This is one of my single talks that I delivered before Easter to the church congregation, and it touched many people. I have put it on so that for those who have never read Philemon or want to read a talk, then here it is for you. Pray that God blesses you as you read it.
Theme: The death of Christ makes us want to reconcile even in the most unlikely situation.
Aim: If you have a faith in Jesus Christ, then you should easily reconcile to your brother or Sister.
1. To have faith in Jesus
2. To have love for your brother or sister.
3. To start on a clean slate.
Have you ever fallen out with someone you love? Has there been a break up in your home over an issue that you think will never be resolved? In your place of work can you imagine working with a colleague, or someone who you are responsible for, running away and stealing from you?
Well here is a situation that I read off an internet blog a few days ago. There was a couple who belonged to a church, the husband wasn’t a Christian, but his wife was. They went to church every Sunday, and they were part of a weekly home group. Then they were separated for 3 years because they argued a lot, there was a lack of love in the marriage; the husband left the wife, and had a relationship with someone else for a while. It seemed that they were not going to get back together. It looks a hopeless case. After a while the husband wanted reconciliation with his wife, but his wife was on the brink of getting the divorce. Do you think that they can reconcile together? Is it possible to bring back two people who are not likely to come back together? In today’s passage will are going to look at a man called Philemon who was himself a victim of separation with one of his slaves called Onesimus, and Paul is writing to him to address the problem. Reconciliation in any form is very difficult, and time-consuming. It can affect those around you and cause disruptions. Paul gives Philemon 3 steps in order to create reconciliation.
1. To have faith in Jesus
The first step to reconciliation for Paul is to have faith in Jesus Christ. When the letter was written it suggests that Paul was in prison (v1+9) and he considered Philemon a “dear friend and fellow worker”. It is a warm greeting for Paul to use to address Philemon because he saw him as a faithful friend and worker of the gospel. Philemon is not a stranger to the work of Paul because he was probably associated with the church that meets in his home v2.
So Paul sees Philemon as a man of faith and he thanks God for him in his prayers v4+5.This is a typical Pauline prologue to his letter because in Phil 1:3, 1 Corth 1:4; Rom 1:8; Colo 1:3; 1 Thess 1:2, 2 Thess 1:3 1Tim 1:12 2Tim 1:3, Phil 4. Paul thanks God for all of them because of their faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Philemon is no exception. Philemon is someone who has heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, fully confessed his sins, and now he is living out his Christian life. At the same time Paul realizes that it isn’t easy to live out your faith, and you will come across situations that are difficult.
Paul makes it his prayer in v6. He prays that they may understand everything good that is in Christ. Now there are many ways to act out ones faith, e.g. you can go on the streets like I do on a Wednesday morning, and give out gospel leaflets and talk to people about your faith, or as part of being a small group is being active in your faith. Even talking to your friends and neighbours about Jesus is acting out your faith. To understand the good things in Christ is to accept all that Christ has done for us and for what he will give to us when he returns. Those who don’t have a faith, only have the understanding of themselves and the comfort of themselves. Those who have Christ as their foundation in their lives can cast all their problems on to him.
When you go through a break up in any form, one of the first things you do is feel that you are alone, and no one understands. I have experienced this myself. I had a really good bunch of friends when I was at school and when I told them that I was going to university in Wales and to study theology, some of them just thought I was wearied. I kept being asked “Why are you going to study about God?” They started to break away from me, and sometimes I thought I was alone. They didn’t understand me at all.
The problem in that situation was they didn’t have a faith in Christ, and that meant they didn’t understand what I was going through at the time. In our lives we have things that unite us together like, hobbies, interests, music, jobs etc. Having faith in Christ means we are united together to him. Eph 2:13 We are part of the family of Christ, that is why Paul keeps saying brother v1,v7,v16, v20.
When you become part of a family of faith, you have to change. That is what happened to Onesimus V11. He was useless. For the cause of the gospel, if we have no faith, than we are useless for God because we are blind men and women trying to lead blind people. We need to receive Christ in to our lives; he opens our eyes to see the truth and when that happens; everything changes. How did Onesimus change? What did Paul say to him when he was in prison? He told him the gospel of what Jesus had done for him. When he receive Christ in his life he became useful. A small fact here: look at your only footnote and see that Onesimus means useful. We become useful beings for God when we have faith. And when we become useful, we can start the processes of correcting all the wrongs we have done and to begin to reconcile not on our own strength, but with the strength of faith in Christ.
So having faith in Christ is the starting point to any permanent reconciliation.
2. To have love for your brothers and sisters.
Paul’s second step to reconcile is to love your brothers and sisters. When you love someone, it gives them encouragement and that is what Paul felt v7. In today’s society, the word love can mean so many things. There is the love of passion that is expressed between a man and a woman in marriage. There is a love of possession that you want to own something that really means something to you. The love that Paul is referring to is the love of God. This is a unique kind of love. This is a love that comforts us. This is the love that every person who has faith in Christ should posses, for we are commanded as in the two great commandments: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love your neighbour as yourself.
To know that someone loves you, to know that you are special to someone, gives you joy and refreshes your heart. This is the love that Paul is appealing to Philemon. Paul, who was an apostle, because he saw Jesus Christ, has an authority to order people in the churches that he planted v8, but v9. Paul knew that Philemon had the love of Christ as a believer because he heard about it v5. He had faith in Christ and Love for the saints. This is the same love that Paul appeals to him to have for Onesimus v10.
Paul has a love for Onesimus because he sees him as a son in his old age v10, and compared him to Paul’s very heart v12. Now Paul’s love for his new brother in Christ is so strong that he finds it hard to let Onesimus back to Philemon v13. That is the level of what God’s love can achieve. It is a love that never breaks, and never fails.
Philemon would probably want to know, “Why should I take back someone who has been apart from me, has had no care for me, and now wants to return to me?” Paul has seen the separation has a positive move v15. It has given Onesimus the time to sort out his uselessness as a slave, and to be a changed person; someone who will stay, and remain, not run away. To expect someone to do something that is different to what they have done before takes time. I like the illustration that my vicar told me; it’s like turning around the Titanic, it would have taken time. Like the couple at the beginning, they were separated for 3 years it would take a long time.
Philemon would receive him, not as a slave like he was before, but a brother v16. This is powerful imagery that Paul is doing here. He is abolishing the slavery of Onesimus, and saying to Philemon that he would be better for you to love him as fellow brother for the gospel. Paul saw something in Onesimus that Philemon couldn’t see. He might use this to defend Onesimus from Philemon, but it is down to the love of the gospel. We as Christians today, try to dwell harmoniously with our fellow brother and sisters, because we want to live out the love of Christ, and that is what Paul wants Philemon to do. To act out his love and faith in Onesimus, by allowing him back. There are two ways that he wants to be received:
1. A man. This is a man who is flesh and blood, who has feelings, and emotions. This is a man who will work for him every day, either in business or work.
2. A brother in the Lord. He is a believer who has heard the gospel, and now is ready to deal with spiritual affair.
Now Onesimus is a free man. Paul is trying to destroy the slavery, and give back a loving worker of the gospel. The Parallel to this is that today, if you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and saviour, you are free from your sins. Jesus became the substitute because he loves us; he loves us so much that he took all our sins with him to the cross, and return as the victor over death and sin. Like in Rom 6:17+18.Those that have faith are now slaves of righteousness and that means we have to love our neighbours, our brothers and sisters. If you have faith and love, then you are on the way to reconciliation.
3. To start on a clean sheet
The third and final step to reconciliation is to start again. Paul tells Philemon v17-19. He wants Philemon to welcome Onesimus back as a changed man. He wants him to be welcomed like Paul. Philemon would see Paul as a famous man, so he would probably have a party and food etc. That is what he wants for Onesimus. This is like the prodigal Son. The son returns home, and there is a feast of joy. Paul will pay up any debts that are owing to Philemon. Why? Because he loves him in Christ. He wants no small barriers to prevent them to reconcile back together.
Paul here is showing us an example of grace. Onesimus doesn’t deserve the gift that Paul is offering, but Paul does this out of love. This is the example of what Jesus has taught each one of us. God sent his one and only son as a gift that we don’t deserve because we are people who have evil hearts and desires. He came to reconcile us back to God, by taking all God’s wrath on himself because of our sins, and took it to the cross. That is the act of ultimate grace. Maybe you have a neighbour in your street that owes you a new lawnmower, or a new plate or a debt. If he can repay it then that is fine, but if he can’t, then use it as a gift. Remember the gift of God, his son Jesus Christ, as an unpaid gift to each one of us. A gift we don’t deserve, but given freely out of the love of God. If we are like that today, then we should be people, who except that people can change for the better. That is what we need to do in order to repair our relationships says Paul, is to allow someone to start on a clean sheet.
So how does the story end? The husband completely changed and became a Christian. His wife had a big enough heart and an attitude of faith that God could work things out once he had become a Christian, and so was willing to try again. They have a new marriage that still needs work but it’s wonderful. That is the story of how reconciliation works. That is what probably happened between Philemon and Onesimus: so the steps are:
1. To have faith in Christ
2. To have love for your brothers and sisters around you.
3. To start on a new sheet.