Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to find out who God is, what is He like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Category: Philemon

For my son - When it's time to let go

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the third post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because letting go is hard…for everyone involved.  I don’t know how to be the parent of an adult child.  I’ve never done it before; I’ve never had a relationship like this.  But then again, neither has he.  We both will have to learn to trust God in new ways, as faith can only grow like this when we let go.

When it’s time to let go
originally posted on February 3, 2016

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.  He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tension is real

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there have been times that I have felt as if the message being delivered by the preacher to the congregation was aimed squarely at me.  It is as if God Himself has sat me down and said “Look, Ken this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

When Tychicus delivered the letter to the church in Colossae and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, suddenly Philemon and Onesimus were having one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments.  Take a look at Paul’s specific request to Philemon:

Philemon 15-18
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

This request put Philemon in a position where he would need to apply God’s direction on family matters that was just delivered to his local church:

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.  Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.

For Philemon, the tension is real.  God’s Word is directly challenging him, and he has a choice to make with how he will respond to God’s directions.

However, a different section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church would have been more applicable (and challenging) to Onesimus:

Colossians 3:22-24
Slaves obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.

For Onesimus, the tension is also real.  After everything he and Philemon had been through, would Onesimus humbly take his place and do his work enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord?

God’s Word is just as practical today as it was for Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.  As we allow the Scriptures into our lives, we too will be challenged.  It will be as if God Himself has sat us down and said “Look, this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

The tension is real.  Will we trust God and respond accordingly?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Wanting to know "Why?"

We like to ask the question “Why?” a lot.

Throughout our youth, that one-word question typically came from a desire to learn or understand.  Our fastest rate of learning is when we were less than five years old…simply because we asked “Why?” to everything around us. 

However, at some point during our formative years, “Why?” transitions into questions regarding authority.  And as we experience more of this sinful world, our “Why?” becomes a question that desperately looks for meaning and purpose among the tragedies and difficulties.

The truth is we may never know, on this side of Heaven, why God allows tragedy and evil and tough situations to occur.  When we experience these, we may feel like God doesn’t care.  Even when we trust God through difficult times, we can still feel saddened by the situation.

While we cannot see what the future holds, the apostle Paul gave us an example of how we can handle the “Why?” of difficult times as he makes an appeal for reconciliation between two people he cared about:

Philemon 9-14
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.  I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

Here is where Paul applies the benefit of hindsight to view the heartbreak and anger of the broken relationship between Philemon and Onesimus through a different lens.

Philemon 15-16
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Whatever happened between the two men, it was significant.  It was difficult.  It was an issue that created problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

In the aftermath of their separation, each man would have been tempted to believe that all was lost and what was wrong could never again be put right.  Maybe they did believe it.  Philemon could have asked out of frustration “Why did this happen?”, “Why are we the ones to deal with this?”, or “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?”.

In his letter, Paul shows Philemon that God used his hardship to bring Onesimus to the place where he would accept the gospel.  Philemon likely wouldn’t have thought it could happen when he was in the difficult moment, but God is willing to take both time and tragedy to reach out to people with the gospel.

Maybe, at some date in the future, we’ll get to see how God used our personal struggles, problems, and tragedies for our good and the benefit of others.  Maybe we won’t be able to see the “Why?” until we’re on the other side of eternity.

The good news is that God not only knows the “Why?”, but also the “Who?”, the “What?”, the “Where?”, the “When?”, and the “How?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When it's time to let go

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding rest

The world can be rough place.  We liken our struggles to living in a jungle, or going rounds in a boxing match, or constantly playing a part on stage.  At times the difficulties seem so insurmountable that we have to remind ourselves to breathe.  And no matter how independent we say we are, dealing with life is always more difficult when we try going at it alone.

As we look at Paul’s prayer for Philemon, look closely for the characteristics of Philemon’s relationships with others:

Philemon 4-6
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ.

After praying about the out-workings of his faith, Paul continues with how Philemon demonstrates his love toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints:

Philemon 7
For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

Paul commends Philemon for being a person whose presence invites people to rest.  The Greek word for refreshed means to cause or permit someone to cease from any movement or labor, in order for them to recover and collect their strength.

The believers who met in Philemon’s house didn’t have to work to earn his love.  Philemon’s manner and attitude allowed them to relax and regain strength.  The ancient world didn’t really view being a Christ-follower as a good thing, so you can imagine that the first century believers dealt with constant social, business, and family pressures because they chose to trust Jesus for eternal life.

What’s also interesting is that Jesus used the same Greek word when He gave an open offer to the crowd in front of Him:

Matthew 11:28-29
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.

I’m certain that Philemon was able to generously act this way because he took Jesus up on His offer and found rest in his own relationship with his Savior.  As he had experienced rest and refreshment, Philemon was then able to provide a similar environment to others.

We, too, need brothers and sisters in our church families that can provide a safe place for us to rest.  We need a place and time to cease activity and gather our strength for the next round that life will throw our way. 

I think it is also important that we show love to other believers the same way that Philemon did and provide a place of refreshment.  However, we won’t be able to do so until we take Jesus up on His offer to find our rest in Him.  So we have a couple of hard questions we need to ask ourselves: 

Where do we go when we’re tired and worn down? 
Do we escape into a hobby, our phones, TV, food, or something else? 
How quickly do we turn to Jesus for rest?
Do we trust that Jesus’ rest will satisfy and refresh us?

Are we willing to offer a place of rest and refreshment to other believers?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to be an effective Christian

As Paul began his short letter to Philemon, he shared what he had been praying for his friend:

Philemon 5-6
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ.

Lewis Sperry Chafer counted 33 benefits the believer receives at the moment they trust Jesus for eternal life.  A sampling of that list includes the following facts:

We are redeemed by God.
We are now related to God.
We are now acceptable to God.
Our sins are permanently paid for.
We are brought close to God.
We are delivered from the power of darkness.
We are part of a Holy and Royal priesthood.
We have a Heavenly citizenship.

These are incredible benefits, and Chafer’s entire list is just the starting point for our relationship with Christ.  From here, we launch into an eternal relationship with God where we grow and mature, becoming more and more like Christ.  On top of that, we even have the opportunity to earn eternal rewards for our participation with God in what He is doing here and now.

However, we will not be effective in our partnership with God and our maturity will be stunted if we think that any of our good qualities originate within us.  This is what Paul is praying about for Philemon. 

Just think about it…Philemon has a good reputation and hosts the local church meetings in his house.  Philemon has the money and property to have the local church meet in his house.  With blessings like these also comes the temptation to believe that he’s self-sustaining or that God should bless his efforts because he’s “so good”.  However, that shift in attitude also brings a dangerous shift in focus…he would begin to focus on himself rather than on his Savior.

How can Philemon effectively minister about Jesus if he’s busy looking at himself?

Paul prays that Philemon would protect himself and his ministry from being ineffective; yet it’s a trap that we can easily fall into as well.  The American Christian is quite rich, especially in comparison to our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world.  We need to watch that our affluence doesn’t influence our understanding of where our blessings come from.  As always, a Christ-focused mindset is the cure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Your story, as told by others

There is an old riddle that asks the question:

What belongs to you, but everyone else uses more than you do?

The answer is – your name.

All kidding aside, there is a fair bit of truth to that.  However, others rarely use just our names.  Attached to the use of our names is that person’s opinion of us…our reputation. 

Reputations can be broad and widely held, but they can also be held by individuals.  A “good” reputation can take a long time to build, and only a momentary lapse in judgment or selfishness can completely destroy one.  And to top it all off, there’s only so much we can do about them, since we’re not around when our reputation (for better or worse) is communicated to a new someone.

Therefore, our reputations will go ahead of us into places that we’ve never been to.  It may feel strange to think but people miles away from us, whom we’ve never met, could actually have an opinion about who we are.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philemon, he was in prison, and most scholars believe he was being held in Rome.  As the crow flies, Rome is over 900 miles from Colossae.  If you were to drive a car from Rome to Colossae on today’s highways, it would take you nearly 30 hours to get there.  Now let your mind move back to ancient Bible times….no cars, no social media.  A person’s reputation could really only travel by word of mouth.

And yet, from that far away, Paul hears of Philemon’s reputation:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Whenever Philemon’s name comes up in conversation, what Paul also hears about is all the ways that Philemon demonstrates his love and faith.  By his actions and words, people can recognize his priorities.  They can also see which relationships in his life that Philemon considers the most important.  And his reputation of love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints went out for at least 900 miles!

I suppose, however, we shouldn’t be all that surprised at this, since Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment: love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus said all people.  When our love for one another is recognizable to others, it will also become our reputation.  And a reputation like Philemon’s will point others toward Jesus…even if we’re not physically there to share the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Time to get personal

Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were.  Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae.  The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul.  So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.

Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:

Colossians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. 
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae. 
Grace and peace from God our Father.

From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them.  However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note.  The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus.  We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon.  We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved.  For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:

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

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.

There is no appeal to his apostleship.  Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers.  Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love.  This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life.  Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out. 

There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us.  After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.

Keep Pressing,
Ken