We live in a world that is deeply divided. We divided ourselves along political, ideological, economic and ethnic lines, just to name a few. The discourse in this country and even in the world today is really at an all time low. I can’t remember a time like our current time. Now days if you disagree with someone you’re automatically labeled; traitor, sexist, racist, heretic.
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!
It’s been awhile since I’ve done any writing. Mostly that’s because I’m trying to get adjusted to preaching full time now as well as getting to know members of our church and meeting with other local pastors…you get the picture.
One thing I didn’t realize would be as difficult is working from home. With two small children in our home, it gets loud and makes it hard to concentrate on what you’re reading or typing or doing. All that to say it’s been awhile.
So I’ve got an idea. I think I’ll start writing about what I’m preaching on; sort of a summary of the last Sunday’s message and what God is teaching me in the texts being preached.
So this last week I started a short series through the book of Philemon. Short because the letter to Philemon is short. As I began my prep work and study, I must admit that I initially approached Philemon not super excited about preaching through it. I was like, ‘Nobody preaches through Philemon.’ Heck, my dad’s been preaching for 50 years and has never preached through Philemon.
But as I began to study, I came to see why this seemingly obscure letter is in our Bible. Yes, Paul’s persuasion is superb and yes, slavery is a giant elephant in the room when this letter is addressed. But I really don’t think that’s Paul’s concern here and the more I read this letter, the more I see the beauty of the gospel in it.
So last week we covered verses 1-7.
I wanna set the scene for you a bit first. We know from tradition that most of these letters to the churches were read aloud. According to Colossians 4, Paul sent this letter back to Philemon in the care of Tychicus and Onesimus. If you’ve never read Philemon, let me help you out. Onesimus was a slave that had belonged to Philemon and had run away. During his time running, he ended up in Rome, came into contact with Paul, heard the gospel and was converted. So Paul writes a letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus and sends it back with Onesimus.
Okay, so imagine this for a second. You are a runaway slave that has been returned to your master’s home with a letter from the Apostle Paul asking for mercy for you and it’s being read aloud in front of the church that meets in his (your former master’s) home.
So I have to ask myself, ‘Why would Paul write a letter loaded with controversy and send it back with the guy who it is about knowing it will be read publicly?’
I believe it’s because Paul had something to say to Philemon (and the church meeting in his home and us) that has to work itself out in Christian community. Seems kinda harsh to us in our 21st century-let’s-all-get-offended-by-every-single-thing-context. So then why do it?
Because the way we live our lives as individual followers of Christ has a corporate impact on the Church and her fellowship.
Let me say that again:
The way we live our lives as individual followers of Christ has a corporate impact on the life of the Church.
Our individual life has corporate ramifications for the body of Christ. We don’t get to make life choices and decision in a vacuum if we’re part of the body of Christ. No one is an island in the Church, brothers and sisters.
Consider Romans 12:3-5 here. Go get your Bible and read this text; I’ll wait.
See we live in an individualistic, narcissistic society that’s all about me, me me.
Take care of yourself.
Follow your dreams; you can do it.
You can be whatever you want.
Find your own path.
And my personal favorite: Just follow your heart.
But the Bible pushes back on us here. The Bible says, ‘No, it’s not about you. It’s about Christ and his bride.’
As we come into the body of Christ we have to recognize that we must surrender our personal rights. We must submit to Christ, his Word and each other. This is for our good and his glory. This is how God designed us to work; in community.
And as we live in the community of the body of Christ that God has so graciously given to us we find the peace we so desperately crave. The grace of God to the people of God comes by means of the Son of God and results in peace among God’s people.
Christ came and gave of himself so that we who are so selfish and self absorbed could instead have fellowship with each other, truly belonging to each other. But we know from Scripture and our own experience that none of this is possible without Christ. Without his coming, without his perfect and obedient life, without his willing atoning death, we can have no fellowship with each other that will last. But Christ has come and in him we find our grace and peace. In Christ we have love for the saints by faith. In him we have fellowship for the good of the Church, the spread of the Gospel and the glory of God!
Thanks be to God!
Soli Deo Gloria!