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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!

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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 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.

Psalm 96; 6 Observations about Singing in Worship.

(Disclaimer: There are a great many wonderful worship songs that are loaded with powerful truths about God. Indeed, Sovereign Grace Music, Townsend, the Getty’s, Shane and Shane, Matt Boswell, Matt Papa, and many more are writing wonderful music that exalts God and leads the church into authentic worship. This is not intended to be a critique of modern church music, but an exhortation towards authentic, Scriptural worship.)

One of the great joys of planting a church is that you get to wear many hats. In my particular church, I am the teaching pastor and the worship leader. This is partly out of necessity, but it is also due to the gifting that my wife and I have. My wife is a classical pianist by trade and I am a decent worship leader. My weaknesses tend to be in the area of administration, but that is for another time. Week in and week out I labor to find songs that glorify God and inspire the congregation to praise God. Sometimes I fail at this, sometimes I succeed, always I delight in the process of praise.

Reading through the Psalms is a beautiful way to learn to lead worship. Today, I’d like to look at Psalm 96. Below are 6 observations about worship that we can see in the Psalm, then 3 exhortations to congregants as a result, and then three encouragements to worship leaders.

So, let’s see what we might learn from Psalm 96 about worship.

In Psalm 96 we are admonished to “sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD all the earth!”

What does this exhortation teach us about praise and singing?

  1. The motivation for our praise is not circumstantial. This exhortation does not come with qualifying remarks such as, ‘if you feel like it’ or ‘if God has met your every desire.’ Instead, this particular psalm says “Sing to the LORD…For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised!” The motivation for singing is centralized on the character and nature of God. We sing because we see Him! We sing because He is God! Indeed, the Psalm begins by declaring God’s greatness and concludes by awaiting His judgment on the earth.
  2. The timing and conditions of praise are God’s to decide. Too often we seem content to praise the LORD on our own terms. We come to a gathering and sing, if we feel like it or if the music is good. But we fail to ask what His terms are. As a result, we rob ourselves of the powerful experience of worshiping through adversity. Perhaps God wants us to sing when we do not feel like it. Perhaps God wants to see us push past our own hearts and struggle to see His. After all, God did name His chosen people, “Israel” meaning “One who wrestles with God.” Seems like God likes to wrestle with us.
  3. Praise is a corporate reality! We praise well when we sing together. In this Psalm, we are admonished to bring our families along in worship and “ascribe to Him Glory and strength” in verse seven. We are called to come into the court with praise and praise Him among the nations. Singing is a corporate responsibility for the people of God. This Psalm admonishes us to join with the corporate body and even the entire earth in singing praise to God (c.f. v.11 and 12).
  4. Praise requires sacrifice. We are encouraged to bring an offering before the LORD when we come to join in praise. Worshiping the Lord in song requires a sacrifice of self just like every other act of worship. Did you know that the first time worship is mentioned in the Bible is when Abraham is going to sacrifice Isaac? The first mention of the word worship is tied to a tremendous act of sacrifice. Worship is sacrifice. We must bring before the LORD offerings of our lives, comfort, and even simple petty possessive pleasures; only then will worship begin to flow out of us in spirit and in truth through song.
  5. God is to be worshiped “in the splendor of holiness” with trembling (v.9). Consider for a moment what that means. It means that you are going to delight in worship only when God is supremely lifted up as glorious above all others. It also means that you are going to recognize the severity of what you are doing when you sing praise to the Almighty. When you join in singing during corporate worship, is God’s glory truly what you are recognizing? Are you seeking to raise Him up? If not, then we fail to worship. Further, the psalmist gives us a powerful reminder that the LORD is going to judge the earth, yet, there is no fear in the psalmist’s tone. He is not afraid, because he knows the Judge. Likewise, we sing with severity, but also with joy. We recognize the judgment of the Lord is coming and will land on the earth. But we know the judge and He is just and merciful! So with severe joy, we worship the Lord in song.
  6. Worship is not about us. It is about the One being worshiped. In this psalm, God is the focus of singing praise. Indeed, in every song of praise, it is God who is the focus. He is the motive, He is the subject, and He is the one about whom we sing.

Three Encouragements for Congregations

  1. Strive to worship regardless of the song. It is easy to be critical of the songs we sing at church. It is easy to dissect lyrics and judge a song as errant. However, if you are in a healthy church and the leaders are striving to maintain truth, then give them the benefit of the doubt and strive to worship. Try to see past particular wordings and focus on truths you can see about God. If you cannot, in good conscience sing a particular song, then strive to pray during that song instead.
  2. Bring words of encouragement to your leaders with every critique. Worship leaders get critique all the time. As a result, it is sometimes exhausting to hear people talk about worship music. You will guide your own heart into worship if you begin by thinking about what is good rather than what you want to critique. Further, the Psalms seem to indicate that singing is a corporate reality. So, recognize that you have as much to do with worshiping as the leader. Strive to lead from your seat. Sing loud! Then when a song does not land well with you, go to the person who selects the songs and then talk to them about that song. Tell them what is good in the song first, then discuss what is difficult for you. In this way, you will engage in corporate worship even when having difficulties.
  3. Sing! There is no greater encouragement to a worship leader than the voices of the congregation. Sing, and sing loud. We know you are thinking deeply. We know that sometimes you don’t feel like singing. We know that the music is not always your style. We know because we feel the same way. Worship leaders don’t always want to sing either. Sing anyway. Remember the Psalmist’s example – singing is not about your feelings or circumstances. It is about the character of God. Prepare for worship ahead of time by reading your Bible and praying. Get a picture of God before you enter into worship. Lay your sacrifice before the Lord and SING!

Three Encouragements for Worship Leaders

  1. Choose songs that are about God, not us. So many of the songs in our churches are narcissistic in nature. American churches often sing songs about the way we feel and call it praise. But songs about us do not praise! We exalt our own experience above the truth by proclaiming our own experiences in place of the deep truths of God’s character. Don’t misunderstand, there are numerous examples of Psalmists citing their feelings or experience towards God, but the praise always results from a recognition of God’s character. Indeed, when we lead others in singing, we ought to strive to display the character and nature of God so thoroughly in our music that people cannot help but praise.
  2. Sing songs that are easy to sing. This is more a simple practical thing. Your song selection may be beautiful and loaded with great content. However beautiful the song may be, if people cannot sing it, then you are not leading worship. Some easy ways to teach a song are 1. Repeat verses so people can get the melody, 2. Repeat new songs for two weeks then skip one week and do it again the next week, 3. Make your worship list available online for people to listen to the week of service, 4. Talk about the meaning of the songs you sing with members of the congregation.
  3. Worship in transparency. We don’t always feel like worshiping. Sometimes, as leaders, we would rather not lay our hearts bare before the Lord… but worship is not about our feelings or our circumstance. Worship is about God! Be honest with your brothers and sisters and tell the people when you are struggling. Let them see you push through to worship the Lord in tears or difficulty. Lead people to think deeply and engage with God in transparency. Let people know what is going on inside you and worship with a little transparency.

Philemon 9-11; brief thoughts

9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you – I, Paul, an old man now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus – 10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.)

To this point in the letter, Paul has not made a request of Philemon. Issuing reminders of the gospel progress in Philemon’s work, Paul reminds Philemon of the great blessings he has in the faith. Standing in stark contrast to Philemon’s Christian experience is Paul’s own testimony. Paul is in prison, Philemon is in comfort. Paul is alone, Philemon is surrounded by friends. Yet the Gospel has impacted and transformed both of them. Paul has sacrificed for the sake of the gospel. He has surrendered everything for the sake of the mission of God. He has lived a life worthy of the gospel.

There are men and women in the world who, by the sheer magnitude of their character can compel those around them to acquiesce to their encouragements. They are people who have such deep and profound integrity that their gaze seems to see past the surface of a person and into their very soul. These are men and women who have a tremendous presence. It is as if a weight of solemnity is laid upon anyone they come in contact with. Paul was such a man.

Paul’s character and integrity were beyond question because of his willing submission to circumstance over a long period of time. His personal journey began years prior on a road to Damascus. God transformed him in an instant and then trained him for three years before he began his missionary journeys (c.f. Galatians 2:11-24). He suffered and struggled all throughout his ministry being rejected by his Jewish kinsmen and sacrificing status for the sake of the gospel.[1] Even at the time of this letter, Paul has been arrested and is imprisoned for the Gospel. Now, at the approximate age of 60, Paul has been proven. His character has been tested and he has passed.

There is a wisdom in Paul’s age that can only be developed over years of experience. Knowing that Philemon could easily be commanded to set Onesimus free, Paul chooses instead to appeal to Him. When negotiating a plea bargain or a settlement, it is always better to start at a demand and work backward to an appeal. However, Paul is not solely concerned with Onesimus’ freedom. Paul is concerned for the gospel and the result of that gospel in Philemon. So, rather than command Philemon, Paul strongly encourages him to do what is right. In this way, Paul treats Philemon with respect and leaves the decision squarely in Philemon’s hands.

Paul, by mentioning his age and circumstance to Philemon, appeals to Philemon on the basis of personal integrity, not positional authority. Paul could have easily asserted that he was an apostle. He could have cited that he was the one who founded the church in Colossae, where Philemon lived. He could have even have said something to the effect that he could appeal to the apostles in Jerusalem to compel Philemon to release Onesimus. Yet, Paul takes the least aggressive method available to him. Rather than compel obedience to the gospel, Paul lovingly appeals to Philemon’s transformed nature and reminds him of Paul’s transformed nature.

Onesimus now shares in that same transformation that the gospel affords to all true believers. At some point in Paul’s imprisonment, Onesimus became a believer in Christ. The runaway slave turned from sin and was granted freedom in Christ Jesus. So Paul became a father to Onesimus, the once useless slave. The transforming power of the gospel rescued Onesimus and, more than that, made him a useful part of the Kingdom. Paul appeals to Philemon on Onesimus behalf because he loves the gospel. The gospel that has transformed Onesimus must also transform the way that we live in society. We must be completely different than the world. Slavery is not a condition that former slaves permit, whether physical or spiritual. So to, Philemon must no longer live like the world and the surrounding society demonstrate. Rather, he must be different. As Onesimus has been transformed from slave to son, so now, Philemon must accept the appeal of one transformed (that is Paul) on behalf of Onesimus.

Society demands expedience and self-center benefit. It demands a utilitarian view of people, insisting that you evaluate each person as to their benefit to society as a whole. It is this view of humanity that perpetuates slavery and oppression. In society’s view, people are commodities that serve the greater good. Yet, the gospel demands a different approach. People are not commodities to be used to serve our needs. When we think of people as commodities, we will find that they are useless unless they serve our own needs. However, when we recognize the value of a person through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that which was once useless is now useful, that which was once wretched now beautiful! Onesimus’ story is the same as Paul and Philemon. All three were once slaves. Though they now all live in very different circumstances, all three are made valuable through the gospel of Jesus Christ! For the gospel brings value to every person who believes.

[1] A simple read of the book of Acts will provide ample evidence to this truth. Indeed, so antagonistic are the Jews to Paul’s ministry that they follow him from place to place and strive to expel him from almost every town he enters.

What is Required? Philemon 8-9a; Brief Thoughts

8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love’s sake…

What is required of the Christian? Freed from the law of Sin and death, Christians now live by a law of Spirit and life (Rom. 8:2). Christians are no longer required to live by a law. Rather, they have been set free from the law and given the freedom to live in grace. The grace that Christians receive from God is astounding. God, the sovereign ruler over all things, sacrifices His own son for a people who utterly reject Him as God. Indeed, He saves those who are His enemies (Romans 5:10). He extends grace to those who despise Him and kneels down to serve those who fail Him (John 13:14).[1] His grace is extended to those who hate Him.

What is required of the Christian? Nothing… and everything. God offers redemption freely and without cost to the one who will believe. Though He requires nothing, it is a gift that surely demands everything. Grace is given freely with no invoice. When someone becomes a Christian, their hearts’ affections change. Christians surrender everything they have, which amounts to nothing, in order to find life, which is everything.

What is required of the Christian? The Lord answers the same question in Micah 6:8 – “To do justice and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8b). The Lord requires that you do what is just and live in humble obedience to Him. The Christian is to stand for what is just. Notice, Micah’s command is not simply to avoid injustice. He does not merely call His people to avoid what is wrong. Rather, He calls His people to do what is right! They are to actively pursue what is good and right. Justice is what is required.

Justice is required, but not as a term for admission into grace. Rather, justice and mercy are the evidence that grace has been given to the Christian. The Christian walks justly because he has been transformed by grace. Grace moves in the heart of a man to change from corrupt to clean (c.f. Col. 3:9-10, 2 Cor. 5:17, and Romans 6). God’s grace needs no demands of obedience. The magnitude of the gift of grace is enough to compel obedience to the precepts of God. The Christian stands for justice, not because he is commanded to do so, but because he, being born wicked, has been supernaturally transformed and made just by the grace of God. It is not by works or effort of their own that the believer is capable of doing what is just. It is because God is gracious to him.

It is important to note that Paul would not be out-of-line to command Philemon to set Onesimus free. He could, justly, demand that Philemon surrender his worldly rights in relation to Onesimus on the basis of his own citizenship in Heaven. But Paul acts towards Philemon with the same grace that God does towards us. He reminds Philemon that He could command what is required, but he would rather appeal to Philemon’s redeemed nature. A nature that has been granted to him by a loving and forgiving God. Philemon, once a slave to sin, must extend the same unmerited favor to those in his charge.

Paul’s appeal to Philemon is based on love. The term translated love in verse 10 is the word “agape.” Agape has a connotation of self-sacrifice and surrender. So here, when Paul states that he is appealing to Philemon for the sake of love, he is asserting a call to surrender the “rights” that Philemon considers himself to hold. Philemon was well within his rights to exact punishment from Onesimus. Onesimus had run away from the assigned position of a slave. The Bible does not tell us how Onesimus became a slave, but according to the social and political system of the first century, Philemon’s enslavement of Onesimus was seen as just. Yet, because Christians have a citizenship that transcends this world, a world in which slavery does not exist and is never acceptable, Philemon is behaving contrary to his citizenship.

Are there areas of your life where you have compromised the precepts of the gospel for the sake of social norms? Have you surrendered the rights that earthly citizenship affords for the sake of love? Remember, Christian, we are subject to a higher citizenship.

[1] Consider how Jesus engages with Judas.

Brief Thoughts: Philemon 6-7

6and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

The prayer of Paul for Philemon’s effectiveness draws attention to the practical outworking of the gospel. He specifically prays that Philemon’s faith would be “effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.” Paul’s concern for Philemon is not that Philemon would chiefly understand the theology of the gospel. Nor is his interest that Philemon would necessarily grasp nuanced truths about God’s character. Rather, Paul’s words to Philemon directly connected to the reality of gospel effectiveness. For Paul, faith must have hands. Faith must change the way we work and walk in this life. So, the call to Philemon is that his faith would overflow through effectiveness. That is to say, that Philemon’s faith would be evidenced in his own life through the outworking of his own hands.

To what extent must faith become effective? Faith must become effective in “every good thing.” Consider that for a moment – “every good thing.” Christians do not get to choose the good they want to do. Believers in Jesus must pursue “every good thing.” This is what James explains when he states, “to him who sees what is good and fails to do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). Further, the word translated “full knowledge” indicates an active participation in the attainment of knowledge. In this simple phrase, Paul is urging Philemon to engage fully in learning the good things that Christ has birthed in the hearts of believers. Indeed, it is the good that is in us. The good that has been placed in our hearts when we were transformed through faith in Christ. This good does not spring from adjustments made to our actions, but from adjustments that have been wrought to our hearts. Christians do good because they are changed. Likewise, justice and righteous deeds ought to flow from within the heart of a believer.

From the overflow of the heart, the believer brings praise to Christ. These good things that are in us are present for the sake of Christ and His glory. James asks, “does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:11). Likewise, the words and deeds of a Christian must bring forth only praise to Christ. The world judges our Lord through our testimony. Therefore, we must strive to live a life that is above reproach and exalts the name of Christ at all times. For, “every good thing that is in us” is “for Christ.”

Philemon has been an exemplary brother in the past. His love for the saints and for Paul has been a model of charity and grace. Yet, even the most disciplined and loving members of the kingdom are susceptible to blind spots in their own senses. Because we live in a fallen world in which injustice is normative and sin is acceptable, it is easy to overlook errors that are so easily granted in our society. So it is with Philemon. He has accepted the practice of slavery and of exacting punishment from slaves who have sought freedom. Still, in many other areas of life, he was kind and gracious to the other saints. So Paul, before bringing up Onesimus and Philemon’s obligation to him, Paul reminds Philemon that he has loved the saints well in the past and his character is one of love and grace to the church.

What follows this encouragement and friendly urging will be a gentle, yet firm calling to abandon slavery and forgive Onesimus.