics. An exemplary church should be known primarily for their love for Jesus, one another and the lost rather than their love for political or social change.

Productive Love of Others

            Paul gives one more exhortation for the church to “work with their hands, as we instructed you.” There were some of the Thessalonian believers who had a heightened eschatology. They believed that the Lord was going to return very soon so they stopped working and were depending on the welfare of other Christians in the church. They were idle.  We read in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12,

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Everyone was responsible to work to care for themselves and to contribute to the needs of the church. Those who were not willing to work (not those who can’t find work) needed to be admonished to get busy.

            Greek culture degraded manual labor thinking it was only fitting for slaves. Christians viewed manual labor as an honorable pursuit. Many Christians probably were slaves and were exhorted to work hard for their master and the sake of the gospel (Titus 2:9-10). Many Christians have adopted the Greek culture’s perspective of manual labor, viewing it as a degrading task, but working with ones hands is a noble undertaking. We should not avoid hard work, but rejoice in the gift of work. Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”

            Love should be expressed in being productive for the sake others. Lazy and idle people are not loving others. Proverbs 18:9, “Whoever is slack in his work, is a brother to him who destroys.” There were some among the Thessalonians who were depending on the labor of others and not contributing to the needs of the community. Love for others is an undeniable mark of a Christian, so one’s willingness to work and serve others is an indication of that love. One’s lack of work is an indication of their lack of love. This is not referring to those who can’t work because of physical disability. It is referring to those who have the ability, but choose to remain idle.

Proper Love of Others

            Paul provides the purpose for these expressions of love. The theological principle is that Christians love because God has taught them to love by the Holy Spirit. Those who are born of God love others. He gives three specific expressions of that love to aspire to live a quiet life, to mind your own affairs and to work with your hands. Then he gives the purpose for those expressions in 1 Thessalonians 4:12, “so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”

            There is a direct link in how the church lives to how it is viewed by society. Paul cared about outsiders. Paul gave his life so that others would come to faith in Christ. He was beaten, stoned, and suffered a lack of food so that non-believers would come to Christ. Christians have a mission. We are called to go and make disciples of all nations. We want the world to come to Christ and one of the best ways for us to make an impact in the world is to be an exemplary church. When the church is full of love,  the world will know what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world will know us by our love. It is that simple.

            And yet we have to know what love is. Love is aspiring to live a quiet life and to mind our own affairs and to work with our hands so that outsiders will see their need for the gospel. A church should have a love that is undeniable so that those on the outside of the community will realize what they are lacking and be attracted to the gospel. Jesus Christ has taught us to love. “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18)

            Let me close with a story that illustrates this principle from someone’s personal experience. Jason Helopolous writes about how the Lord used the “strange love” of the church to draw him to Christ:

As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.

I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.

I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me. One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven[4].

Beloved, God has given us a mission to make disciples by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  God will use the undeniable love of a local church to draw people to Christ. Beloved, let us be a church that lives out a faithful gospel witness in word and deed.  



[1] accessed on 10.10.2015

[2] accessed 10.10.2015

[3] accessed 10.11.15

[4] accessed on 2.6.14

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.


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.


” 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


’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


’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


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


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


’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


’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


.” 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.


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?


Jerry Bridges


Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[2] accessed 8.9.2015 7:49



accessed 8.6.2015 9:12 am



Ken Kryvoruka


Jerry Bridges


Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts

[4] accessed 8.9.2015 7:49