Philemon 20; Brief Thoughts

20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

In polite society, direct expressions of expectations are awkward. Most people do not particularly enjoy the clear communication of expectations because it demands a response. When someone declares that they expect something specific, the person addressed must then determine if they are going to say yes or no to the request. Propriety demands that one provide a passive method of rejection. For example, it is impolite to ask someone to sacrifice something they own for your interest. Rather, you’re supposed to make your need known and see if they decide to meet that need. One does not request direct action without sufficient passive aggressive escape.

Christianity is not polite society. In the Christian community, direct statements are made in love to one another (c.f. Ephesians 4:15). Paul has gently urged Philemon to release Onesimus throughout the letter. He has appealed to Philemon’s conscience and his Christianity in gentle terms that could be overlooked. In gentle and polite terms he has offered to pay any debt that is owed to Philemon. Keep with societal norms, Paul has not condemned nor directly attacked Philemon’s inaction with regard to slavery. Yet, Christianity is not polite nor constrained by society’s opinions. So, in verse 20, Paul expresses definitively, “I want some benefit from you in the Lord.”

The benefit Paul speaks of is the gospel exemplified in the lives of Philemon and Onesimus. Paul seeks the tangible benefit of knowing that His ministry has not been in vain. He longs for the gospel to transform the soul, that it would be proved in this world. He desires that those he has taught would manifest the truth of what he has taught in a real and obvious way.

Indeed, every teacher that professes the truth of Jesus longs for the truth of Jesus to transform passive aggressive polite society into truth saturated messy conglomerations of souls that have been redeemed. Those who teach of Jesus long for a redeemed society that embraces freedom. To that end, Paul aggressively assures Philemon that he is indeed asking for something. There can be no ambiguity on this subject. While Paul has been respectful and gentle in his tone throughout this letter, he does not want to be misunderstood – Philemon is to release Onesimus as a favor to Paul.

Paul is not simply rejecting acceptable lifestyles of society. Much more than a simple rejection of what is wrong, Paul wants Philemon to do what is right “in the Lord.” He is not asking Philemon to do something that is normative practice in the world. Rather, his request is that Philemon would behave as one who is “in the Lord.” A person who is entrenched in the world will not recognize the holiness that is necessary for joy. Yet, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, Christians are able to live in righteousness. In the Lord, Philemon is empowered to contradict society and do what is right.

The greatest refreshment we can receive from each other is the manifestation of the gospel in our world. So Paul requests that Philemon live out the gospel on this earth for the sake of refreshment.

As a pastor, I can affirm that the greatest refreshment I receive from my congregation is in the transparent faithfulness of the brothers and sisters in Christ. When Christians live holy and separate from the world and do what is right when they don’t have to, then I am reminded that the gospel is real and changes things. So, if you want to refresh your pastor: give him the benefit of your faithful gospel-saturated life that pursues holiness!

In Christ, I am: 32 encouragements

Sometimes we forget who we are in Christ. So… here are some simple reminders:

In Christ I Am

Rom. 3:24       – Justified and redeemed (already)

Rom. 6:6         – New : “old self has been crucified”

Rom 8:1          – Not condemned (my performance is condemned when I don’t trust in His life through me, but God does not condemn the performer, just the performance.)

Rom. 8:2         – Free from the law of sin and death

Rom. 15:7       – Accepted

I Cor. 1:2         – Sanctified (holy; set apart.)

1 Cor. 1:30      – Wise; righteous; sanctified; redeemed

1 Cor. 15:22    – Alive (formerly dead)

2 Cor. 2:14      – Always led in His triumph (whether it appears so or not)

2 Cor. 3:14      – New (my hardened mind is removed)

2 Cor. 5:17      – A New Creature (even though I don’t always feel or act like one.)

2 Cor. 5:21      – The righteousness of God (you can’t get “more righteous” than this.)

Gal. 2:4           – Set Free

Gal. 3:28         – One with all believers in Christ (not inferior).

Gal. 4:7           – A son and an heir.

Eph 1:3           – Blessed with every spiritual blessing in Heaven

Eph. 1:4          – Chosen; holy and blameless before God

Eph. 1:7          – Redeemed; Forgiven

Eph. 1:10-11   – Have obtained an inheritance

Eph. 1:13        – Sealed with the Spirit (sealed unit)

Eph. 2:6          – Seated in Heaven

Eph. 2:10        – Created for good performance (and I an let Christ live through me to perform it.)

Eph. 2:13        – Brought near to God

Eph. 3:6          – A partaker of the promise

Eph. 3:12        – Bold and confident as I approach God (do not have to cower as  “whipped dog.”)

Eph. 5:30        – A member of His body (not inferior).

Phil. 4:7           – Guarded by the peace of God (not a feeling, but a belief)

Phil. 4:19         – Lacking in nothing; have all needs (not greeds) supplied

Col. 2:10         – Complete (whole)

Col. 3:1           – Raised with Him

Col. 3:3           – Hidden with Christ in God

Encouragement in the Pursuit of Holiness.

“Be holy as I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:13-16 reminds us that radical holiness is the call of Christ on His followers. Christians are to pursue “holiness.” We are to be set apart from this world and righteous because of the Almighty God. We are to be different… unique… morally upright… comparatively good. We are to be like Christ.

Holiness is a forgotten pursuit in our modern church. We seldom pursue holiness as a means of knowing God. We rarely preach a pursuit of holiness as a normative part of the Christian experience. We seldom strive for holiness and we certainly do not celebrate holiness. For the most part, modern churches do not encourage holiness. Don’t misunderstand, I don’t mean that churches fail to espouse some sort of conservative political ideology. I am not implying that we are not preaching about the big hot-button sins that everyone agrees are wrong. I do not consider every church to be apostate, sinful, and lacking ANY semblance of holiness. I mean that in general, in western churches, we do not PURSUE holiness. Instead, most modern churches are simply content to avoid sin.

Holiness is more than avoidance. The pursuit of holiness is a pursuit of Christlikeness. Christlikeness takes work and effort. When we convince ourselves that Christianity is only about avoiding the wrong, we rob ourselves of the journey. We rob ourselves of the joy of growing in the Lord and content ourselves with being “good enough.” Personally, I don’t want to be just “good enough.” I want to know Christ in fullness! Holiness is an active pursuit of righteousness and a consistent effort to become spiritually stronger.

The apostle Peter says “as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15). Consider that exhortation for a moment. “Be holy in ALL your conduct.” Every aspect of your activity is to be “holy.” Everything you do. There is no exception for inner thoughts or private moments of un-holiness. There are no excuses for exhaustion. You are to be holy in all areas of life. Paul encourages elsewhere that we “take every thought captive” in holiness (1 Cor. 10:5). Even your thoughts are to be conformed to the word of God! Even your private moments are to be His!

Consider these verses as they pertain to an active pursuit of holiness:

Matthew 12:34. Jesus says what comes out of the mouth is evidence of what is inside you. Is your language holy? Are the words that come out of your mouth holy or vulgar? Are the ideas and concepts that you talk about righteous in nature or are they perverse? Your words say a great deal about the state of your heart. Is your heart stagnant? Do you indulge vulgarity and coarse language? Or does your language indicate a pursuit of purity and holiness?

Romans 12:18, 2 Corinthians 2:9, Philippians 2:1-11. Cheerful giving, forgiving offenses, living at peace with those who wrong you, standing for right while offering grace to those born of wrath, and surrendering our own victories in favor of grace – these are the identifying marks of Christians. Further, they are actions that stem from identity. Scripture gives us numerous encouragements that are based on who Christ has made you! Christ has done the work, it is for you to bring your mind in line with that work!

Ephesians 5:15-16. Make the most of the time, because the days are evil. The days are against you! Time is not a commodity that can be saved, it must be used. When we don’t use our time wisely, we waste it. Discipline yourself to make the most use of the time you are given.

Philippians 4:8. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” The way you think is incredibly important and valuable. Your actions are often corrupted or exalted by your thoughts. One’s thoughts can determine the responses and reactions that come as a result of difficulty. Learn to cultivate a pattern of thought that is holy and right and good. Strive to find your entertainment and delight in the things of God!

There are certainly more Scriptures that encourage holiness… feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Philemon 17-20; Brief Thoughts

17So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

The nature of Christianity is one of transformation. Transformation of the heart that demands the transformation of society. Each believer is freed from death and sin to life and grace. It is this transformation that inspires Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:16 and Galatians 3:28, explaining that Christians no longer separate people according to the cultural and societal distinctions of this present life. Christians identify people simply as believing or non-believing. If they are believers, then they have been taken from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of Light. The exchange of kingdoms has wrought a change of citizenship. A citizenship that takes precedence over the powers of this earth. A citizenship that changes our perspective.

Society expects that everyone stays in the position in which they are assigned. Slaves are to be slaves, the poor are to remain impoverished, aristocracy is supposed to remain wealthy, and authorities are supposed to remain in power. Consider for a moment stories that inspire us – the slave who escapes slavery, the poor man who overcomes poverty, the chronicles of changing power. These stories are so inspiring because they fly in the face of expectation. The alteration of societal norms surprises us and as a result, we are in awe of defiance of societal expectations.

Christianity demands that positions are leveled and everyone is treated with equity. Those who have confessed Christ and have been transformed by the Holy Spirit are brought into a family of faith that is connected through grace. It is through grace. Grace – unmerited favor. Grace – an undeserved gift. Grace – the great equalizer. If one has received grace, then they must behave accordingly. Slaves can no longer remain slaves when they are family. The class divisions are ended and those who have need are connected to those who have means. Injustice remains in the world yet Christian community defies the world.

Paul models the truth of Christian transformation by connecting himself to a slave who is indebted to his master. He challenges Philemon to think the same way. “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge it to my account” (18). Paul takes the debt of the slave upon himself and determines to answer Philemon’s frustration by paying the debt. He does not deny that there may be some debt owed, in fact, he concedes the debt. Paul recognizes the pain that Philemon may have felt and the reparations that may be owed and becomes the slave on behalf of Onesimus. Philemon has been wronged in some manner by Onesimus. The slave has rebelled against the master. So, Paul exemplifies the gospel to Philemon by taking the punishment or debt upon himself. Just as Jesus has taken upon Himself the debt of rebellious slaves (Romans 5:8-10). Grace has leveled the class structure and Paul models that leveling. Christian, if grace has been so extended to you by the Almighty, so you must extend such grace to each other.

As a part of the family of God, Paul addresses Philemon directly, in his “own hand.” In doing so he passively reminds Philemon of the debt that Philemon owes to Paul. Indeed, Philemon was given the gospel of Jesus by Paul and no doubt owes Paul his very soul for such a gift. Whether or not Paul has any other debt that could be required of Philemon we are not told. The gift of the gospel and the salvation of the soul ought to be enough to compel Philemon to submit to Paul’s request.

Consider this carefully Christian. Those who have taught you the Word of God and have brought you to the throne of the Lord are owed a debt that you are never REQUIRED to pay. It is a debt of love and fealty that compels grace extended living. Once grace has been granted to us, we are compelled to grant grace to the brothers in faith, even to the world.

Paul is right to ask such a favor from Philemon. He has labored to teach the gospel and Philemon reaps some eternal benefit from Paul’s temporal labors! So he states plainly that he expects some reward from Philemon. Though Paul need not demand the reward and certainly would trust the Lord and eternal reward beyond any material good in this life, Philemon’s acquiescence will validate the gospel and prove grace.

The reputation of grace and transforming power of Jesus is what is at stake here. This is not merely a matter of debts and forgiveness of one slave. Philemon’s actions either prove or invalidate the gospel. So many Christians fail to realize that our social interactions are incredibly important testimonies for Christ. By our actions, we either validate the gospel, or we give reason to the skepticism of the world. To be clear: the truth of God does not depend on the actions of man. The gospel is true in spite of Christians’ willingness to live it out. However, the communication of the truth is certainly hindered through the wickedness of Christians who refuse to live grace-extended lives.

Philemon 15-16; Brief Thoughts

15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother – especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

“Why?” It is the first question humanity asks when difficult circumstance arise or relationships falter. Innate within every person is a deep need to know the meaning behind difficulty. It is unique to the negative experience though. No one asks why when things go well. It is difficulty that propels us to question. We don’t seek understanding for blessing, we seek understanding of tragedy. It is natural to seek the meaning behind tragedy, to wonder at circumstance, and to mourn loss whether it is material or relational. In the economy of redemption, the question “why” is answered with the gospel.

Christians seek to interpret experience through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ. As relationships struggle, circumstances overwhelm, and external pressures threaten, true believers will seek to renew their minds through consistent engagement with the gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 12:1-2). For Christians, life is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, the responsibility of those who trust in Jesus to learn to view life as subservient to and empowered by the gospel itself. So, while the world around us asks, “why this meaninglessness?” we ask, “where is the gospel in this?”

Paul urges Philemon to have a gospel-centered mindset. He has already reminded Philemon of his own circumstances. Philemon is healthy, well provided for, and surrounded by brothers and sisters. Paul is in prison, alone, and struggling. Yet, the gospel transcends both conditions of wealth and poverty, sickness and health, lowliness and exaltation, or slavery and freedom (c.f. Philippians 4:12-13). Paul sees a triumph for the gospel in the transformation of Onesimus from an enemy of God to adopted by God and he longs to see the tangible reality of that condition in Onesimus’ freedom with regard to Philemon. So Paul speculates, “perhaps this is why.”

Perhaps Onesimus ran away from Philemon, encountered Paul, heard the gospel, and is now voluntarily returning to Philemon so that the transforming power of the gospel in their relationship could be made manifest. Consider for a moment what this tells us about the heart of God. God cares about our relationships with other people. He longs for people to live in right relationship with Him and with each other. His design from the beginning was harmony between all people and the great destruction of that harmony is sin. So, in the gospel, Jesus rescues us from sin and thereby enables us to live in right relationship with each other. In the Christian community, there is no longer slave or free but all are Christ’s (Col. 3:11). The Lord delights in the restoration of human relationships to their original intent.

Imagine for a moment, what the world would be like if mankind were in complete harmony with one another. If no one person was subjugated to unjust systems. Imagine a world without hate or oppression. Consider what it would be like if there were no injustice… if human trafficking did not exist… if your neighbor was your brother or sister. We would look at what others have and ask, “Do they have enough?” rather than “What do they have that I want.” The gospel empowers us to live this way. The freedom presented to Christians enables those of us who believe to surrender self-exaltation and seek to lift others up to worship Jesus. Are you facing difficult relationships that need redemption? Are you struggling to find meaning in loss or fractured relationships? Perhaps these difficult relationships that we struggle through understanding are there to prove the gospel in and through our lives.

Philemon is to receive Onesimus as a man forever changed. Onesimus is no longer the same man enslaved by sin and a subject to a sinful system. He has been set free from slavery to sin by the gospel and now the relationships between Onesimus and the Christian community must reflect that transformation. He is no longer a slave to Philemon and Paul but has become a brother, and people do not enslave their family.

Take note of Paul’s final phrase in verse 16, “both in the flesh and in the Lord” (v.16). There is no excuse for citizens of the Kingdom of heaven to live like the world. Citizens of heaven do not submit to the social norms of earthly society. Rather, the citizens of heaven live above society’s moral standards. One cannot excuse sinful behavior simply because the world says its ok. Christians must be Christians both in “the flesh” and “in the Lord.”

Philemon 12-14; brief thoughts

12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.

When a person does good deeds because it is required or demanded of them, it is not truly good. If a person is compelled to love someone because circumstance demands it, then that person is not truly acting in love. For an act to be truly good, it must come from a motive that is equally good. For example, it may be good to serve the poor, but if ones motive is to be heralded as a great person, then the action of serving at a soup kitchen becomes an attempt to serve self-interest and not others. So it is with Philemon. Philemon must do what is right because it is right. Rather than keeping Onesimus and simply demanding that Philemon comply with Paul’s wishes, Paul offers Philemon the opportunity to prove the transforming power of the gospel.

The transforming power of the gospel is evident in the actions of the one transformed. Jesus says it this way, “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). So it is with all who believe in Jesus Christ, the heart is transformed and then it is manifest in the hands (or outward actions). Paul’s exhortations to Philemon are, in their most basic sense, a call to behave like a Christian. So here in verse fifteen he passively suggests that, assuming he has heard the gospel and been empowered to do what is good, Philemon could send Onesimus back to serve with Paul.

When making his request, Paul willingly submits to the potential rejection of Philemon. He submits to the rejection, knowing that the gospel will compel Philemon to do what is right and free Onesimus from slavery. Further, Paul increases the strength of his request by reminding Philemon of three things. First, Paul explains that Onesimus is very dear to him calling the former slave, “my very heart” (v.12). Paul’s love for Onesimus is due to the radical change that God wrought in Onesimus through the gospel. A change that should be manifest both in Onesimus’ deeds and circumstance. Philemon is in the arbiter of Onesimus’ circumstance. Second, Paul hints that he could have kept Onesimus without asking permission. It would have been perfectly acceptable for Paul to assume that Philemon, professing to be a believer, would release Onesimus and rejoice over the gospel ministry. Still, Paul models grace and respect for Philemon’s position and submission to Philemon’s decision. The responsibility to exemplify the gospel is Philemon’s. Finally, Paul reminds Philemon of the circumstance of imprisonment and, by inference, the freedom Philemon enjoys. Onesimus has served alongside Paul in prison. He has been a slave and, like Paul, has willingly submitted himself to an unjust system. A system that the gospel can and does change. A system that subjects people to unjust imprisonment and slavery. A system that Philemon can easily defy and reject.

One of the most unique features of Christianity is mutual submission. Paul could demand that Onesimus be freed, and still, he persists by leaving the emancipation to Philemon. This is true Christianity – that each person is responsible before God to do what is right and that the rest of the community of faith extends grace to them for the sake of the gospel. The gospel is proved in the work of the Spirit through individual believers who voluntarily lay down their own preferences, submitting to one another in love. Christians submit to one another out of trust that God is going to work in our hearts to lead us to righteousness. So Paul appeals to Philemon, by the gospel! Likewise, we should appeal to each other with the same love and submission.

Consider what a community would look like if believers did this well. A community of faith that lived in grace and understanding with one another. Bearing with one each person’s failings and misgivings. Forgiving the individual behaviors that so dramatically offend. Overlooking flaws and failures to understand what is required. This is the true Christian community. One that appeals based on truth and love. One that exhorts the believer to live like a believer because they have been changed.