All posts by John and Stephanie

Loving Jesus and making our way in this world

Accepting The Cup

Great thoughts by Stephanie Elkins.

Moments Matter

Imagine for a moment that you are at a very formal dinner party and your very important host has personally poured individual cups for each of the guests. They are handed those cups, one by one, by the host himself. Some of the glasses are fancy, others are plain, some are fuller, some hold less, and some appear to even come with differing types of drinks in them. As the host makes his way around the table, you wonder a bit nervously what your cup will be like. Will you know how to hold the glass correctly? Will you actually like the drink? If so, how in the world can you appropriately ask for more? If not,…you know instinctively that in this setting, your tastes don’t matter. Whether you like the drink or not, your role and your responsibility is simply to take the cup, receive it graciously, and drink…

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Philemon 23-25; Brief Thoughts: The conclusion

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

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

Paul concludes his great request by reminding Philemon that he is a part of a community of missionaries. His final greeting includes the names of brothers who have not yet abandoned Paul, but have remained in the mission field with him. His concluding remarks are both a gracious reminder that Christians are obliged to one another and a kind warning that, if Paul is not able to see Philemon, one of these other brothers will.

Grace and Peace are again reiterated to Philemon. As a bookend, Paul concludes his letter with the same greeting as verse three. This is exactly how we ought to address one another as Christians. Open with grace and peace, present concerns, and then close with grace and peace. Consider that for a moment – how often do we offer grace and peace before we lay our request before others? Further, how willing are we to grant grace and peace regardless of the answer or response we receive? Consider what it would look like if we actually did this.

Paul’s incredibly great letter closes with the same charity that he began with.

So who are these brothers?

Epaphras – (Colossians 1:7-8, 4:12, and Philemon 1:23)

Epaphras had a prominent role in the evangelism and teaching in the church at Colossae. His efforts helped to establish the church are mentioned earlier in this letter. Epaphras was a native of the Colossian church, so identified here as “one of you.” He certainly served the church well through teaching the grace of God thoroughly and with much affection. His affection for the church at Colossae is evident in his report to Paul in 1:8. Indeed, such affection for the community of faith is vastly increased when the community of faith has responded to the Gospel with love and affection. Epaphras must have felt a great deal of love for the faithful and he must have reveled in the encouragement from such a family as the Colossian church. This is precisely the encouragement that the churches should give to its ministers. Churches ought to so fiercely follow after Christ and exemplify the changed heart of Christianity that their ministers cannot help but speak of them to others.

In addition to serving the church of Colossae, Epaphras was a “fellow minister,” “a servant of Christ Jesus,” and “a fellow prisoner” with Paul. He was obviously one of the men that Paul utilized in the teaching of the church. He was also a man who exemplified Christian service to the extent that he was recognized as a “servant of Christ.” What a tremendous honor to be identified with such a title from the hand of Paul. His imprisonment and difficulties in his missionary journeys proved a testing ground for the fortitude of the brother who went along with him. Indeed, Mark left the missionary team in Pamphylia (Acts. 15:37-40), The Jews followed Paul from town to town attempting to crush his teaching (Acts 16-17), and, after this letter, Demas will abandon Him as well (2 Tim. 4:10), leaving Paul alone in prison. With this refining in mind, consider the honor given to Epaphras. He does not abandon the work and remains faithful even into prison.

Epaphras also had a deep love for the Colossian believers. He is described as “struggling on [their] behalf in prayer” (4:12). The term used for “struggle” is the same word that we derive the English word for agony. An apt descriptive term, Paul cites that Epaphras is in agony, striving and fighting on behalf of the Colossian believers. Such a labor is not foreign to pastors and ministers of the gospel. Indeed, it is common for a minister to labor in prayer and agonize over the souls of those they shepherd. Sleepless nights and severity of prayer are commonplace among pastors and disciple-makers alike. The content of Epaphras’ prayers for the church is that their character would be refined and that they would exemplify the will of God. That is to say, that they would exemplify the character and nature of God, living out His will on this earth. Epaphras’ prayer has nothing to do with their material well being or safety. Amidst persecution and difficulty, his prayer is that they would be faithful and strong. In their fortitude and strength they will live out the will of God, thereby testifying to His great grace and mercy.

The power of Epaphras’ prayer is only heightened by Epaphras’ own disciplined efforts. This is a man who puts into practice the strength he asks for others. May we all be so disciplined in our efforts toward gospel ministry that we are identified as serving the church in this way.

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2, and Philemon 1:24)

A Macedonian believer, Aristarchus was one of Paul’s “companions in travel” (Acts 19:29). He was present at the riot in Ephesus and spent significant time with Paul in Ephesus. In the midst of extreme danger, Aristarchus remained faithful to stand by Paul. Further, exemplifying the Macedonian spirit, Aristarchus has given all of himself to the mission of God. He has sacrificed his own comfort and position by following the Lord even to prison. This man is a bold follower of Christ who stands by Paul in some of the most difficult circumstances. Even in this letter, he is a “fellow prisoner.” What a great encouragement to have brothers such as Aristarchus who will serve even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mark (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13)

John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, was greatly involved in the ministry of the early church. He was a member of Paul’s missionary cohort early on until he fell sick and had to return home. He and Barnabas worked to advance the Gospel apart from Paul for a time before they were evidently reunited at Paul’s request in 2 Timothy. Mark’s own journey was one of transformation. He went from being a nuisance to being a valuable part of the mission of God. In his first attempt to live on mission, he was overcome with sickness and then rejected by the leader of the mission. Yet, he persisted and grew as a disciple, faithfully proclaiming the gospel when given the opportunity. So, over time, he is transformed from the sickly and annoying boy that Paul does not want to bother with being one whose presence is requested because he is “useful” (2 Tim. 4:11).

So it is with many Christians. As we grow in the Lord we often find the journey to becoming useful to be a long and rather slow process. Most Christians are more akin to John Mark than Paul. We seldom have a Damascus road experience that changes us overnight. Most of us must walk through failures and successes and learn slowly. Although we have been changed in a moment, we still must grow into that change as Mark grew.

Demas – (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:9-10, Philemon 24)

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was one of the cohort of Paul that traveled and served with him. However, somewhere between the writing of Philemon and 2 Timothy, Demas fell “in love with this present world.” No matter the devotion he once showed, his faith did not prove to be genuine. It is valuable to recognize that Demas’ affections were for “this present world.” Demas lacked an eternal perspective and thought it better to achieve in this life rather than the next. Let this serve as a warning. Strive to maintain an eternal perspective, lest you fall away for the affections of this life.

Luke – (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.)

Luke is often a misunderstood character in church history because of the position he holds as “physician.” In modern times, physicians are men of extreme education who are venerated as highly skilled purveyors of life. However, in the first century, physicians were not highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as doctor bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility. Some have speculated that Luke might have been a freed slave that joined Paul on his missionary journeys after his master set him free. It is common to speculate that Theophilus, the one to whom Acts is written, may have been Luke’s master. However, fascinating these speculations, nothing can be proved.

As a physician, Luke serves as the prototype for medical missions. Moreover, he shows the value of maintaining a physician in the service of missions for the sake of tending to Paul’s ailments. The medical profession during the first century was not a highly regarded field. Often scorned as useless in favor of idolatry, doctors were considered a rejection of the cultic practices of common roman religion. While there were some places where physicians were employed alongside temple practices, most were rejected as superfluous. The fact that Luke is used by God in such a tremendous capacity as Paul’s traveling companion is a rejection of the power of idolatry.

Imagine for a moment: you enter a city and find a temple of idol worship that claims to heal the sick through observance of ritual sacrifice. People are sick and are clamoring for their false gods to answer their pleas. You happen to have a physician who knows that the answer is for them to eat some fruit, take a particular herb, and drink lots of water. People begin to get better as a result of the physician’s advice and now you have an open door to the gospel. The education and talents of a man rejected by the common practices of the world are thereby used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

Further, there is no doubt that Luke utilized his education to write both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His ability to write served to record the history of the early church and the story of Jesus. His ability as a physician, while not specifically stated, was certainly used to keep Paul and his companions healthy, and the surrendering of his gifts to God was used as a part of His mission. God used a talent often rejected by the culture of the time, to advance His kingdom.

Luke remained with Paul through Paul’s imprisonment. His affection for Paul as a brother is evident in his presence with him in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11. While everyone else left Paul in prison, Luke remained. He was devoted to Paul. More than that, He was devoted to the gospel work.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. One surrenders everything in this life for the sake of following a gospel call that will inevitably land him in prison or end in death. The other abandons the glory of heaven for the glory of this life. Which one are you? Demas or Luke?[i]

[i] These entries were originally published on in the study through Colossians.

Philemon 21-22; Brief thoughts

21Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

There is no more intimidating visit than a man who has laid his life down for the gospel who has asked for a favor. Consider for a moment Philemon’s position. He is a leader in a church that lives in relative ease and is surrounded by a great many brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul is a man who has surrendered every comfort in effort to spread the gospel of Jesus. The magnitude of such a character could intimidate the strongest of men. By concluding his letter with a clear statement of expectation followed by a promise of his own appearance, Paul is expressing both hope and issuing a warning.

Paul’s hope is based on confidence that the gospel does and will transform Philemon to live contrary to the world’s system. The nature of the gospel is transformation. Because Philemon has claimed to follow Christ, he ought to be transformed and thereby compelled by his own new nature to defy the world’s systems. If he truly believes, Philemon will obey. Do not misunderstand, Philemon is not compelled to obey because Paul is somehow forcing obedience. Philemon is compelled to obey because the gospel demands that Christians exemplify the freedom of the gospel in there everyday life. Thus, slaves must be released and made family in the same way that Jesus has done for those who believe. Christians can be expected to manifest a changed life because they have been given a new nature that is free from sin and is being renewed after the image of God (c.f. Rom. 6:1-11, Col 3:9-10, Rom. 8:9-11). Confident that this change of nature has been wrought in Philemon, Paul trusts that he will do “even more than [Paul] say[s].”

Simultaneous with his expression of confidence, Paul issues a warning – “I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you” (v.22). He is coming to visit. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, the first church planter, the founder of the church in Colossae (where Philemon lives and hosts the church). Paul intends to follow his letter with his presence. The colossus of Christian missions is coming to visit following the letter he has sent with his “child” Onesimus. What can Philemon do except grant the request? If he denied such a request, then the gospel has not taken root in his heart and he is not a believer.

Paul’s warning is couched in surrender. Notice the language – “I am hoping through your prayers to be graciously given to you” (v.22). Paul is surrendering his right to command and acknowledging that Philemon’s prayers and efforts have value. Paul hopes to be “given” to Philemon. His efforts to visit are in order that he might pay the debt of Onesimus (c.f. v18). Paul is coming to take on the debt of his child, Onesimus. Yet in his coming he recognizes that Philemon’s prayers have contributed in some part to Paul’s own success. Further, he is aware that Philemon is in a position to refresh him and to aid him in the ministry. He has surrendered his right to command and has entrusted himself to the hands of Philemon. He is coming and he is coming in grace.

Paul’s concluding statements to Philemon exemplify how Christians are to treat each other in difficult situations of reproof. Note the structure of his appeal in verses 17-22.

  1. He establishes Philemon as a fellow leader (v.17).
  2. Accepting Philemon’s point of view, Paul takes on the debt of Onesimus (v. 18-19)
  3. He provides a clear statement of expectation (v. 20).
  4. He assumes the best response from Philemon (v. 21).
  5. He submits himself to Philemon’s hand and acknowledges Philemon’s efforts (v. 22).

This conciliatory attitude ought to be present in all Christian community. Christians are to be marked by our love for each other (John 13:35). So that love should be evident in Christian interactions within the church. Here are three things that Christians ought to take from Paul’s example.

  1. Assume the best in other believers. Because the gospel has transformed the hearts of believers, Christians ought to assume the best of one another. Further, Christians should express that assumption in words that are obvious and unambiguous. We ought to tell each other what we expect with transparency and forgiveness.
  2. Make expectations known. The world tells you to manipulate those around you. So great is the pervasive nature of deception in this world that entire academic degrees hinge on learning to manipulate and deceive people into doing what you desire. Christianity demands honest transparency. Christians are to be honest and open with those who they interact with. In this way a Christian lays everything out before others and entrusts him or herself to the work of the Lord.
  3. Prepare to speak in person. Paul’s confidence in Philemon is not the only step he takes to ensure Philemon’s obedience to the gospel. He is also coming to visit. In his visit, he will most certainly discuss Onesimus’ condition and offer to pay whatever has been lost. This kind of direct communication is common in Christianity. As those who have surrendered pride in favor of grace, we are uniquely suited to have loving discussions that engage each other with honest integrity.

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.