Tag Archives: training

Galatians 1:10; Brief Thoughts

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Many modern church leaders seek fame and publicity. They persist in ensuring that their names are known and exalted in this life. In effort to secure the praise of men, many compromise the message of the gospel. Some diminish the gospel by omitting difficult parts and others choose to emphasize one aspect at the cost of the whole gospel. Seeking the praise of men, these leaders steal the glory due to God and proudly place crowns on their own heads. These men are to be pitied and mourned over, they will one day answer to the God of glory, whom they have stolen from.

Paul was accused of such a theft. The men who accused Paul of this robbery of God’s glory were guilty of the very crime of which they claimed Paul was complicit. Seeking the praise of men, they postured themselves as holy leaders of the church. Still Paul, honestly presenting his own testimony, insists that he is not seeking the praise of men. Indeed, if Paul were seeking such accolade from mortal men, then the letter to the Galatians would never have been written. Such a testimony of Jesus’ glory and righteousness does not serve to make Paul great. Rather, as Paul will soon testify, his former success as a righteous Jewish Pharisee amounts to no value in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Any glory he once tried to attain for himself is now counted as nothing and has resulted in scorn and accusation from men, but will result in honor from God.

A man cannot be a servant of Christ if he strives for the praise of men. Further, it is the motive that determines the position. Paul states that he “would not be a servant of Christ, if [he was] still trying to please man.” If Paul’s motive is to please men, then he proves himself to be a servant of men and not of God. Likewise, those who profess Jesus as King and then serve motives to enhance their own glory are not serving Jesus, but their own self-interests. So, Paul calls into question the accusation itself. “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” The answer is obvious that Paul is not attempting to please men.

Paul will later explain that he has seen what it means to please men. He has stood among the apostles and rebuked them for showing deference to the Jews over the Gentiles believers. He has challenged Peter and defended the truth of Jesus in the face of radical hatred. Paul is acquainted with the reality of preference. He knows what it looks like and he has scorned it. He has surrendered prestige and honor for the sake of Christ.

Grace extends beyond me. If praise lands on me and not Christ, then I have cheapened grace. You see, if I matter more than Christ or if I am concerned about praise that I received, then I have brought the value of grace to my level. Here is a story that may serve as an example of what I mean:

I was once eating with an old friend from high school who was asking me about what I do for a living. My friend was of another religion. As a pastor, I have a few answers to this question, I reached into my bag-o-answers and said, “I spend a lot of time counseling people and helping them to live a full life. I walk alongside people whose marriages and lives are in turmoil and help them to understand a better way to live. I teach people what life is and help them to live it to the fullest.” My friend nodded sympathetically and said, “You are a great man who is really making a difference in this world.” At that moment I realized I had failed to exalt Christ. In my attempt to explain what I did, I soften the message of the gospel. I took the Gospel of salvation and explained it as if I was the message. Sorrow filled my heart the moment I heard him say this. The Gospel is so much greater than me. Though I may do some good things, Christ actually forgives sin and changes the souls of believers to give them life! He is the gospel, not me! Yet I had reduced the ministry of the gospel to my work! Needless to say, I no longer answer that way. Now my answer is, “I teach people about one true God, Jesus Christ!” It’s a much more awkward answer, but it is true.

When we seek the praises of men, we drag the Gospel down to the dirt and cover up the real message. Let the Gospel stand exalted in Heaven! That way it will save people and lift believers up to Heaven!

In evaluating our own understanding of grace and exaltation of the Gospel, there are some questions we can ask ourselves.

  1. When I am called by God to say or do something, am I pausing to consider the reactions of men?
  2. When Scripture is plain, am I softening what it says in order to make it more palatable to those around me?
  3. When I meet someone for the first time, am I honest and transparent about the gospel or am I attempting to please the other person?
  4. When I see injustice, do I answer with the gospel or do I hesitate because of the other people around me?

 

Advertisements

Galatians 1:6-7; Brief Thoughts

6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 

There are many modern gospels in the world in which we live. Many are obvious, insidious corruptions of the truth of the gospel. Often, false gospels bear an additional moniker at the beginning such as, “prosperity gospel,” “poverty gospel,” or “justice gospel.” These gospels obviously make Jesus secondary to another issue and contort the word of God to proclaim something other than Christ as ultimate. Anytime a word proceeds gospel, it is reducing the majesty of the gospel itself. These can be quickly identified and rejected soundly.

Some false gospels are less obvious. These are ones that espouse a Jesus plus something for salvation. Paul is dealing with this kind of false gospel in Galatians. The believers in Galatia were being instructed that they needed Jesus plus the law. Some Jewish brothers had arrived and were trying to blend Judaism with Christianity, insisting that Christians needed to adhere to the law of Moses in order to be saved from the wrath of God. Yet the gospel requires no law, no works to merit salvation, no extraneous duty laid upon vessels of mercy. The gospel of Jesus Christ is that He has done the work for you. You have only to trust in His righteousness for your salvation. Repent from sin and believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and God resurrected Him from the dead that you might have life!

Knowing that the gospel is a message of grace alone, it is only natural that Paul would be “astonished” (v.6). Indeed, why would anyone desert the one true God “who called [to them] in the grace of Christ”(v.6)? Notice the assumption in Paul’s language: believers are “called… in grace!” The very calling to faith has been an act of grace and is accomplished by Christ. The gospel is given freely to believers by the grace of Jesus Christ alone! Oh, dear believer, it is not your righteous behavior that grants you the grace of Christ, but it is the work and love of Christ! Not only is your own work not sufficient, but your own motivation is also insufficient to draw you to the gospel. In Romans 3:10-20 Paul explains the reality that no one actually seeks after God and even the base desire of humanity is one that denies the glory of God. So, if someone has been transformed by the gospel of Jesus, then it is astonishing that such a person would revert to so wretched a state.

The adversary cannot truly invent a different gospel. The work of the enemy is one of contortion of truth, not creation. No one can create out of nothing but God. Likewise, no one can bring salvation from death except God! He brings life from the dead and light out of darkness. He transforms the souls of men, redeeming the unredeemable. No, the adversary cannot create a new gospel, he must distort the truth and deceive the hearer. His tactics have not changed from Genesis 3. He still asks, “has God really said..?” (Gen. 3:1). He still adds a simple word to the consequence saying, “you shall NOT surely die” (Gen. 3:4). False gospels are dangerous because of one word misstated or one truth slightly slanted from the plumb-line. They distort the Word of God by simple and slight adjustment.

This is why it is so important for the believer to study the Word of God with great attention to what it says. The Word of God means what it says. It ought not to be dismissed or restated to mean something else. The Bible must be taken for what it says. I can remember a Sunday School class in which the teacher quoted Jesus and then stated, “that doesn’t mean what it says.” I have heard other preachers say such things as, “if this passage meant what it says, then we would have a serious problem.” In casual discussion with other theologically minded people I have been told, “I cannot accept what the Bible says about that because of my understanding of Jesus.” This is the way the gospel becomes distorted. The Bible means what it says. If you cannot accept what the Bible says, then you are beginning to believe a false gospel. Repent, believe the Bible.

Here are three recommended habits for developing a healthy understanding of the gospel.

  1. Do a “quiet time” or devotional daily. If you will simply read a little of the Bible each day, you will begin to see SOME growth in your life. Devotions are not intended for deep study, they are intended for setting your mind to follow after God. As you read, you will find that the message of the gospel becomes normative in your thought processes.
  2. Do a deep study once a week. People usually object to this one on two bases. So let’s address these.
    1. You have time for this. Don’t lie to yourself and say, “I do not have time to study the Bible in depth!” Do you have a regular show you watch? Do you have a regular activity that takes 30 minutes? You have time.
    2. Some people argue that they don’t have an understanding of how to do deep study. Well, go ask your pastor to help. In western churches, we have more resources than any other time or place in history. Buy good books and read good blogs that can help! (I recommend Precept Ministries International’s study materials for learning how to study your bible. You can find them here).

Get some material to help, set aside some time and get to work. Deep study is a delight to the heart of a Christian! Take some time each week and delight yourself in God’s word! In doing so you will develop a deep and mature understanding of the gospel.

  1. Attend and be involved in a church community. God designed the gospel to be lived out on this earth. You need other people to do that. One of the greatest and easiest ways to grow in your faith is to attend church and Bible studies. That’s right, attend. Attendance is the key. You cannot be successfully involved in a church community if you do not attend. Make the effort and attend. Otherwise, you will find your heart drifting away from the community of faith, no matter how dedicated they are to meet your needs outside of regularly scheduled gatherings. Attend a church community and do so faithfully. As you attend and intertwine your life with the lives of others, you will find that some people frustrate you, some bless you, some drive you insane, and some people are just kind of there. This is a tool for your growth, do not abandon the plate because you don’t like the vegetables. It is good for you, suck it up and keep going, eat the whole plate of food.

Galatians 1:2-3; Brief Thoughts

To the Churches of Galatia:

3Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, …

Peace is never safe and grace always comes at cost to the giver. Law is always safe and order only costs the one on whom the law is imposed. Law and order provide a modicum of security at the expense of freedom and joy. But grace and peace offer freedom and joy to the recipient. Security and safety are not to be found in the adventure of grace and peace.

Grace is given by the Supreme Lord at cost to Himself. He has granted forgiveness of sins and has refused to hold those under grace to the Law. In such a great gift, God has granted freedom to those who believe. Grace is contradictory to the law. Law demands obedience in exchange for security, grace gives freedom at cost of control. God has determined that He will walk with man. He walks alongside mankind, engaging in the seemingly mundane designs of life. So Christ grants grace for freedom over law for control.

Peace can only be attained by risk. One must surrender and trust the One who promises peace. If you wish to know peace, then you must surrender your need to control the circumstances in your own life. This surrender of control and security in exchange for lasting, real peace seems difficult. Mankind is not inclined to “let go.” Every person desires to shape their own destiny and decide their own fate. The irony of such a struggle is that it is dependent on controlling external circumstances – circumstances that are decidedly out of a man’s control. These circumstances that we so fear are beyond our ability to control, yet they are held fast in the hands of the Almighty God. He has power over all things and keeps all things (Col. 1:17). Indeed, He is the only active agent that can change ANY circumstance. Thus, He is the only one who can guarantee peace. Yet the peace can only come when trust is given entirely to Him. A man must surrender his need to make himself righteous and trust that Jesus’ sacrifice will rescue those who believe.

Further, this grace and peace come from God who has a particular relationship with us. He is “our Father” (v.3). He is Lord over all, and He is our Father. He has an intimately personal investment in you as a person. He is the One whom you derive your character from as a believer. He is the One who has taken care of you. Think for a moment about Jesus’ example of fatherhood in Luke 11:1-13. God is a good father who gives good things to His children. He gives peace. In Luke, this peace is particularly through the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Father gives the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit to grant peace and grace to those who believe! What greater peace can be given than the constant presence of the Father to guide and walk life with us!? There is no greater peace a person can have than the presence of the One who is Lord over all!

God the Father and Jesus Christ provide perfect peace and sufficient grace for those who believe in Christ Jesus. If you wish to have this grace and peace, you must trust in Jesus for salvation. This means that you admit that you have sinned against God- that means that you have broken His law and attempted to secure your own righteousness apart from Him (an impossible task). Trust in Christ’s atoning work for your sins – past, present, and future. Jesus died on the cross, taking the sins of those who believe upon Himself. In His death, your sin is defeated! Consider this for a moment: when Jesus died, all your sins were future sins. You trust in Christ, He takes ALL your sins upon himself. The Gospel is well stated succinctly by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3-11.

To put it simply:

  1. Recognize you are a sinner in need of forgiveness from God.
  2. Trust that Jesus, who was perfect and sinless, died – taking sin upon Himself.
  3. Trust that Jesus overcame death by being resurrected from the dead.
  4. Surrender to Him as Savior and Lord.

You can pray to God and ask His forgiveness and He will give it. Place your trust in Him. There is no law that can save you, no amount of self-made-righteousness that can rescue you from your own wickedness. Only trusting in Christ can save you.

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!

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.

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.