The Epistle to Philemon Grace Changes Everything (Part 2)


GRACE CHANGES EVERYTHING

PHILEMON—part 2

What is your favorite restaurant? It’s kind of an unfair question, because there are so many categories, costs, different locations, etc. What if we narrowed it down and we looked at just fast food? After years of personal research and countless meals at various establishments, I have narrowed my answer down, not to a single restaurant, but to a favorite meal. My dream meal is a double-double with grilled onions from In N Out, French fries from McDonalds, lemonade from Chic Fil A, and an Oreo cookie milkshake from Jack in the Box.

What is the worst fast food? I think it might be Arby’s. Their slogan, “We have the meats.” What are your thoughts on all you can eat buffets? A restaurant where you pay one fee to enter and then you eat as much as you want. This is a $7 billion annual industry in the US. In this category, you have The Golden Coral, Souplantation rest in peace, Sushi 1, and the crowd favorite, Sizzler.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld comically muses that people do not do well in an unsupervised eating environment. The buffet is an edible outworking of the emotional problems that we have as individuals. You walk around holding your plate overflowing with food groups that were never meant to be together. Certainly somewhere there is a violation of Old Testament law. One guy is walking around with a salad alongside a bowl of ice cream. Another has spareribs, yogurt parfait, a fried chicken leg, some type of Jell-O, those little baby corn on the cobs, shrimp cocktail, and four cookies. It’s like someone saying, “This is what I am dealing with.”

And as you walk around looking at what others have on their plates, you realize there are some strange people in this room. We are quick to criticize what others have chosen, but when we look down at our own plates, we see that we haven’t done much better. As silly as this is, the dysfunction of our selection at a buffet pales in comparison to the dysfunction that we experience in our interpersonal relationships with others.

You and I live in a world of broken relationships. Each of us has experienced pain and heartache at the hands of others. And each of us has been responsible for producing pain and heartache in others. We bring our own insecurities, selfishness, and sin into our relationships. And this often leads to disagreements, fights, and sometimes all-out war with those we love most. If your home is a constant war zone, yelling, fighting, sleeping in separate bedrooms, staying together just for the kids, then you are keenly aware of the struggles.

Not every relationship gets to this level, but every relationship we value comes with some level of dysfunction and even pain. The question we want to answer this morning is how do we deal with broken relationships? If I am the offending party or if I am the offended party, how do I respond in a way that honors Christ?

Please open your Bibles to the book of Philemon. We are in the middle of a two-part series on the little New Testament postcard epistle of Philemon. Here in this little book, we get to look over the shoulder of the apostle Paul as he helps to mend the broken relationship of his friends Philemon and Onesimus. Last week we spent some time meeting each of these men. I put their names at the top of your outline so you can jot down some notes about each.

Paul is the author of this letter. We know that he is an old man, he is a prisoner, and he loves both Philemon and Onesimus. Philemon is the recipient of this letter. He was a wealthy man who was saved in Paul’s ministry and the church in Colossae meets in his house. Onesimus or One-simus, is a slave owned by Philemon. He stole, deserted his master, and headed to Rome over 1,000 miles away, where he ran straight into Paul. He was converted and became like a son to Paul.

Now Paul is sending him home to ask for forgiveness and reconcile with the man he wronged. And this most tender letter, written with extreme tact, is Paul’s best effort to help prepare Philemon to accept Onesimus back. Should Philemon accept him back? What will be the punishment? What will be the terms of this master/slave relationship going forward? Can this broken relationship be mended? What about you? Can you forgive? Can your broken relationship be mended? How does this happen? It is only by the grace of God.

True healing and forgiveness only happens when God transforms your heart, and from the inside out He changes you. To say it in a simple sentence, grace changes everything. Your life is lived in response to what God has done for you. He has loved you, He has forgiven you, and so out of a response of gratitude and love for Him, you seek to love and forgive others. God has to work in your heart to help you let go of the offense, let go of the hurt, and seek, in the power of the Spirit, to be made right with the very person who hurt you.

How does this happen? Only through His grace, only by His power. We are going to walk through this little book and I want to show this to you. I want to prove that grace changes everything. And if you remember from last week, we looked at point number one last week.

1.  Grace transforms your life  Verses 4 to 7

We saw that Philemon’s life had been radically altered since his conversion. So much so, that the church met in his home and he was well-known for refreshing the saints in verse 7. And the hallmarks of his life, according to verse 5 were faith and love–faith in Christ and love for all the saints. He trusted God fully in all of his life and he loved others selflessly. And in his life, grace changed everything. Before we move on, let’s read the text together once more.

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.”

2.  Grace makes no demands  Verses 8 to 14

Let’s pick it up in verse 8. “Therefore, 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.” Look at the tone Paul establishes. “I could order you to do the right thing,” he says. “Like a general, I could issue an edict or a command and force your hand. I have apostolic authority, wrote half the New Testament, and am your father in the faith. I could tell you what to do.”

But instead, almost as if his voice goes down to a whisper, verse 9 tells us, “I rather appeal to you.” It is to ask earnestly, to plead, to implore. And what is this ask? Verse 17, the heart of this letter, “Accept him as you would me.” I want to see him restored to you.

And so verse 9, “I rather appeal.” Verse 10, “I appeal.” Why does He make this appeal? Well for one, he loves Onesimus. Verse 10, he calls him his son. Verse 12, he is his very heart. And while he was useless in verse 11, he has become incredibly useful to Paul in verse 13 as he personally ministered to him. And so verse 9 tells us that he appeals for love’s sake. But there is another reason he approaches Philemon this way.

There is a young man who I work with who dealt with everyone the same way. It could have been our best customer or employee, it could have been our worst customer or employee. He was stiff, unyielding, and rigid in his demeanor. As a result, we often had issues. In an effort to help him, I asked him to picture a series of hammers arranged on the table–a small tack hammer for finishing nails, a normal size hammer, a large mallet, all the way up to a 10lb sledgehammer. I asked him, “Which of these do you use when you deal with people?” He stopped to think, smiled, and then answered, “The sledgehammer.” And I asked him, “Does every situation require a sledgehammer?” He got the point.

The same is true with Philemon and it certainly applies to us too. Philemon did not need the sledgehammer–the apostolic authority of Paul issuing an edict to be obeyed. He didn’t even need the strong exhortation of a large mallet. Instead, Paul the wise and elderly sage, comes with the tack hammer. Why? Because grace makes no demands. The heart that has been transformed by the grace of God is already inclined to do what is right.

Paul doesn’t throw down a list of do’s and don’ts, trying to force a response based on an external expectation. This is religion. Religion makes demands. Religion obligates. Religion is performance based. And religion damns. Christianity is not rules to follow and obligations to keep. First John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

Romans 6:17 says it is obedience from the heart–why? Because grace has changed everything. Our compulsion is not from without but from within. Our obedience is not an effort to earn God’s favor, but rather a response to His good favor upon us. It is not fear of punishment, but love and adoration that drive us onward. We give ourselves to Him because He gave Himself for us. We love because He loved us. We forgive because He forgave us.

Paul doesn’t come with a sledgehammer. He knew what was in Philemon’s heart. He had witnessed his life and seen it transformed by the grace of God. And so he comes with a loving appeal. Look at verse 14. Paul says I wanted to keep him with me, “but 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.” But when God saves you, His grace changes everything. You no longer live out of obligation or duty, but your life is a response of gratitude and love from a heart that has been transformed. It is, according to verse 14, from your own free will.

Some of you are harboring resentment, bitterness, anger and unforgiveness, and this morning God is making His appeal. It is gentle and soft and comes from a heart of love. He reminds you that you are no longer under wrath, but under grace. Here it is. Let go of the offense. Stop holding onto the grievance. Forgive the offending party. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” I just want to make the point that, while God comes today with that still soft voice, He will use other means if necessary. He knows exactly which hammer we need. He will continue to ratchet up until He has our attention.

Hebrews 12:6 says, “For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” A word to parents–you can force your children into conformity. You can demand their compliance. But in the end, this form of parenting leads only to trouble. When they are young, it is, “Yes, Daddy, yes, Mommy.” But as they get into the teenage years and they are headed toward independence, be wary of the tight-fisted religion-based approach. Forcing external controls on them, manipulating their behavior, trying to get them into that perfect Christian box, you can only manipulate behavior and control their will for so long. Once you remove the restraints, they will live out what is in their hearts.

Parenting your children is like helping them learn to ride a bicycle. They need encouragement, support, and steering in the right direction. But you must finally let go if they will ever learn to ride alone. A word to leaders and disciplers–it is not your role to dictate the actions of your people. First Peter 5 tells us not to lord it over or force compliance. You are not the Holy Spirit. You do not need to be overbearing or controlling. Too many churches try to force external conformity on their people–dress this way, talk that way, look like the perfect Christian family. Hide your problems. You don’t need to force Christians to act. Oftentimes, all we need is a little reminder or a little redirection. One author said, “You don’t always have to chop with the sword of truth. You can point with it, too.” Grace makes no demands.

3.  Grace sees God’s plan in your difficulty  Verse 15

This is where God’s sovereignty enters the equation. If you are experiencing difficulty in a relationship or you have been hurt in the past, then at some point you begin to wonder–where is God in this? The pain is great. The wound is deep. Why is He allowing this? Why hasn’t God rescued me from this? You never get very far into a trial before some well-meaning friend or counselor tells you that God is in control–that He is sovereign. That this is happening for a reason. No doubt, they take you to Romans 8:28 which says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

And while we submit ourselves to this truth, we don’t often know what that good is. We are typically in the fog trying to figure out how this circumstance can ultimately lead to our good. Like a mouse in a maze, we can’t see the end and we can easily lose hope and get discouraged. So watch what Paul does in verse 15. I love how he inserts the sovereignty of God into a very delicate relational situation. Let me show it to you. He says, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother.”

Paul does not give a theological lesson on sovereignty. Instead, he uses the word “perhaps”–he speculates. “Philemon, I don’t know the reasons why. I don’t know why God allowed you to go through this pain. I can’t exactly say why all of this happened.” The verb in verse 15, see that word “separated”–it is in the passive voice. This means that the subject is being acted on by another. Because there is no specific agent mentioned, commentators call this the divine passive. That is to say, the slave Onesimus was taken from you by God for His greater purposes.

Perhaps”, Paul says in a very careful way, the reason he stole from you, betrayed you, ran from you, and went all the way to Rome was so that God could save him–so that, verse 15, you would have him back forever as a brother. There are no wasted steps in God’s economy–nothing that happens outside of His perfect plan. But because we can’t see the end result, we are tempted to question the steps along the way. Said a different way, I don’t know why she left you or why he cheated on you. I can’t tell you why the darkness will not lift on your trial. The best I can do is to point you back to the unchanging character of a sovereign God who is perfectly wise and infinitely loving. We don’t know. Charles Spurgeon said, “God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.”

Here Paul says, “Perhaps, Philemon, all of this happened in your life for a greater purpose. In the providence of God, He used your pain to effect a forever change in Onesimus, so that you would have him back as a brother in Christ.” And while we know that God causes all things to work together for good, we don’t know how each step comes together to accomplish that purpose, and so we choose to trust Him.

Maybe your rebellious child needs to hit rock bottom. Perhaps God will use less than savory circumstances to bring them back to Him. Maybe your marriage has taken a turn for the worse. Perhaps God will use your pain to establish His perfect plan in your life. Genesis 50:20 says, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” Grace sees God’s plan in your difficulty.

4.  Grace unites  Verses 16 to 17

As Onesimus re-entered the city of Colossae, people would have recognized him. As he walked down the main street, hushed conversations would have taken place. “Isn’t that Onesimus, Philemon’s slave? Oh yeah, isn’t he the one who stole from him and deserted? What is he doing back here?” Those conversations would have turned to debate when he disappeared into his master’s house. The question, “How will Philemon handle this runaway slave?” Some would have said, “It’s simple, a slave runs, a slave is punished.” Another would say, “Philemon will need to set an example with Onesimus so that something like this never happens with any of his other slaves.” Another would say, “He returns only to forfeit his life.”

Someone comes running out the front door. Philemon is calling for a special gathering of the church. It doesn’t take long before in the presence of his wife and son, Philemon reads Paul’s letter in front of the entire congregation. I wonder what the response was when he read verse 16, “You would have him back forever, no 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”?

This is a radical statement, one that would have sent reverberations through that little community. It defies human nature. You hurt me, I hurt you back. It flies in the face of culture. He is a slave, you are his master. It goes against everything that is natural and normal. Receive him back as a brother? And why? Because grace changes everything.

Both of these men are Christians. Their lives have been transformed by the grace of God. Everything is different. The old self full of unforgiving hatred has died, and the new man, made in the image of Christ, has the capacity to love and to forgive and to be at peace with others.

Paul is saying, in effect, your relationship with Onesimus will no longer be dictated by your legal relationship (master/slave), but by your spiritual relationship. These men stand as equals, brothers, beloved brothers, because of what Christ has done. Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

At the foot of the cross, there is no class distinction. As these men worship their Savior, they stand on level ground. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall… 15so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Ephesians 2:13-14,15).

Some have looked at the beginning of verse 16, where Paul says, “receive him no longer as a slave” as a call for Philemon to free Onesimus. It brings up the issue of slavery and how the Bible deals with it. Let me ask you, is slavery ever justified? . . . Are you sure? If your answer is no, then why does the Bible call Christians slaves of Jesus Christ? If slavery is always wrong, then why is it that Jesus Himself is described as master and us as his slaves?

Does the Bible describe slavery as sin? The Bible defines sin as lawlessness and yet there is no law in the Old or New Testament that prohibits slavery. The Bible does speak against kidnapping or the more biblical term manstealing. The darkest chapter of our country’s history is the kidnapping and consequent mistreatment of those created in God’s image. The Bible does not condone, support, or in any way, sanction slavery in our country. Nor does it approve the subsequent sin of racism. Racism belittles our fellow man, mocks the Creator, and undermines the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And God hates it. But that is a different sermon for a different day.

Why then is the Bible silent on this issue? It isn’t. I have given you a handful of verses in your outline that give specific instruction to both slaves and masters that you can read on your own time. But in short, Scripture calls slaves to remain as slaves, 1 Corinthians 7. It calls them to humbly submit to their masters, 1 Peter 2, to obey them, Ephesians 6, to respect them, 1 Timothy 6, and to work as for the Lord, Colossians 3.

That being said, the New Testament does not take the institution of slavery head on. In fact, it doesn’t take on any form of social or institutional evil. The Bible is not a book about social reform or revolution. It is not a book that seeks to establish the best form of human government. Instead, it promotes the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the power of God for salvation. Jesus Christ works one soul at a time, converting one sinner at a time, and impacting one life at a time. And so Paul doesn’t come to Philemon to decry slavery as an institution. Rather, he appeals to Philemon as an individual Christian who, having been changed by the grace of God, will have to wrestle with the implications of this. But it’s not as simple as it seems.

If he releases Onesimus, then what would the rest of his slaves do? They would run away, claim Christ, and then obligate Philemon to set them free. If he releases Onesimus, what happens to his testimony with his peers and the other men in Colossae that owned slaves? He would create all sorts of chaos in that little community.

This is an individual issue that has an individual solution. And again, isn’t this the way the Gospel works? It works in our world, our family, our friendships, and in our sphere of influence. It calls us to address the matters of our own hearts. To be in right relationships with those in our lives. We are quick to see problems out there–problems with society, problems with Hollywood, problems with Washington. But we are often slow or even reticent to address the issues we find in our own hearts.

And so Paul is coming to one individual slaveowner who has an issue with one individual slave, and he says in verse 17 at the heart of this letter, “If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me.” The earth may very well have shaken under Philemon as he felt the force of this statement. Receive Onesimus. Welcome him. Embrace him in the same way that you would welcome your father in the faith. This certainly is not normal for us. When we are wounded, we want to make them feel it a little bit. We want to see some groveling. They made me hurt, I want them to hurt. But Paul calls Philemon to respond the same way the father did in Luke 15, when his pig-stinking prodigal returned home. He ran to him, kissed him, lavished love upon him and welcomed him home, forgiven and restored.

What pain is in your past? What hurt are you holding onto? This is not a message for someone else. This is a message for you. You who are tightly holding onto an offense. You who are unwilling to forgive. Friends, grace unites. It takes those who have been separated by sin and brings them together in Christ.

5.  Grace comes at a high cost  Verses 18 to 20

Look at verse 18. “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Paul says to Philemon, “if he has wronged you”–the Greek is acted wickedly, injured you, or caused loss. And we can assume that Onesimus had indeed wronged Philemon. And Paul puts no qualifier on it. Verse 18 is a broad, sweeping statement. If he has wronged you in any way, he says. Could be financial, could be relational. Could be intentional or unintentional. Could have been public or private. Could have been in the deep past or just yesterday. The statement is unqualified–if any wrong has been done.

Adding to this, Paul says at the end of 18, “If he owes you anything”–if there is any debt, any obligation at all, then charge it to my account. Put it on my balance sheet. Transfer it on the ledger and put it under my name. Being in chains and presumably having terrible penmanship, Paul often used an amanuensis, a shadow writer, to pen his letters. He now takes the pen into his own hand. Look at verse 19, “I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it.” This is not so much to authenticate his authorship, as it is to offer a personal guarantee. This is Paul’s promissory note. It is his gentlemen’s handshake. I will cover the debt.

And then in a very gracious way, he calls out Philemon at the end of verse 19 with this awesome parenthetical statement, “(not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well).” In just two verses, Philemon goes from creditor to debtor, as he is now loaded with a huge debt. There is a beautiful picture of the Gospel in these verses. Philemon, like God, has been wronged. Onesimus, the sinner, has run from God and now stands beneath a debt that he cannot pay. He is in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. Paul, like Jesus, offers to pay the price to bring about reconciliation.

This is how God has treated us. When we were His enemy, having rebelled against Him, running from Him with our fist in His face, He loved us and gave Himself for us. Paul, offering a personal guarantee, grabbed the pen and signed his name in ink—”I will pay it.” Jesus, from the cross, offered a personal guarantee, signing His name with His own blood—”It is finished. I paid it all.” And from the cross, He wiped our ledger clean. Grace changes everything.

We celebrate the grace of God given to us in Christ. We bask in it, understanding that we are now free. But this gift of grace, offered to us so freely, cost Jesus everything. Grace comes at a high cost. And we have to take a moment here, because the motivation for our forgiveness of those who have offended us is wrapped up in this truth. For those in Christ, we have been forgiven much. How then could we not offer forgiveness to others? How can we hold out? How can we look another sinner in the eyes and think that we are any better than them? How can we hold a sin against them that God has already forgiven?

Friends, forgiveness doesn’t just happen. Forgiveness is a choice. One author said, “Forgiveness is not some pious hope, but something gritty, rough-edged, an act of will.” C.S. Lewis said, “Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin that is left over after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its cruelty, is nevertheless wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.”

How can this happen? This can only happen for someone who has had their heart changed. Who has experienced the grace of God. Who knows what it is to be forgiven of a great debt. How can you forgive a traitor, a backstabber, a liar, a cheater, a two-faced fair-weather friend? The only way is to look to Christ and love as He loved and to forgive as He has forgiven you. Flip over to Colossians 3:12 to 14, “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

What size hammer does the Holy Spirit have right now? James tells us to “Be doers of the word and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22). You know what you need to do. May God give you strength to do it.

1. Grace transforms your life

2. Grace makes no demands

3. Grace sees God’s plan in your difficulty

4. Grace unites

5. Grace comes at a high cost

6.  Grace cannot be contained  Verses 20 to 21

Look at verse 20, “Yes, brother, let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” Three times in this letter, Paul uses the word “heart”. It is not the word kardia that is used all over the New Testament, but the word splanchna, used only five times outside this letter. It means guts or inward parts, and in a very Hebrew way refers to the seat of emotions. But this is cool, and I am stealing this from a preacher named Josiah Grauman who made this observation. In verse 7 Paul says, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you,” Philemon. In verse 12 he says, “I have sent [Onesimus], that is, sending my very heart.” And here in verse 20 he says, Philemon “refresh my heart.”

So here it is, the whole letter in miniature. You refreshed the hearts of the saints, I sent you my heart, refresh my heart. This is the call. And while we don’t know how Philemon will respond, somehow Paul does. He says in verse 21, “Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say.” How does Paul know this? Because he knows this man. And he knows the grace of God. And grace changes everything. And when the sinner has experienced true forgiveness through the grace of God, the result is predictable. Paul has given Philemon such a tall order. And yet, “I know that you will do even more than what I say.” Grace cannot be contained.

These balls represent how people have hurt you, caused you pain, and offended you. Our response is bitterness, resentment, anger, hatred, jealousy, malice, slander, gossip, and a desire for revenge. These things fill your heart. Pretty dark, isn’t it? But when you surrender your life to Christ, grace fills your heart, and slowly but surely pushes out all the darkness. Some are removed quickly, others take time. God’s grace heals, it mends and it casts away sin. And it leaves you with a clean heart that is overflowing with forgiveness and love for others. It cannot be contained. What a sweet picture. Grace changes everything.

Forgiveness is a choice. And the choice is yours. One author said, “The alternative to forgiveness is a ceaseless process of hurt, bitterness, anger, resentment, and in the end, self-destruction. This takes us to one final point, and I don’t want to leave this out, because Paul didn’t leave it out.

7.  Grace thrives in community  Verses 22 to 24

In verse 22 Paul says, I am coming. And then he calls out five men–Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, who he calls his fellow workers. And don’t forget Timothy in verse 1. And I love this, because Paul is not a one man show. He is not the hero of the story. He is not an egocentric leader looking for pats on the back and atta boys. He is part of a team functioning in community alongside others who have given their lives for Christ.

My dad took me to a Laker game when I was a freshman in high school. It was a long time ago, when the Lakers were called Showtime and they played at the Great Western Forum. During the second quarter of that game, Magic Johnson passed the ball to Byron Scott who scored on a 15ft jumper, breaking the all-time NBA assist record–pretty cool to witness. And this style of play marked his career–not seeking the spotlight for himself. He was a playmaker creating opportunities for others to score.

And I think Paul is similar. Maybe he is the assist leader. But all that to say, this old man was still running with the youths. He was still pushing hard and setting the pace and running with the pack. There is more to say about these men, but I will only call one out–Mark. John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas–he defected during Paul’s first missionary journey, creating a rift between Paul and Barnabas. But here he is, back as a fellow worker. Paul too understood forgiveness and he understood grace and had practiced it in his own life. This is the only way you can exist in broken relationships with others. And God uses them to shape you and make you more like Christ.

This morning, we have seen that . . .

1. Grace transforms your life

2. Grace makes no demands

3. Grace sees God’s plan in your difficulty

4. Grace unites

5. Grace comes at a high cost

6. Grace cannot be contained

7. Grace thrives in community

Grace changes everything. And I’d like to ask you one final question of application.

Who are you today?

Paul–who sees an issue in others and needs to take steps to help to make it right

Onesimus–who needs to seek out the one you have wronged to ask for forgiveness

Philemon–who needs to forgive someone who has offended you

May the Lord impress these truths on our hearts and help us to live in light of His grace. I love how Paul ends this letter and so I will end this sermon the very same way. Verse 25, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Let’s pray.

About Shawn Farrell

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

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