The Epistle to Philemon Grace Changes Everything (Part 1)


Forgiveness–Do It

PHILEMON

In 1977, an American phenomenon was born. Written and directed by George Lucas, the movie Star Wars captured the attention of moviegoers of all ages. The film, which takes place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, made its way into nearly every movie theater across the United States. Raise your hand if you saw this movie in its original release in the theater.

When inflation is taken into account, it is the second highest grossing movie of all time, coming in just behind the 1939 release of Gone with the Wind. Just as a note, all nine Star Wars movies are in the top 100 highest grossing movies of all time–not bad. The original Star Wars received seven Oscars, and its soundtrack, written by John Williams, has been listed by the American Film Institute as the best movie score of all time.

It is regarded by many in the film industry as one of the greatest and most important films in film history. It led to two sequels—The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, and then later to a prequel trilogy, a sequel trilogy, two additional spinoff films, as well as various TV series. We know this movie as Episode 4, a New Hope, but when it was released, it was only called Star Wars.

If you would humor me for just a moment, picture the opening scene in your mind. To jog your memory, we see a small spaceship being overtaken by a much larger star destroyer–it is clear that they plan to board the ship. Soldiers, guns drawn, line both sides of the hallway, waiting to be boarded by the enemy. The door is breeched and stormtroopers open fire, killing the soldiers and taking command of their ship.

Soon, a man in a black mask, black cape, and black boots enters. It is clear that he has emphysema or some other breathing problem. He lifts a soldier off the ground with one hand, choking him–and in the most phenomenal voice says, “Where are those transmissions you intercepted?” Next, we see a woman, kneeling down, putting a disc into a small droid, who subsequently ejects in an escape pod and lands on a nearby planet.

Now we know the story. R2-D2 finds Luke Skywalker, who then finds Obi Won Kenobi, who then trains him to be a Jedi. He meets Han Solo and his trusty sidekick Chewbacca. They rescue Princess Leia, and then with time running out destroy the death star, saving the galaxy, and send Darth Vader hurling into space to regather his forces for the next movie.

What I want you to notice is that in Star Wars, the writers drop us smack dab into the middle of an already existing story, Episode 4. We are not given much context as to who is fighting, why there is a fight, or what they are fighting over. We don’t get a lot of backstory or a ton of details. Instead, the audience is left to gather clues throughout the movie and must then try to piece together the overall storyline.

This is not uncommon in literature or film, and sometimes it even happens in Scripture. Such is the case with the postcard epistle that we are studying this week and next week, the New Testament book of Philemon. With very little background and with limited explanation, the reader is dropped into the middle of an already existing storyline.

It is not difficult to discover the main players—the apostle Paul, Philemon a slaveowner, and Onesimus his slave. We find that these three men are all believers and that they are all in relationship together. And we can quickly deduce that there is an issue in the relationship of Philemon and Onesimus. And Paul, the author, is writing to his close friend Philemon in an effort to help restore this broken relationship.

We understand what it is to have broken relationships. It is a part of life on this fallen planet. We have all experienced pain at the hands of a friend, our family, or even an enemy. No one is immune from being hurt.

Maybe you respond like the man who said, “I wish that all of my enemies had three cars parked in front of their house. An ambulance, a firetruck and a police car.” Or like JFK who said, “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” Or Ulysses S. Grant who said, “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can and strike him as hard as you can.”

Some of you embrace that philosophy. Oh, it might not be that you wage a direct war on those who have hurt you, but how many have given someone the silent treatment, or stopped responding to their texts, or started talking about them behind their back? These cold wars go on every day.

Maybe a close friend or an old boyfriend has hurt you so badly that even today the wound remains open. When you think of that person, your blood pressure rises, your teeth grind together, the hair on the back of your neck goes up. There is no love lost. It doesn’t take much to reopen the wounds of your past. You have been lied to, betrayed, even abandoned. You tell yourself that you have broad shoulders, thick skin and it’s water off the duck’s back. But deep down inside pain turns into anger, anger into hatred and you choose not to forgive.

CS Lewis once said, “Forgiveness is a lovely idea, until you have something to forgive.” And so we look for solutions to help fix broken relationships. I looked online for some answers–here are a few. Take a deep breath. Don’t play the blame game. Focus on the positive. Don’t stonewall. Eat dessert every night. (That last one was mine.)

Sure, these can help, but ultimately, they fall short. Because while they address our outward behavior, they don’t get down to our hearts. Behavior modification cannot solve the issues in your marriage or in your family. The only solution is found in Jesus Christ. He is the only real hope, because only He can dig deep enough to address the core issues of your heart. Only Jesus can change you from the inside out. One author said, “When God reigns in our hearts, peace reigns in our relationships.”

And this is what is at the heart of this little book. When God reigns in our hearts, everything changes. He does not wave a magic wand, eliminate the conflict, and take the pain away. No, He changes your heart and one day at a time begins to transform you from the inside out. He shows you how to live in a way that pleases Him. He helps you to love and forgive others the way that He loves and forgives you.

To give it to you in a phrase, grace changes everything. Christianity is not about trying harder or doing better–it is about the grace of God invading the heart of a sinner and changing everything. It is a new heart that seeks to honor the Savior in all things. And when God takes up residence in your heart, everything changes. To say it again, grace changes everything. And this week and next week, as we dig into this book, we are going to see how God intends for us to live in a broken world with broken relationships. And we will see how His grace changes everything.

Please open your Bibles to the book of Philemon. Some of you are grateful you have digital Bibles so you can easily find this book. It is in the New Testament, located right after Titus and right before Hebrews. Like myself, most here today have never heard a sermon on this book, let alone studied it any depth–25 little verses of goodness. Let’s read it together.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2and to Apphia our sister, and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; 6and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. 7For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

8Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you—since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—10I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me. 12I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, 13whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will. 15For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, 16no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me. 18But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account; 19I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). 20Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.

21Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.

22At the same time also prepare me a lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you.

23Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24as do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, my fellow workers.

25The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

I’d like to start by introducing you to our three main characters and giving a little background to the story.

PAUL

The first character we are introduced to is Paul. He is the author, and in the normal writing style of the day, he introduces himself at the beginning of the letter–do you see it there in verse 1? “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”

Now the first time we meet Paul is in Jerusalem at the end of Acts 7. You may remember the story where Stephen stands before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s supreme court–his face shining like an angel, he defends his faith in Christ, calling the Pharisees stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart. He goes on to accuse them of betraying and murdering the Messiah. Livid with anger, they rushed him and dragged him out of the city to stone him. Acts 7:58 says they “laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul,” who according to 8:1, “was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.”

This young man was, according to Philippians 3, an ambitious and religious zealot. His star was rising and he was on his way to the top. Born into the right family, he attended the right schools and had his eyes set on greatness–and had given himself to extinguishing the new found religion of Christianity.

And so Acts 8 tells us he went house to house ravaging the church–dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. With no remorse, he separated families, leaving wives without husbands and children without parents, hauling them off in chains.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that when he writes the letter to Philemon, he is no longer sending others to prison, but is himself a prisoner. Verse 1 tells us he himself is now in jail for the very same crime that he previously accused others of. Acts 9 tells us that while he was still breathing threats against the Church, he was blinded by a light from Heaven. Falling to the ground, he came face to face with Jesus Christ. “4’Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ 5And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’”

As a result of that encounter, Paul surrendered his life, repented of his external, works-based religion and became a follower of Jesus Christ. And he never looked back. He gave his whole life, all of himself to the service of Christ. In Philippians 3:7 he said, “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” He is our first example that grace changes everything. From pride-filled, works-oriented religion to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. His life radically changed when Jesus infiltrated his heart.

It’s been some 25 years since that day on the road to Damascus. Philemon 9 tells us that he is now Paul, the aged. A lot has happened. He has led countless people to Christ, has been on three missionary journeys, established churches in all the main cities of Asia Minor, and has written most of the New Testament. To put this on the timeline, we are at the very end of the book of Acts. He is in Rome and according to Philemon 10, in chains–more than likely attached to a guard 24 hours a day. Verse 1 tells us Timothy is with him, 23 tells us Epaphras is in jail with him, and 24 tells us that while they are not in prison–Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke are in Rome with him.

Philemon

Philemon was a resident of Colossae, a city near Laodicea and Ephesus, in the Lycus Valley. For us today, it is in southern Turkey. Philemon was a wealthy man. He owned at least one slave and presumably more. Verse 22 tells us that he had a guest house. And since, according to verse 2, the entire Colossian church met at his house, we assume he was a man of means. Some suppose him to be some type of businessman–we don’t know.

We also don’t know how Paul and Philemon met. According to Colossians 1, Paul had never been to Colossae. It was Epaphras who started the church in Colossae. Most surmise that sometime during Paul’s 3-year stay in Ephesus, Philemon took a trip there, heard the gospel from Paul, and walked away converted. We don’t know the details, but we do know, according to Philemon 19, that he was converted through Paul’s ministry. Paul says, “You owe to me even your own self as well.”

We also know that this man’s life was radically transformed. To get an idea of how he changed, look at the way Paul addresses him. In verse 1 he calls him “beloved brother and fellow worker.” In 17, he calls him his “partner”–that is pretty cool. Philemon is in the fight. He is a worker alongside Paul. He is not an attender, he is not just a passerby–he is engaged and energized in the work of ministry. Grace changes everything.

And it wasn’t just his life that changed–look back at verse 2. Most commentators believe that Apphia, this dear sister in the faith, is Philemon’s wife, and that Archippus our fellow soldier is their son. This whole family is running for Jesus. Their house is the focal point of Christianity in Colossae. They have extended themselves in multiple ways for the sake of Christ. This family is all in. This brings us to our final character.

Onesimus

Verse 16 tells us that he is a slave–a slave who was owned by Philemon. This was a normal part of life in the ancient world. There are estimates that a third of all people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Slaves were not considered persons under the law, but were the property of their owners. They could be sold, exchanged, given away, or even used to pay off a debt.

Many slaves were captured as a result of war, where others sold themselves into slavery to pay off a debt. Some became slaves in order to bring stability to their families–three meals a day and a roof over their head. There was a spectrum for slaves. Some were sent to the salt mines and forced into hard labor, while others were doctors, musicians, teachers, artists, even accountants (seems like slave labor to me). They were often trusted parts of the family, helping to run businesses or raise children, and it was not uncommon for slaves to be given their freedom or part of the estate at the death of their master.

We don’t know what type of slave Onesimus was–only that he belonged to Philemon. My guess is that he was close to Philemon and that whatever his responsibilities were, these two were in regular contact. In any case, it is believed that Onesimus fled his home, escaped his master, and ran away.

For runaway slaves who were caught, the penalty was severe. It included anything from flogging to having their legs broken, to an F for Fugitanus branded on their forehead. Some were crucified, while  others were thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. Some were forced to wear an iron collar engraved with the name and address of the owner and the statement, “Catch me for I have fled my master.”

This doesn’t seem to have bothered Onesimus, who with renegade boldness, gathered what little belongings he had, maybe even stole money to fund his escape, and disappeared into the night. He then made the 1000-mile journey to Rome, the biggest city in the ancient world, where there were an estimated 500,000 runaway slaves. Since slaves were not from a single ethnic group and bore no distinguishing marks, he could easily disappear into the mass of humanity and live in complete anonymity.

I cant help but think of the prodigal in Luke 15 who, with disdain for his father and a pocketful of money, ran to a far off country and squandered everything. Maybe this describes Onesimus as well. Having made his way all the way to Rome, he finds himself in the most populous city in the world, and somehow in the providence of God, this runaway slave runs straight into Paul. How do you like that–of all the gin joints in all the world. Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”

We don’t know the circumstance of their meeting, but we do know the outcome. Onesimus comes to the end of himself, repents, and cries out to God to save Him. And there in a Roman cell, grace changes everything. This isn’t just a one-time encounter where he gets saved and then fades into the background.

He becomes a fixture in Paul’s life. In fact, these two grow incredibly close together. So close are they, that Paul calls him his own child. In verse 10, the one “whom I begot in my imprisonment.” He loves Onesimus like a father loves a son. And Onesimus serves him as a son serves his father. And while verse 11 tells us he was useless to Philemon, he is the exact opposite to Paul.

The weeks turn into months, and Paul is using Onesimus for more and more ministry and their hearts are knit together. And yet there is the nagging on Paul’s heart that Onesimus cannot stay with him. He knows that he needs to send him back to Philemon. And so with the greatest of care and in the most delicate and sensitive way, he writes a letter to his dear friend Philemon, telling him he is sending Onesimus home.

He allows himself only 335 words. Couched in love, this is his most personal letter and is the most intimate portrait of Paul’s heart. One commentator said, “The whole letter is of pure gold.” Another said, “As an expression of warm personal affection…it stands unrivaled”–and rightfully so. He foresees the difficulty and challenge that is coming to each of these three men. This is going to be really hard for each of them, for different reasons.

Paul is losing a trusted servant, and a son. But even more, in verse 12 he says, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart.” What a statement. What a sacrifice. What about for Onesimus? Having finished the letter, Paul calls him to his side and explains the task ahead. Having wronged his master as a deserter and a thief, he is to return home, seek forgiveness, and accept the consequences of his actions. This is no easy task for a young believer. While I am sure he would have preferred to stay and serve Paul, he knew it was his duty to go and make it right. And so understanding what is at stake, Paul hands him the letter and sends him on his way home.

What about Philemon? His challenge is perhaps the most difficult of all. Having been cheated, embarrassed, even hurt by Onesimus, he is to forgive the deep wrong done to him and to welcome Onesimus back as a brother in Christ. The letter sees its climax in verse 17 where Paul says, “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” This goes against human nature which says, “You hurt me, I hurt you back.” This goes against his social standing which says, “I am master, you are slave.” What would the watching world say if he accepts him back with no consequence?

And so when we put all of this together–the sacrifice of Paul, the giving up of freedom by Onesimus, and the humble forgiveness of Philemon, we are left with one conclusion. Grace changes everything. When Jesus is in you, your life changes. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

He lives in me. He changes me from the inside out. And my life is lived for the one who loved me and gave Himself for me. And the change doesn’t happen all at once. Sometimes the growth is imperceptible, but step by step and day by day, the way we think changes, the way we talk changes, and the way we act changes–because grace changes everything.

Wow–that was the longest introduction of my life. In the time that remains, I’d like to show this to you in the book of Philemon. We are going to see seven ways that grace changes everything. Don’t worry, we are only going to look at one today–we will save the rest for next week.

1.  Grace Transforms Your Life

Let’s start in verse 4. “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers”–Paul is always praying. He said in 1 Thessalonians 5:16 to 18, “Rejoice always; 17pray without ceasing; 18in everything give thanks.” And certainly, he is doing that here–giving thanks in everything.

I hate to say that, if I was sitting next to him, I would be complaining. I would be questioning God. I would be thinking of myself and my dilemma. I am not in prison and I complain often–how about you? What a dastardly sin that questions the sovereignty of God and His plan for my life. But not Paul–his heart is set toward Heaven, and his eyes are on others.

Notice the phrase, “making mention of you in my prayers.” Paul consistently prays for others and his prayers are positive in nature. He doesn’t first think of the negatives of others or all the areas where they fall short. Instead, he gives thanks for those in his life.

A number of years ago, Tracy and I were driving home one evening. We got into a conversation about a particular couple that was in our church and I am ashamed to say I initiated a very unkind and spiteful conversation about them. “Did you see how they did this? Can you believe they said that?” Feeding off each other’s negativity, we cut them down in our own self-righteousness–all while our kids sat in the backseat.

Convicted, I asked Tracy to say something positive about them. She spoke of their faithful service. Then I spoke of their love for others, and back and forth it went. The venom was gone. It was quickly replaced with thankfulness and rejoicing, and it ended with genuine and sincere esteem for them. Paul’s prayer is a reminder to thank the Lord for those he places in our life.

Why is he thankful? Look at verse 5, “Because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints.” Locked away in that Roman prison, his only window to the outside world is through the word of those who came to visit. And what he hears about Philemon is a huge encouragement to him. Even in his absence, this partner in ministry is standing strong.

There is evidence of growth in his life and it is manifest in two areas–faith and love. The first is vertical–faith toward the Lord Jesus. And the second is horizontal–love for all the saints. These are marks of the truly converted, are they not? First John 3:23, “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.”

Faith is a complete trust in something or someone. His complete trust is in Jesus Christ. No longer relying on self or his own good works, he put his faith wholly in the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, for the salvation of his eternal soul. Faith can be described as a child stuck on the second floor of a house that is on fire. The father stands below and says to his son, “Jump into my arms.” It is one thing to know the father is there, it is another to jump into his arms. The proof of faith is not just believing that the father will catch you, but jumping out the window and falling into his arms.

So it is with Philemon–he has taken the plunge. No longer dependent on the things of this world, money, possessions, comfort, his own good works, he has put his trust wholly in another.

What about that second characteristic—love? The word used here for love is the familiar word agape. This highest form of love is both selfless and sacrificial in nature. Note in verse 5 that it is for all the saints, the holy ones, God’s people, those who are of the household of faith. The love of Philemon has been clearly evidenced to the church in Colossae. Each week he opened both his heart and his home, demonstrating true hospitality. And he loved all who have come through his doors.

First Thessalonians 2:8 says, “Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” I think this accurately describes the heart of Philemon. Look back at verse 5 for a minute. Do you see the word “all” there? That word all is a tough one. He loves “all the saints”. Does that give you pause for just a second—”all the saints”?

Do you love all the saints, showing no partiality? This is the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. Love and faith are markers of the truly redeemed. When anyone looks at you, Philemon, it is obvious that your life has been transformed. Your faith and your love are clearly demonstrated to a watching world. Grace transforms how you live. It changes you from the inside out. Christians love and Christians believe. And this certainly was true of this man.

And Paul continues in verse 7, “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” His heart is full. Philemon’s selfless love brings a smile to Paul’s face and comfort to his soul–even moreso because verse 7 ends saying, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”

The word refreshed means to give someone rest by providing an intermission from labor. It is true that sometimes we need refreshing–we need an intermission from our labor. And when you think of what this means in the real world, it is those who come alongside the suffering, it is those who weep with you when you lose a loved one, who pray with you, who help to carry the heavy burdens in life.

Sometimes it is an encouraging word on the patio. Sometimes it is a late-night counseling or prayer session. Sometimes it is a meal delivered or free babysitting or a visit to the hospital, or a ride to the doctor, or a hug and a smile along with an uplifting verse from Scripture—a thousand ways we are refreshed and we refresh others. And we all need it from time to time.

My family just returned from vacation at Lake Powell. We spent a little over a week on a houseboat enjoying time together in one of the most beautiful places in the world. But make no mistake, Lake Powell is a desolate place. There are no trees. No plants. No animals. No real life at all. Just red rock cliffs and sandstone canyons surrounded by endless water.

I have traveled up the lake many times. Sometimes it is in the early morning. Refreshed from a good night of sleep, I have a tank full of gas, smile on my face, and worship music playing on the stereo. There is not a ripple as the boat cuts through the water like a knife through butter. The cool breeze and the rising sun makes for a perfect morning.

I have also travelled up the lake in the middle of the afternoon. It’s now 105 degrees, the desert wind blows, creating tumultuous waves. I am no longer effortlessly cutting through the water, but instead moving slowly. The boat is bouncing up and down on each wave and I am doing all I can just to control it. I am tired. I am running low on gas. And I am no longer playing worship music. Around each turn of the lake, I am looking for one and only one thing–Dangling Rope Marina. This little marina is 40 miles from the next closest marina and is tucked away in a little protected canyon, accessible only by boat. There, the weary traveler can get off the lake and out of the sun and take a break. There is gas, food, water, and shade. But my favorite part of Dangling Rope is their root beer floats. Nothing better than ice cream in the middle of the desert.

Our Christian lives can be like this sometimes. We are in difficult circumstances, we are beaten down by trials, and running low on gas, we grow weary. But not far off, just around the next bend is the Church of Jesus Christ. An outpost given to us by our Lord, a gathering place where believers can rest, recharge, and regroup.  And there in the Church, there are Philemons–those individuals who encourage us, lift us up, and help to re-fill our tanks.

Verse 7 says, “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” Sometimes we need a Philemon in our life, and sometimes we need to act like a Philemon to others. There are days when you need to be encouraged, and there are days where you are that voice of encouragement to others. On both sides of the equation, can I remind you that you and I are designed to be in context with others. In relationship, linked together with other believers–and relationships are messy. They don’t always go perfectly. Feelings get hurt, egos get bruised, but those transformed by grace recognize that this is part of God’s plan to grow us, purify us, and make us more like His Son.

Can you think of a Philemon in your life? Someone God has used to encourage you, to refresh you, and to bolster your faith. Write their name down. Will you, like Paul, give thanks to the Lord for them? Have you considered how, like Philemon, you can bless others? A handwritten note, a phone call, a cup of coffee, a visit to their house–sometimes we give encouragement and sometimes we receive it.

Now look back at verse 6 and let me wrap all of this up. Right in the middle of this massive encouragement, he stops to pray for Philemon. And he tells us exactly what he is praying for—and watch this. His prayer is directly related to the purpose of the letter. And this should make sense to us.

Think about your own prayer life. When you pray for someone, you most often pray for a very specific issue that is in their life. “Lord, I pray for so and so as they make a decision on college. Will you give them wisdom, and lead them and guide them in your will?” Or, “I pray for my friend who just lost a loved one–will you comfort them, give them peace, and increase their trust in you in this most difficult time?”

This is how we pray–and Paul’s prayer here is no different. His prayer is ultimately to help Philemon with accepting Onesimus back. Let me read it, and then let me explain it. “And I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.” This prayer is a bit complicated, so let me just give you my best paraphrase. He is saying, “God, I want to see Philemon embrace the good deeds that lead to increased fellowship for the sake of Christ.”

What are the good deeds in Philemon’s life that will lead to increased fellowship for the sake of Christ? His prayer is a bit nebulous–he doesn’t list any specific good deeds, does he? But he does in verse 17. “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” That’s pretty specific, isn’t it? That’s a good deed. That is the heart of this letter, and that is Paul’s prayer. For the sake of Christ–that is to say, with the Gospel on the line, he is praying that Philemon will walk in forgiveness. So that all who look at his life will know that grace has transformed him from the inside out.

As a sidenote, there is one recipient of this letter that I have not yet mentioned. Look back at the end of verse 2–he writes, “to the church in your house.” A private letter read to the entire church–how do you like that? That is to say that the way he handles this situation will be seen by the entire body. And so Paul is praying that he will respond rightly. He wants not only the Church, but also the watching world to see Philemon extend forgiveness to his wayward slave. This act will demonstrate that his heart and life have been changed by the grace of God, and the light will shine even brighter in this dark world.

I want to stop right there. Next week we will unfold the rest of this text. As we close, I want you to think about the grace of God in your life. Think about how God saved you. We heard testimony this morning of the grace of God in the life of Noah and KK. What about your life? Think back to that moment that God called you to Himself and revealed His amazing grace.

I was 13 years old sitting in a church service when God called me–I will never forget that moment. For the first time, I understood that I was separated from God because of my sin and that that there was nothing I could do to save myself. God is too holy and my sin was too great. Oh how precious did the Savior appear and extend to this poor sinner grace upon grace. I remember confessing my sin and giving my life to Christ. He gave Himself for me at Calvary and so I will give my all for Him. I was saved that day–not by my own goodness but by His saving grace.

Do you remember when the grace of God appeared in your life and changed everything? We are Christians, not because of what we do, but because of what He did. And we will be forever thankful for the work He has done in our hearts. If you have never experienced God’s grace and are instead trying to earn favor with God by your own good works, then I want to encourage you to come to Jesus Christ.

Are you tired of running from Him? Have you put Him off long enough? Are you weary of the sin and guilt you feel every day? Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Won’t you come to the Savior this morning and find rest for your soul? Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

Shawn leads the college ministry and serves as an elder at Faith Bible Church

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