We were not able to capture the audio from the sermon this week, but you can read the transcript here. I have posted the main points below. I pray that you will be as edified by Philemon as I was.
IMPORTANT THEOLOGICAL THEMES IN PHILEMON
1. Faithfulness in all situations (vs.1-25).
Paul is in prison! By this time he has been beaten several times, he has some unknown ailment causing him significant physical discomfort, he has been abandoned, rejected, and abused. Yet, he is still faithful.
Often times I feel justified in going in to my house to rest rather than out to my neighbors with the Gospel because I don’t feel all that well. Often times I feel justified in being short with my wife and kids because I had a long day. Often times I feel justified in having an abbreviated devotional time because I am a bit tired.
I am so thankful for and humbled by and convicted through this example of faithfulness. Paul is imprisoned; but rather than just sitting there waiting to be released or feeling sorry for himself or complaining about the injustice of his imprisonment, he is sharing the gospel with those who come near, writing letters to encourage and challenge other believers (Philemon), and declaring the glory of God (many believe that he wrote the letter to the Colossians at this time also).
Grace, may we be faithful in obedience, for the joy set before us, even when circumstances limit the joy that is in us.
2. Persecution for the Gospel (v.1, 23 – Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus… 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you).
Faithfulness in all situations often leads to persecution. I won’t go into this one very much since Pastor Daniel spent all last week on persecution. I would, however, like to say two things about the fact that Paul and Epaphras have chosen imprisonment rather than silence or disobedience.
First, I want to suggest, because Jesus suggests, that we all consider, for a moment, the status of our relationship with Jesus in terms of the amount of persecution that we receive for speaking and living the truth of the Gospel in love rather than in terms of how much we know about Jesus or how much time we spend at church.
Second, I want to challenge some of you who are struggling to feel connected with Jesus to consider stepping out in faithful obedience. Be bold, be risky, be radical in your obedience. Share the gospel with your neighbor that you have known for years. Tell a coworker about how they can be saved by grace through faith despite the awkwardness that it might cause. Be willing to get made fun of or laughed at or rejected for the Gospel and then let see how connected you feel to Jesus.
Grace, may we be characterized by obedience to the point of persecution.
3. Love for people (v.1b-2 – To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2 and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house).
Loving others means truly wanting (or delighting in) what’s best for them. It means having a fondness for them that produces a willingness to suffer loss for their sake.
In Philemon we see this kind of love in Paul for the Romans or Ephesians, Onesimus, Philemon, and the Church.
We see it in the fact that Paul, for the sake of what’s best for the Romans or Ephesians, proclaimed the Gospel despite the likelihood (and eventually the reality) of imprisonment.
We see this kind of love in the fact that Paul shared the Gospel with Onesimus (who, as Rupprecht described, was considered to be the lowest form of humanity) despite the risk of losing credibility with the cultural elite.
We see this kind of love in the fact that Paul was willing to challenge Philemon to go against cultural norms (by accepting Onesimus back without punishment) despite the risk of losing a friendship with Philemon for making such a bold request.
And we see this kind of love in the fact that Paul, while imprisoned, was constantly thinking of the Church despite being imprisoned and abandoned by much of the church because of his imprisonment (again, Paul most likely also wrote Colossians during this time).
Grace, may we have this kind of love for one another and for others. May we continually pursue that which is best for each other and others. May we speak first of the greatness of God to one another. May we constantly look to encourage and avoid negative talk. May we care more about one another’s souls than one another’s opinions. May this love spring from our love for the Father. May we be a loving people.
4. Appropriate desires for others (v.3, 25 – Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit).
Another important theological theme in Philemon, which I am again thankful for, challenged by, and humbled through, is the theme of having appropriate desires for others. It seems to me that all too often I desire merely physical, emotional, and spiritual contentment for others.
I love that in Paul we see a desire for something more: “3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ…25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit…”. Stemming, no doubt, from his love for others, is Paul’s desire for grace and peace for others.
You can almost feel Paul’s longing for God’s favor to fall on Philemon and the church. You can almost fell Paul’s longing for God to bless and sustain Philemon and the church. You can almost feel Paul’s longing for God to bear fruit in and through Philemon and the church.
Grace, may we long for God to lavish grace upon others. And may we be willing to be used by God as a means of lavishing grace upon others.
5. Thankfulness to God (v.4a – I thank my God always when I remember you).
It is when I read passages like this, under the influence of the Spirit, that I recognize my pathetic lack of thankfulness. In a sermon that I heard recently by C.J. Mahaney he described the scream of the Damned, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’" (Mark 15:34)? Jesus’ scream here, Mahaney laments, was meant for us! We deserve to be the ones on the cross in agony. We deserve to be the ones forsaken by God.
Even the most basic, simple, child-like understanding of what Jesus did for us on the cross and in the grave must produce overwhelming thankfulness in us; thankfulness for our life and breath, thankfulness for our food and shelter, thankfulness for our minds and hearts tuned into Jesus, thankfulness for our families, thankfulness for our friends, thankfulness for our churches, thankfulness for our pastors, thankfulness for our own salvation, and, as we see in Paul in verse 4, thankfulness for the salvation of others.
Grace, may we be a church that fights against self-pity and discontentment and grumbling and complaining. Instead, may we be a church marked by thankfulness. Indeed, what ailment or struggle or difficulty can compare to that of Jesus on the cross or overshadow the favor of God in our lives?
6. Prayer as a natural result of thankfulness, love, faithfulness, fruitfulness, joy, and comfort (vs.4-6 – I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, 6 and 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).
What’s the natural result of the first five things that we just looked at (faithfulness in all situations, persecution for the Gospel, love for people, appropriate desires for others, and thankfulness to God)? What’s the appropriate response to faithfulness of the saints, fruitfulness in the saints, joy among the saints, and comfort for the saints?
We see in verses 4-7 that one natural result and one appropriate response is prayer. Paul cannot help but to express himself to God concerning these things. We see this in ourselves. It is built into our natures. When we experience grand things, exciting things, scary things, successful things we cannot help but to talk about them. We cannot not talk about them.
Paul leaves us the example of talking first to God. In recognizing the sovereignty and empathy of God in all things, Paul speaks first to God. In recognizing the complete fruitlessness of all things apart from God, Paul speaks first to God.
Grace, may we be a people of prayer. May prayer be the native tongue here. May we go first to God in recognition of the goodness and primacy and worthiness of God.
7. Joy and comfort in the things of God (v.7 – For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you).
In this passage we see Paul receiving joy, not from the worldly things that we so often chase after (money, relationships, toys, health, etc.), but from the things of God—in God-glorifying things (the faith of the saints, his love for saints, effective evangelism, depth of understanding concerning the Word of God among the saints, the centrality of Christ among the saints, the love of others among the saints, the physical and spiritual well being of the saints, and the nourishment of the saints through the service of the saints).
And in this passage we see Paul receiving comfort, not from the worldly things that we so often seek our comfort in (financial security, health, safety, etc.), but in God-glorifying things (the love of the saints and the refreshment of the saints).
Grace, may we receive joy and comfort from the things of God. And may we fight against our sinful desires to find these things in the world.
8. Investing in people (vs.23-24 - Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers).
I want to share a quote with you from a man named Dave Garda:
“[Discipleship], involves getting to know [people] outside the church setting! As [Christ-followers] we cannot sit in the office [or church] and expect…people to come to us. Jesus modeled the ultimate form of contacting—he became a human so he could be with us and die for us. Howard Hendricks describes the importance of contacting this way: ‘You can impress people at a distance; you can only impact them up close. The general principle is this: the closer the personal relationship, the greater the potential for impact’ (Leadership, Summer 1980). Ninety percent of [discipleship] is relationships – so the question is not whether [relationships] should be a part of discipleship, but how we can effectively build relationships [for discipleship]” (Sonlife Foundations p.69).
Paul, after Jesus, modeled this for us in his entire ministry, but we see it specifically here in vs.23-24. We see, in a passage that many of us probably skim over as relatively insignificant, a remarkably important biblical principle: one of our primary responsibilities in handling the gospel rightly is to invest in people/relationships.
Grace, may we be a church of relationships. May we fight against the temptation to be content in shallow, surface-level, impersonal, relationships. And may we fight against the temptation to rely solely on programs to build people up in their faith. Instead, may we allow others into our lives and be willing to enter the lives of others, for the glory of God and the good of others.