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From Ruthless to Generous and Enslaved to Empowered

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
January 25, 2015 5:00 am

From Ruthless to Generous and Enslaved to Empowered

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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Welcome Summit Church.

Good morning at our campuses across the Triangle. On your way in, you should have gotten this piece here. It is an incredible piece.

It's our annual report. I hope you will spend some time in it over the next week or so. Preferably not during the sermon, but you'll have it to look at.

It's an incredible piece. The reason that we do an annual report, by the way, is not only so that you can be aware of what God is doing here in the Triangle and what he's doing in our church, but that you might be amazed that he's doing it through you. I hope you have the same sense that I had reading through it of who am I that God would choose and bless me and allow me to be the vehicle of blessing for other people the way that he is. And I hope that you will see your role in it and that many of you will make a decision that you are no longer going to be spectators in this movement. You're going to actually be disciples in it.

We want the Summit Church not to be an institution. We want it to be a movement. And movements by definition move.

And so if you're not moving, you're not part of the movement. And we want to see many of you go from being sideline spectators to being active participants in the mission of God. And I think you'll see the invitation to do that in there. You're going to see some amazing statistics in it. I'm going to share a few of them with you right now, just the highlights, but not all of them.

You'll have to do that later. As I share these, I know that at some point you're going to feel like clapping, but I'm going to wait to the end. So if you could just sort of hold any show of affirmation or anything. This year started off with a bang. Our first Sunday of the year, we had 9,217 in attendance. And our Blue Ridge campus launched that weekend on Sunday morning with 650 in attendance. Over the last year, last 12 months, we've seen a 19% increase in membership at this church. As I explained to you, we've had a lot of common law members who just shack up with us on the weekend.

And we've made honest Christians out of some of it. So that was an answer, by the way, to a prayer that we prayed a year ago that God would make this less of an event people attend on the weekend and more of a community that they belong to. And to see a nearly 20% increase in membership is an answer to that prayer. Along with that, we now have 450 active small groups. Going into January, the Blue Ridge campus had more than 100% of their average weekend attendance that was involved in a small group.

I'm not sure how that's possible, but they're doing it, and it's now the new standard for all of our campuses. Over the last year, we've seen a 34% increase in weekly attendance for family ministries, which also represents growth in the community aspect of our church. We baptized last year nearly 100 students, high school, middle school students. Again, all that's an answer to a prayer that we would be a community, not an event. Our ministries to our community have really grown over the last year.

Get this. We have 119 families at this church that are involved in foster or adoptive orphan care in our city here. 119 families of you that have reached out and taken into your homes children that you could love and where you can disciple.

We just gave a half a million dollar grant to launch Reese City, which is a new ministry that we started to at-risk teens in downtown Durham. We have a thriving ministry to our prison communities here in Riley Durham. In fact, over the last 12 months, we baptized 11 of our brothers in Christ now right here at the Summit Church who come from the prison on the weekend, and we baptized 11 of them right here. Church planting, nearly 500 of you went on short-term mission trips in the last 12 months. Currently, we have 202 Summit members living overseas right now on an international church planting team.

Most of them, by the way, listen to the podcast, so hello to all of you. But 202 of us that right now have a current international address because they're there as a part of an international intentional team to plant churches. They have started now more than 90 churches overseas, which is a 176% increase over last year. One of those churches, by the way, was started last summer in Serbia by a short-term college mission team that we sent there. This year, we sent a team of college graduates that is going to live there on a two-year assignment. to work with that church. Speaking of college missions, you know that we encourage college students, unless they've heard from God audibly, by the time they graduate, that they ought to spend their first two years living on one of our mission projects around the world. I've told you we call that our Mormonization strategy.

Give us your first two years, we'll change your life. We now have eight city project locations and five second city locations where we are doing this. Domestic church planting. Last year, we sent out from this church 15 of our members to plant four churches domestically, which brings the number of US or domestic church plants to 23. Four of those are right here in Raleigh-Durham. Our most recent church plant in Wilmington called the Bridge Church launched two weeks ago, get this, with 420 people. They overflowed into the lobby.

I think I have a picture of it here. That was their first service. Pastor Ethan, the planting pastor there said, get this, one of the construction workers grew up at Homestead Heights Baptist Church, which is this church before it became the Summit Church. He had fallen away from the faith and moved to Wilmington.

Now he's coming back to faith in Christ through the relationships in this plant. You know what that means? You can leave us, but we will find you. And right now we even have services in the prison around Raleigh-Durham, so you can't even go there.

We're gonna get to you. That brings, by the way, listen to this. Last year, our US church plants baptized 317 people. That brings the total number of churches that God has planted through the Summit's church planting efforts to 113.

By the way, if you look on the back page there, we have a goal of a thousand churches, 113. This is where we are. This is the way to our goal.

I think you can break your silence, by the way. I think that's something probably worth celebrating and cheering for. The last two years, we've been in something called All In, which is a goal we've had of bringing in $26 million. I told you earlier last year that we were projecting, not only were we going to meet our goal of 26 million, we were gonna exceed it by about $5 million, we projected 30.9 million. I'm pleased to tell you that on December 31st, we concluded All In with $32 million that came in over those two years. Now some of you are like, oh, does that mean we're done with All In?

I am so glad that All In is done because I am all out. I'm not connected to any church at all. And we assume are not connected to the gospel. There are still 2.2 billion people in the world who have yet to even hear the name of Jesus Christ. And for us to cease doing all that we can to reach them with the gospel is the day that we cease to be followers of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus said that the Good Shepherd does not rejoice over the 99 that are His.

He goes after the one that is lost. We rejoice that we are 9,000 people here on the weekend, one for the 1.5 million in our city who have yet to hear the gospel. And if we're gonna be followers of Jesus, then we're going to every day of our lives, use every breath that we have in order to reach out to them. Listen, if your idea of a church is a country club for where we affirm the status quo, I'm just gonna go ahead and tell you, this is probably not the church for you. This is the place to sacrifice and serve and all this.

I'm just gonna go ahead and say, you might make it easier on you, might make it easier on me. You should probably just find somewhere else. Because this is not a church where we're just going to have a country club for Christians. This is a place where we believe that God has called us on a mission to bless our community with the gospel and to bless the world.

Now I'm preaching and I promised myself I would not do that during the annual report. But as you spend time with this magazine, there's a lot of great articles in it that not just explain what's happened, but who we are, where we're going, and what we believe God is putting into our hearts. You're gonna see stuff in there about how we're trying to grow in our love for God through intentionality and prayer and Bible study. You'll see articles in there of how we're trying to grow in our love for one another, not just through more and better small groups, but also it celebrates in there the progress that God has made in this church regarding the diversification of our church.

Last year we hit a crucial benchmark. Now 15% of the people that attend the Summit Church on the weekend are non-Caucasian, which may not seem like a big deal to you, but five years ago that number was like 4% or something like that. God is doing this in our church as a reflection of the unity that he brings, the harmony that he brings in his kingdom. And we want to see that continue to grow. You're gonna see stuff in there about how we're trying to love our world. You'll see something about a new initiative in the Summit Church that we call Serve 365. Now we call it Serve RDU, and we're still gonna use that name to refer to bigger events, but Serve 365 implies that it's not something we do a few times a year. It's something we do every single day.

You're like, what about leap year? You get that day off, but otherwise every single day you're reaching out to your community. You'll see stuff in there about short-term mission trips and college missions and what's happening through those things. You'll see something in there about an exciting thing called the Sam James Institute, which is the next step in our leadership development arm here at the Summit Church. Think of it like a ministry college that offers courses on topics ranging from how to answer tough questions about the Christian faith to how to preach or teach the Bible better, if that's something you want to do, to how to become a better parent that's gonna offer a full slate of things.

You can check all that out later. I just want to tell you that my prayer for this year, I'm gonna give you a few things I'm praying for. I'm gonna put them on my blog tomorrow if you want to pray it with me over the next few weeks. I'm praying that God would continue the grace that he has given me. Given this church and these things, that we would continue to grow in our diversity, that we would reflect the beauty of the body of Christ. I'm praying that we would be a community of disciples and not an event that people attend.

I'm praying that the 100% of people in small groups will begin to characterize every campus. I'm praying that we would be a church that grows in its generosity. That we would be a place that is rich with prayer.

That prayer would be one of those three. I'm praying that God would give us wisdom for strategic decisions we need to make about growth. When and where to do new campuses.

How to get permanent facilities for existing campuses or renovate those campuses. Maybe most of all, I'm praying that we would never lose our evangelistic edge as a church. Because I'm telling you guys, listen, without that we are nothing. That is what God called us to do is to seek and save the lost. And I want you to be involved.

I don't want you to come watch other people do it. I want you to ask, who is your one? Who is your one that you're going to reach this year and that you're going to bring and expose to the gospel? And the other day in my personal time with God, God brought me to Genesis 12. One of the oldest promises in the Bible that God just renewed in me a sense that I needed to pray for us in our church. Y'all, that promise, this promise is true for all Christians anywhere. But I just sensed that God was saying, I'm saying this to you.

Genesis 12 one, the promise to Abraham. I have chosen you. And I'm going to bless you and I'm going to make your name great, but it's not for the sake of your name. And it's not for the sake of your blessing.

I'm doing that to make my name great. And I'm doing that to make you a blessing to those that are around you. Summit church, this is the invitation that I believe God has given to us is he is going to bless us. That is his promise, but he's not doing it for our sake.

He's going to do it so that we can be a blessing to people in Raleigh Durham and all over the world. And if you are ready to receive that, why don't you just say, amen. Let's pray together.

Yeah, no, you can clap. That's good. Put your hands together. Let's pray together. Father, we are so very grateful. And who are we that you would not only love us and save us, but now use us as a blessing. And so God, we open our mouths wide as Psalm 27 says to receive it, that God, you would do exceedingly abundantly above all we would ask or think.

And that God, people would not talk about us, that they would talk about you for the glory of your name, as Paul said in Ephesians three, for the glory of Jesus Christ in his church throughout all ages forever and ever world without end in Jesus name and all God's people at all of our campuses said, amen. Today, we are going to briefly look with the remainder of our time at a New Testament book that I think captures the heart of our vision. It is the book of Philemon in your Bible. So if you have a Bible, I want you to take it out and begin to open it to Philemon. The book comes right after the book of Titus.

So if you have been here the last time, the last few weeks and have gotten good at finding Titus, it's the very next page. We just finished our study through Titus. And really Philemon is an extension of the thought in Titus.

So you could consider this like a bonus track in the everyday theology series we just technically concluded. Philemon is one of the shortest books in the Bible, only one page, 335 words in Greek. It's actually a postscript that was attached to the book of Colossians. A really interesting story behind this book, Philemon was a Roman nobleman. Who lived in Colossae, whom Paul had led to Christ on a mission trip there. Well, Philemon was really wealthy and he had a bunch of servants and one of them named Onesimus had stolen a bunch of stuff from Philemon's house and then ran away to Rome. Well, in a crazy twist of Providence, Onesimus runs into the apostle Paul in Rome.

Rome was a huge city, but he just happens to run into Paul, who is being held in a minimum security prison there in Rome. So Paul leads Onesimus to Christ. Then he finds out that Onesimus is a runaway slave who had stolen a bunch of stuff from Paul's friend Philemon. So Paul sends him back to Philemon to turn himself in. And as he is going, he says, hey, as you're going to turn yourself into Philemon, I want you to take this letter to the church in Colossae, which is the book of Colossians in your Bible. And then he attaches this little postscript to that letter as a private letter to Philemon. That's the book of Philemon. And so this is what Paul says in a private letter to Philemon, verse six is where we'll pick up. Paul says, He led him to Christ.

That's what he means. Formerly, he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful. There is a play on words happening in Greek because Onesimus in Greek literally means useful.

Onesimus as a thief had become useless. Now Paul says he's living up to his name useful, but he's not just useful to you. He's also useful to me. More than just his previous usefulness as a servant in your house, Philemon, God has a role for him in your life.

In his kingdom, he's gone way beyond his previous usefulness. God has chosen him to be an instrument of blessing. Verse 12, I am sending him back to you and sending my very heart when I do so. I would have been glad to have kept him with me in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel. But I prefer to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion, but of your own accord. For this is perhaps why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever. Not as a bondservant, however, but more than a bondservant, that you would have him back as a beloved brother. Verse 17, so if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.

If he's wronged you at all or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand. I will repay it to say nothing of you owing me, even your own self, since, after all, I led you to Christ. I have a Jewish Christian friend who says, clearly here, Paul had a Jewish mother laying on that kind of guilt trip, because that's a talent.

Basically, Paul says, so Philemon, while you languish around in your luxurious house with all your servants, I, an old man, am here in prison for the gospel. I led Onesimus to Christ, and now he really feels a call toward ministry, and I could really use his help. But if you really want to take him back, I guess you can. By the way, did I remind you that I led you to Christ, and without me, you would be able to take him back? Are you on your way to hell? Well, if you can find it in your heart to do that, great. If not, when I get out of prison, I'll personally come pay his debts. It's up to you, Philemon. And then Paul concludes with this, verse 22.

One more thing. Please prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon. In other words, oh yeah, I'm actually going to be there in a few months, and this is going to be really, really awkward if you do not do what I am saying. Furthermore, this letter is going to go in the Bible, which means that for the rest of Christian history, if you don't do what I say, you're going to be known as that guy. But no pressure, man.

Totally up to you. And of course, Onesimus is the one who actually delivers this letter, so as Philemon is reading it, Onesimus is kind of standing there, grinning, like, you know, what do you say, Uncle Phi? You know, what's going to happen here? All right, before we go any farther, let's deal with an obvious question that some of you had, as I have been reading through this. The question is, does the Bible here condone slavery? Because it seems pretty clear that there is some kind of ownership that Philemon has over Onesimus. In recognizing that, is Paul legitimizing slavery?

Great question. Sadly, some Christians throughout history have interpreted it that way. But that is a very simplistic, very twisted, and quite frankly, very wrong understanding.

Three things to remember. Number one, the bondservant here is nothing like what we think of when we say slave. When we think slave, we think you take somebody captive and force them into labor. That kind of slavery is explicitly condemned in the Bible.

Exodus 21 16, anyone who kidnaps another and sells him shall be put to death. Or in First Timothy chapter one, verse eight, Paul puts slave traders in the same category as those who kill their parents, adulterers, perjurers, or perverts. So that cannot be the kind of servant Onesimus was. This, scholars say, was more like what we think of as indentured servanthood. And it was part of the economic system in Rome. That's why some of your translations say bondservant, some say servant, some say slave. There was one word in Greek that could mean any number of things.

The word was doulos. In those days, if somebody became extremely poor, or they had a lot of debt, or they couldn't provide for their family, the only thing left for them to sell was their labor. So in agreement to pay off their debt or for the promise of provision, then people would often sell themselves to a wealthy person like Philemon. Now, that is not to say that it was a good system, or that it was ever part of God's plan. In the original creation, God never intended us to own each other. He told us to have dominion over the earth, not other humans, which leads me to number two.

The New Testament subverts the entire premise of any form of slavery. He tells us we are all family. There is no hierarchy in the kingdom of God. You can see that in a verse Paul often uses to close his letters. He will say, greet one another with a holy kiss. As a teenager in church, I wondered, why does no one ever preach on that verse? Because there were several girls I wanted to apply that verse with that very morning. But then my dad explained to me that Paul said it is a holy kiss, which is not what you have in mind when you want to apply that verse. Secondly, he said, you would have to apply it to men and women alike, which took care of any desire that I had to apply that verse at church. But what Paul meant through that command was treat one another like family. When you come into the kingdom of God, there is neither Jew nor Greek, black nor white, rich nor poor, employer or employee. There is no educated, uneducated, prisoner, free, incarcerate, none of that. He said in Christ, we are one race of people, the human race.

There is one class of people, sinner. There is one solution, Jesus. There is one future, the resurrection. There is one fortune, and that is the eternal riches of Jesus Christ. So he says, when we come into this place, we leave any distinctions behind because we have been made one in Jesus Christ. We are family.

The ground is level at the foot of the cross. In Christ, masters and servants become brothers and sisters. That new view of humanity would ultimately undo the form of slavery, which leads me to number three. Rather than issuing a political manifesto, God planted seeds, which undid the current order. You see, had God said this system is wrong, get rid of it now. Jesus followers may have focused, it's focused exclusively on political action.

And there is a time to work politically. But God had a different way of going about his agenda on earth. He was transforming the world from within. God's transformation was in his church.

Eventually, this new vision of humanity would transform the whole society, but God started it through the gospel in the church. D.A. Carson, the historian and theologian says that the best work on slavery, in his opinion, is by an African American scholar named Thomas Sowell. It's massive. It's three volumes. I've looked through it.

It's really impressive. I'm going to read up to about the 17th century. He says, the terrible European slave trade with which we are familiar, that trafficked over 11 million Africans. He said twice that many were bought and sold on the Arabian Peninsula during that same time period. Furthermore, he says, almost every slave sold in the European slave trade were taken captive and sold to them by other Africans. So in other words, he says slavery was a nearly universal problem. you have an enormous amount of guilt literature coming out of the West, yet none out of Arabia. And all the efforts to stop slavery came from the West.

Why, he asked. If slavery was universal, what stopped it in the West? His answer, he said undeniably, it was the Great Awakening. There was the preaching of men like John Wesley and the reforms of Christian statesmen like William Wilberforce. The gospel planted seeds that ultimately undid the broken systems of the world from within. Yes, Christians have been hypocritical about that at various times throughout history. But the point was, when people began to awake to what the gospel actually taught, it undid the entire world system from within. That's what Paul is doing here in Philemon. He says in verse eight, I could command you to be generous.

That would be required. I could drop the apostle bomb and order you around. But I would rather press the gospel into your heart and tell you to obey the implications. Because see, that's real change. I would rather see you transformed by love than berated with a law. Because that kind of change is permanent and beautiful.

And that kind of change leads to an entirely new world order. So that's the way that I am going to press this into your heart. So the question then is, well, what did Philemon do with this letter? Did he obey it? Never tells us.

But ask yourself this. How did this little letter get in the Bible? It was a private letter sent only to Philemon, which means that he would have had the only copy. To get into wide circulation, Philemon would have had to have put it there.

And I just don't think that Philemon would have said, hey, here's a letter Paul wrote me with counsel that I completely ignored. He gave it into circulation because he heeded it for himself, forgave Onesimus of his debts and released him, even though it came at great personal cost to himself. He then circulated the letter as a picture of the new world order that the gospel would create in the churches.

And here is where it gets even more interesting to me. A few decades later, a church leader named Ignatius refers to an elderly Bishop of Ephesus, which was one of the leading churches in the ancient world named Onesimus, which scholars say would have been a very uncommon name among people in leadership positions in that day. So many scholars based on the timing and the context of Ignatius' reference believe that to be the Onesimus of Philemon. So what you see in the book of Philemon is a beautiful picture of the gospel and a perfect picture of the mission of this and really any church. Philemon is a self-centered businessman transformed into a beautiful picture of generosity and Onesimus is a pilfering thief transformed into the leader of one of the most important churches in the ancient world. Can you see why I think there is no better picture of the vision of our church than this book?

Write this down if you're taking notes, letter A. We as a church wanna see Philemons become radically generous participants in the mission of God. I would say that we have a lot of Philemons in this church who are sincere in their faith like Philemon was, who are regular at the church. The pastor knows their name like Paul knew who Philemon was but they have yet to ask the really hard questions about how God wants to use their lives in the mission to give and serve where it is costly. It's not that they are evil, just that life for them has been about building their kingdom and so they use people like Philemon used Onesimus.

It's not that it's illegal, it's just self-focused. God wants you to become a person who is characterized by grace and generosity where you don't just ask, what do I have to give? You start to ask, how can I best leverage my life for the kingdom of God? What do I have that is useful for God's kingdom and not just useful in mine? See, last November, I presented to you something called the generosity ladder. On it, we tried to chart how people grow in generosity throughout their lives. The idea is that God has called us to grow more and more in Christ's likeness.

The discipleship is not just about meeting some minimum requirement like the tithe that you just check off and are done with. You learn to say to God, God, it's all yours. God, everything I have is yours. You poured out everything for me.

Where would I be without you? You didn't tithe your blood for me. You poured out everything. So God, I don't wanna just be faithful with the 10%, I wanna be faithful with all of it.

You see, that was always my mistake. I was like, God, here's your 10%, boom, checked it off, paid my tax to God, now I can just do whatever I want. God said, nope, I didn't tithe my blood for you, I own it all. So the question of the believer is, God, how do I leverage, what do I have that's useful? What resource do I have?

What talent do I have? What time do I have that is useful in your kingdom? Because I want my life like Philemon to be a response, not just of their minimum requirement, I want it to be poured out to the measure that Jesus poured his out for me. There's a couple in our church in their mid 30s with young kids about my kids' age that felt led by the Lord during all in two years ago to grow their generosity year by year for as long as they can sustain it by 5% per year. At the start of all in, beginning of 2013, they were giving away 12%. In 2013, they achieved 20%.

In 2014, they tried to get to 25%, but ended up at 22%. So I asked them, how high are you going to go? They said, well, if we can get our business to the right place, we'd like to one day give 100% of our annual income into the kingdom of God. Now, I'm not saying that your plan has to look exactly like theirs, but you see a mentality. And that mentality is, God, I'm not just meeting a minimum requirement and then going back to figure out how life becomes useful for me. God, I want to leverage what I have, all that I have for yours, it's all yours, God. I want to grow yearly in my generosity. I want to become more and more like Jesus because I think about and I understand where I would be without him.

It's the same place millions of people are in the world without me leveraging what God has given to me. So let me encourage you, now that all in is over, don't slide back into old sporadic giving patterns. If anything, increase your commitment to the kingdom of God.

That's what it's always been about, become a Philemon. And by the way, this applies to all areas of your life, not just your resources. What if you begin to look at all of your life as time, treasure, talents, what do I have? What Onesimus do I have that would be useful in God's kingdom? And God, do you want to use that in your kingdom?

Show me how. You see what I realized as we do this is there's a lot of Philemons in here that need to actually get engaged in the mission of God. Because Jesus, listen, Philemon, Jesus did not save you to sideline you. He saved you with the intent of putting you in the prime spot in his game. He doesn't save believers just to bless them. He blesses you to be a blessing.

And so the question you got to start asking yourself is God, I am Philemon, how do you want to use me? I've told you before that, I mean, yes, I love how God has grown in our church, but I've told you that often I feel like a quarterback. We're in the middle of the height of football season.

So maybe this analogy will speak to you. I feel like a quarterback in a huddle. So this is, so I'm Tom Brady, okay, and you guys are the huddle, all right? Why are you laughing?

Is that hard to believe? All right, so we come in here each week and as the quarterback in the huddle, I call the play. And I feel like what happens is a lot of people are like, whew, man, that was an awesome play. Now I wrote that play down. That was a great play. And they talk to their friends about it. And then they all kind of run back over and sit down on the bench, leave me out on the field by myself so that I can deflate the ball on my own.

No, I'm kidding. He didn't do that. And then like a couple of minutes later, you run back onto the field and you're like, call us another play. And so I call another play and you're like, wow, that was an awesome play. Man, I got goosebumps when you were calling that play. You're the best play caller in this city. I never heard somebody call a play like you. I'm gonna podcast that play throughout the week.

I'm gonna listen to it again and again. And back you go over and sit on the bench and this is what we do week by week. And at some point I want to say, the point is not me calling the play. The point is you running the play. I only call the play so that you will run the play. So I'm not excited about how many people come to hear us call the play.

I'm excited about how many people throughout the week are actually running the play in the place that God has placed them to run the play. So it was like my old pastor used to say, a bunch of y'all need to get off your blessed assurance and start doing something. You need to start standing on the promises.

He would say, not just sitting on the premises, sitting on the premises that somebody else paid for, by the way. He said, you need to cease to be spectators and start to be movers in the movement. It starts with small steps, giving financially to the kingdom for the first time, reaching out to somebody in your neighborhood or workplace and inviting them to come with you in this journey of faith here, volunteering, joining a small group. At the end of our service, campus pastor was to tell you more about how you specifically can act on that.

But I would counsel you with what Paul said to Philemon. I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith. As you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ, generosity that comes from your faith. Translation, what kind of generosity does your faith demand? Think about how much your life is owing to grace. You really feel like you're a self-made man, Philemon? Where would you be without Jesus? Where would you be had God not sent me to preach the gospel to you?

Where would you be? Listen, I'm an American through and through. I believe in personal initiative and that God has given us the ability to prosper and do great things and that the government should mostly just stay out of our way. But think for a minute about how much of your success you owe to others. You had no real control of the talents you inherited. That was just in your DNA that your parents gave you. You didn't control the country of your birth.

You didn't really control the makeup of your body and your health. These things are a gift. That's not even to mention the price that Jesus paid to free you from sin. And Paul would say to Philemon, and I would say to you, that demands something. That demands something. Those who have received that kind of grace, those who feel how helpless they were, no longer look at their lives as something to acquire to make them, to put into useful service for them, they say, God, how does what I have, how can it bless someone else as you have blessed me? Let me make sort of an extreme statement here or harsh. Self-made men go to hell.

Why? Because what you made by yourself was a mess of condemnation. What Jesus gave to you when you were helpless was his grace.

You're like, well, I don't like the concept of handouts. Well, you better learn if you're gonna go to heaven. Because God's grace was God giving you what you could never earn on your own.

You were helpless, you were dead, and God saved you. And he says, if you have received that kind of grace, you will give that kind of grace as he loved you, brothers and sisters, we ought also to love one another. We are not self-made, we are blood bought, and that makes us grace-filled. Letter B, we wanna see, we wanna see Philemon's become radically generous participants in the mission of God. Letter B, we wanna see Onesimus's, what's the plural of that, Onesimi, is that better?

Or if you're in Greek, Onesimoi, maybe that's right. We wanna see the Onesimoi of our community become world-changing leaders. Slavery is a picture of sin, is it not? Many in our community are enslaved to sinful passions, idolatries, lusts, even things like drugs.

Many of you are or were in that category. Sin, the slavery of sin, destroys our usefulness. God created you, you see, to be useful, but sin made you useless. Our church, at our church, we believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ can liberate you to become what God has created you to be, and that he has an intention to use you as a useful instrument in his kingdom, larger than anything you probably have ever realized. That's what Paul said to Philemon.

Onesimus is not just useful as a servant in your household. God has a plan for him in his kingdom. You see, I think here of a guy named Dennis, a prisoner who, in the process of rehabilitation, who got baptized right here at the Summit Church, is now leading in our services that we hold on one of the prison campuses there, and has said that he wants to go overseas on the mission field after he is out to carry the gospel to others. The world tells Dennis, get a job, be useful to society, and God says, yep, but I got something a whole lot more for you. I'm going to use you as a blessing to make an eternal difference in people.

I have chosen you, I have selected you, I have ordained you, I have put my spirit in you, I have put the very power of heaven itself. You're not just a released prisoner, you're a son of God with a future that I have for you. Amber, in our church, I think of her, a girl who leads now our unwed, leads a lot of our ministries to unwed mothers here in the church. She said recently to me, I was a rebel teen who partied hard, sold and did drugs. I had an abortion. And then I became a high dollar hooker. And then Jesus called me to himself, and now I lead a ministry to unwed mothers, helping them put back together their lives after making disastrous decisions. And as I said, she now leads a lot of our ministries here at the Summit Church to unwed mothers from useless to useful.

She now rebuilds the very lives she once had destroyed. You see, here's what excites me, Summit Church. What enslaved person, what rehabilitating prisoner, what high school dropout, what rebellious teenager, what hungover college student, what girl that just had an abortion is here this weekend, or will be here next weekend, that is the next generation's great Christian leader. Onesimus says, God has a plan for you. God chased you to Rome. He put a Paul in your life, and that Paul began to preach the gospel to you. And it wasn't so that you could just go back to your former life. It was because he wanted to make you useful in his kingdom. And if you could see what he had planned for you, it would blow your mind. There was a church in Ephesus that needed a leader, and God chose a runaway pilfering thief to become the leader of that church.

That's what he wants to do with many of you. Philemon's, God has a plan for you. You need to think about how much you owe to grace and then begin to treat others as you have been treated. You see, the truth is we are all Onesimus and we are all Philemon's. We were all enslaved to sin.

We've all done great wrong. And we are all people who have been shown lavish generosity. That makes us a community of equals. It makes us a people of great grace.

It makes us people that are all on an urgent mission. Because Paul said Romans 10, 11, there is no difference in the Jew or the Greek or the black or the white or the rich or the poor, the young, the old, the educated, the uneducated, the incarcerated, or the free. There is one Lord over all of them who has extended the same salvation to all of them for whosoever, he says, will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

The ground is level at the foot of the cross and the mission is the same. You receive grace, you're saved by grace, you dispense grace. The gospel transforms the ruthless into the generous and the enslaved into the empowered. It levels the oppressor and the oppressed alike, exalting one out of slavery and humbling the other with grace. It redeems us both with mercy and makes us sit down together as brothers in Christ in whom there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, no hierarchy. We are all one in Christ Jesus, all redeemed by his blood, all given the mission of reconciliation. And for many of you, that starts by taking a step to get engaged in the mission.

For some of you, it's gonna start on a personal level. Maybe you're in the position of an Onesimus. Maybe you've done wrong and you gotta repent. Even if you felt justified in the wrong that you did.

Like, oh, but you know, I'm sure Onesimus felt justified. You've gotta go make it right this weekend. You've got to repent. You say, but it's gonna be costly, I might lose my job. Onesimus could have getting thrown in prison or worse. If you're in the position of a Philemon and somebody has wronged you, you need to let it go.

I'm not saying it'll be easy. There's a spouse you gotta forgive. There's a parent you gotta forgive. There's a business partner you gotta forgive.

Here's how you gotta think about it. How gracious has Jesus been to you? Where would your life be without his grace? Can you say like Paul, charge it to my account? Because that's what forgiveness is, isn't it? You did wrong, I pay for it. You know why Paul would say that?

Who said that to him? Who said you did wrong, charge it to my account? Paul would say in 2 Corinthians 5 21, you see, God made him, Jesus, who knew no sin to become my sin so that I could be made the righteousness of God in him. Surely it is the truth, he said, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the chief. I did wrong, Jesus said, put it to my account. And Paul said, if I have received that kind of grace, then surely I'm one who has been bought by this blood that I ought to spend my life saying, let me pay for your salvation out of my account.

So the question is, how are you treating the Onesimuses in your life? Last thing, would you think for a minute about how crazy the situation was? Paul stumbled onto him in Rome?

I mean, Rome was smaller then than it is today, but it was still the largest city in the world. That doesn't just happen. This may be my favorite verse in all of Philemon. Verse 15, this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever. You sense that maybe that's happening with you this weekend? You see, I know, listen, that there are some Onesimuses that are here, that God sent a Paul into your life recently.

It wouldn't random, that conversation you had, the person that invited you this weekend, the doubts you've been having, the questions, the fears, the pain, none of that stuff is random. That's God pursuing you in Rome. He says, I got a plan for you. I want to use you in my kingdom. I don't want you to just make money. I don't want to give you just a prosperous life.

That's boring. I want to use you in my eternal kingdom. That usefulness starts with you repenting and receiving grace, you receiving blessing and then becoming a blessing. Have you started that journey? Have you taken that step? It begins with perception of grace that then turns you into a receptacle and a vehicle of grace.

Why don't you bow your heads at our campuses with me if you would. This incredible transformation, this incredible journey starts with receiving the price that Jesus paid for your sin. You would say something to him like this, Jesus, I cannot save myself. You must save me. I receive your salvation.

You ever said that to him? This is what we call being born again or trusting in Christ. Jesus, I can't save myself. You have to save me.

I receive it. Jesus, I surrender to you. You're in charge of my life, not me. Can you say that to him in your own words? I surrender to you.

You're in charge, not me. That begins that moment. If you already are a believer, then the way you continue on this journey is by going deeper into the knowledge of experiencing and understanding the good things that God has given you in Christ. To progress, Martin Luther said, is always to begin again. So maybe you need to think about the price he paid for your sin and then offer yourself as a living sacrifice. In Jesus' name, Father, we turn our eyes toward the cross in Jesus' name.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-04 01:19:12 / 2023-09-04 01:38:45 / 20

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