Sadly this kind of vitriol has spread to the Church as well. I’m all for challenging false and heretical teaching. The true Church has always challenged that. But there is a lot of difference between false teaching and a difference of opinions. The Church should be setting the example for tolerance, kindness and civil discourse. There are lots of things I disagree with but let’s be careful about calling each other names and dis-fellowshipping others because of a difference of opinion.
Last week our church looked at the first seven verses of Philemon from the lens of the foundation of Christian fellowship. This week we looked at the remainder of the letter through the lens of the reconciliation of Christian fellowship.
So as you consider this with me, keep in mind three things, three filters if you will. The first is that Christ is the foundation of our fellowship as believers. The second is that we belong to one another; we are not our own but part of the body of Christ. The third is the understanding of what koinonia, fellowship, means.
Paul’s real goal in the letter to Philemon and the church in his home was reconciliation. Paul wanted Onesimus and Philemon to be reconciled for the good of the Church, the spread of the gospel and, ultimately, the glory of God.
Christ unites us in the Church; he is the foundation of our fellowship. His act of salvation has reconciled us to God and to each other. This is the gospel. In Philemon we see the gospel in action, a parable if you will. There are three things we looked at specifically.
1. The gospel should change how we submit to each other
2. The gospel should change how we relate to each other
3. The gospel should change how we respond to each other
Submission is not something we’re very good at. I’m not anyway. Just ask any one of my former LE supervisors and they’ll tell you. But what struck me about this aspect of Paul’s letter was how kind he was to Philemon.
Paul had the apostolic authority to force the issue if he wanted; he could have commanded Philemon’s obedience. But he didn’t. His appeal was to love. Paul’s submission to Philemon is showing Philemon the very thing he wants him to do; submit your own personal desires for the good of others in the body of Christ.
Submission to each other is not easy but if we take Ephesians 5:21 (and many other texts) seriously we must. Christ himself submitted to the will of the Father. Serving one another in submission to each other, out of love, conforms us to the image of Christ.
How we relate to each other in the Church matters. Look at how Paul helps Philemon, in the gospel, shift his relationship to Onesimus; from slave to “my child”, from master to “father”, from slave to brother. Let’s put ourselves in this.
Because of Christ you are no longer an enemy of God; he calls you “my child.”
Because of Christ you can now see God as a kind “father.”
Because of Christ you are no longer a slave but a brother.
Because of Christ God calls you “my very heart.”
The gospel changes relationships.
The gospel changes how we respond to each other. This is where we can apply this to our own lives. Onesimus, by law, had wronged Philemon. By law, we have wronged God. But just as the appeal to Philemon is one of grace, we have received grace also.
Our sin has forever separated us from God in open defiance of a holy God. We owe him perfect obedience that we are utterly incapable of.
But Christ has come. In him we have the same kindness and grace we see in Paul’s appeal. Christ has said to God the Father, “If they have wronged you, charge that to my account. I’ll take the blame, I’ll take the blows, I’ll take the death they deserve. Give them my portion.”
Oh, Church, see here the beauty of the gospel. You are more than redeemed, more than forgiven. In Christ we stand before Almighty God as though we have never sinned, clothed in Christ’s bloody robes of righteousness!
Thanks be to God!
Soli Deo Gloria!