Saturday, July 21, 2007

Forgive so that you can be forgiven

Philemon: - -Forgiveness found in a letter.

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul-an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus- 10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.12 I am sending him-who is my very heart-back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good- 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back-not to mention that you owe me you're very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.22 And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. 24 And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. NIV

Key verse: 15 & 16
Just how do we look at people? Here is a wealthy man; give him a good seat. Here is a blue-collar worker-let him sit over there. This young lady sells her body to anyone while this person gives herself to helping children overcome a learning disability. This person can be forgiven but that person cannot be. I will withhold forgiveness to one yet give forgiveness over and over again to this one. And here, in this passage, is a slave -a runaway- maybe stole from the master-only to meet Paul later in Rome! What is his owner's response to such a person?
What went on with this man Onesimus, we will never know BUT the fact remains that he heard the Message of the Gospel while in Rome and responded to that message in Faith. He becomes a believer. Now, he is set free. But, he NEEDS to return to the one who still owns him.
More 60 million people in that society - at that time - were slaves. (Much more today…plus 126 million forced Child workers.) This system is still everywhere. Some were slaves because of owing money-work their debt off and then be set free. Others were from tribes who were beaten by Roman armies. This Onesimus had a Greek name, so most likely, he was not a war slave. Whatever reason brought him into Philemon's house in Colosse-he was a slave who did not behave like a good slave. He was worthless and ran away, maybe even taking some of his owner's belongings or money with him. His master had it within his rights as a slave owner to have this runaway killed when returned. He was a slave and that meant money. What would that do to his testimony-what would it be like if he just 'let it go'?
Caught as an undocumented person, he may have been in jail. Then he meet a friend of his former boss, who also was Paul! Paul leads him to the Lord and Onesimus becomes useful again. The passage does not say he was in jail with Paul-just that Paul led him to Jesus.
This is the deeply personal letter we spoke before. Paul wrote to churches, fellow leaders and, in this case, a personal letter to a friend. A friend Paul feels needs to grow in a special area of life. He is dealing with a most deep emotion. It is an emotion that drives people apart. It damages families and brings nations to make war on each other. This emotion can cause churches and fellowships to fall apart and loose their testimony.
The theme of this letter is --forgiveness. Paul shows us how he sets up the playing field for forgiveness to win big time! At the close of this service, we would like to give to you a most important booklet you will hold/read this summer. Please except it and study it. We may need to talk together later concerning the implications of this booklet. Let's do lunch or have a cup of Java after dinner or I will even like the idea of traveling by train with you.
Paul writes from his thankful heart in verses 4-7. “I thank my God as I remember you in my prayers …” Paul is full of thanks. Full of memories of why he was so thankful.
In this mode of complete thankfulness, Paul writes about his love for this friend of his.

4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

And this, Paul says, makes me glad!
Good memories made his heart grow warm. Think of it; he is in jail! Not many good things there! He has even heard of Philemon's faith and of his love for the Family of God even in prison all the way from Colosse! What kind of a person was this Philemon? Was he a church leader? An elder? Bishop? Was he the head of the church in Colosse? No, he was just a man who loved Jesus & who had lost a slave & who was a slave to Jesus!
Paul probably addressed his letter to Apphia, Archippus, and the church meeting in Philemon's house to rally the support from the other Christians - to encourage Philemon in his Christian responsibility. Paul wants to see to it that Philemon does not let go of his good testimony. If he was all that good in the faith department, he'd better not fall down in what he does!
A good study to do on your own is to look at Paul's prayers.
Here we find a short one that is huge in scope. Paul prays that Philemon might be active in sharing his faith with those around him. Two weeks ago we saw that real joy was found in the sharing of the message of God's love to those who need it; both from within the Family of God and to those outside the Faith. Sharing brings joy. God's joy will flood your heart when you testify to others of your love for the Savior. You will be filled with His JOY!
Paul's prayer is that Philemon's witness would result in a deeper understanding of all that was his in Jesus Christ. What could that be? Understanding of God's plan for him. Understanding of the Will of God. Understanding the Mystery. Understanding of how God moves in us to cause a spiritual growth. Understanding the Things of God! And it goes even deeper than that!
To understand the things of God goes along with what Peter wrote about in 2 Peter 1:3-9-a great passage.

3 His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. 4 Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

And this is all connected with sharing your Faith with others.
Paul sees and knows that Philemon's witness of love to all people was the cause of great joy for himself. Think of the fact that Paul was in jail. It caused great encouragement because Paul knows Philemon refreshed the lives of fellow believers. Now, he needs to do it again!
HOW is that done? Hospitality is one way. What is that? It is a gift of the Spirit-given to the Saints who are found in Christ Jesus. How can each of us refresh believers in a very practical way?
Now for The Appeal, as the intercessor.
Philemon's character verses 8-9 At first, I felt that Paul was trying to butter Philemon up to get him to do what Paul wanted him to do but now I see it another light. Paul was speaking to the man's heart-his new heart in the Lord as he would talk with you or me. He spoke of Philemon's life of that kind of man who had such a good reputation of being a person who refreshed others. So, accordingly, Philemon was now in a position to bless one of his very own--Onesimus.
In this letter, Paul does not go into the fact of him being an apostle of Jesus. Not at all necessary. Philemon knew who Paul was. He uses soft words to remind Philemon once again of his own duty before the Lord. He writes: as Paul-an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus- Paul must have been 60 at that time. How can you refuse such a request from such a sweet old guy?
Paul also interjects Onesimus' conversion. He was no longer just a slave but NOW he was a Brother in Christ...not that Onesimus could act any way he wanted to, he was indeed a new creation in Jesus. A person of worth. A child of God. A royal priest before their God in Christ Jesus. He was still a slave who belonged to Philemon! Because we are in Jesus, there is no slave or free as in Gal 3:28 would say.

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

He now was still bond to the contract he was under; he was still legally bond to any laws he had broken. In God's sight, he was forgiven but he still needed to pay up to his earthly leaders. He was still morally and legally held accountable for his past actions.
--ILL if the broken window. Fact: boy broke the window. Fact: he was sorry for that action. Fact: he was forgiven for the breakage. Fact: he owed ¥5,000 for the replacement of the broken window. Forgiven yet responsible for his actions. I find nothing wrong with that. It is fair.
But now, comes God's perfect timing 6 and 22.
6 I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Philemon needed to keep his witness going. He needed to have feet on his faith. - - Not just in word only but in practice. God was setting the stage for one of His own children to demonstrate what it is to be forgiven by actively forgiving somehow how has really wronged him. The Bible says that we are to forgive those who have sinned against us in order for us to be forgiven by God for our sins against Him!
Matthew 6:

12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

By calling sins debts as in the King James, Jesus pictures the sinner's moral obligation to pay the consequences for any offense against God or another person. Forgiveness grants release from that obligation. It is covered in God's Grace!
How can we do anything else but accept God's plan for us? Just as Paul was really forcing Philemon to face his need to forgive, we must forgive others, too!
Forgive that person who hurt your feelings ten years ago and receive God's forgiveness for your sins. One must be there before the other can happen. If we refuse to forgive that person, God will not forgive us nor will He hear our prayers! We would be lost without Hope in this cold world. His Grace comes in and saves us from that dread. His Grace comes in and sets us free. But it is not for those who hold back forgiveness. Be free to forgive and receive His complete forgiveness!
Philemon must have been quite a guy! Paul was really counting on him to go well beyond his request for Onesimus. In verse 22

And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.

Paul even gives Philemon a job to give to his-now-worthy slave. Prepare a room for me. That is a slaves' job, not for Philemon to do. Paul gives Philemon a way to show his forgiveness by allowing Onesimus the joy of helping Paul!
Back again with the main thing of this passage: Are you willing to extend forgiveness to those who have offended you? If you are, then you can rejoice in God's Forgiveness. If not, His forgiveness is held from you. Forgive so you can be forgiven!
Any questions? Please send them in to the blog. I will try to answer each one. I do not know EVERYTHING!

Forgive so that you can be forgiven