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From Ruthless to Generous and Enslaved to Empowered, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear
The Truth Network Radio
February 6, 2023 9:00 am

From Ruthless to Generous and Enslaved to Empowered, Part 2

Summit Life / J.D. Greear

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February 6, 2023 9:00 am

The gospel is the power for the Christian life. And in the book of Philemon, we see a real life example of the gospel transforming two first-century believers who couldn’t be more different.

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J.D. Greear

Today on Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. God created you, you see, to be useful, but sin made you useless. We believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ can liberate you to become what God has created you to be. That's what Paul said to Philemon.

Onesimus is not just useful as a servant in your household. God has a plan for him and his kingdom. Welcome back to another week of solid gospel centered teaching here on Summit Life with Pastor J.D. Greer. As always, I'm your host, Molly Vidovitch. Today, Pastor J.D. is concluding our teaching series called Everyday Theology. So if you missed any of the messages up to today, you can always catch up free of charge at J.D.

Greer dot com. Although this study has mostly focused on the book of Titus, we are wrapping it up by looking at another book, the next book of the Bible, Philemon. This short letter contains a little known story of a runaway slave and the power of the gospel to unify believers.

So grab your Bible and pen and join Pastor J.D. for the second half of our message titled From Ruthless to Generous and Enslaved to Empowered. Philemon is one of the shortest books in the Bible, only one page, three hundred and thirty five words in Greek. 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, 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, I'm praying that you, Philemon, will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things that we have in Christ.

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ who commands you to do what is required, yet for love's sake, I prefer to appeal to you. So I, Paul, an old man now and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus, I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 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. More than just his previous usefulness as a servant in your house, Philemon, God has a role for him 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.

God is 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. All right, so Paul is pretty good at the guilt trip. 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. By the way, did I remind you that I led you to Christ and without me you would be on your way to hell?

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? 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. 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. It was one word in Greek that could mean any number of things.

The word was doulos, which leads me to number two. The New Testament subverts the entire premise of any form of slavery. It would summarize the entire New Testament ethic about how we are to treat one another in love your neighbor as yourself and do one to others as you would have them do one to you. It calls us to treat one another as brothers and sisters and tells us that in Christ, there is neither slave nor free. In Christ, masters and servants become brothers and sisters.

That new view of humanity would ultimately undo any form of slavery, which leads me to number three. Rather than issuing a political manifesto, God planted seeds which undid the current order. Eventually, this new vision of humanity would transform the whole society, but God started it through the gospel in the church. That's what Paul is doing here in Philemon. He says in verse 8, 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 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 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's 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.

Write this down if you're taking notes. Letter A, we as a church want to 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. 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? You learn to say to God, God, it's all 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. 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 the minimum requirement. I want it to be poured out to the measure that Jesus poured his out for me. 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 our church, but I've told you that often 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. Man, 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 minutes later, you run back onto the field and you're like, call us another play. 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 going to podcast that play throughout the week. I'm going to 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. 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. 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? You're listening to Summit Life with J.D.

Greer. We'll be right back with the conclusion of our teaching series in just a moment. But first, are you one of those people who has to write everything down so that you don't forget? God knows that we often have a hard time remembering His commands without being reminded of them frequently. This is one reason that He told us to renew our minds in the Scriptures daily.

He already wrote down for us what we need to know. So to help you commit more of God's word to memory, we have a set of 52 Scripture memory cards, and today is the very last day to reserve your set. Being able to recall God's truth, His promises, His wisdom in a moment of need could be the game-changing transformation that you're looking for this year.

So why not give it a shot? Today is your last chance to get this resource, and it comes with your generous gift to the ministry right now. Give us a call at 866-335-5220, or check it out at today. Now let's get back to the final moments of our teaching on Summit Life. Here's Pastor J.D. 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 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? 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', 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 and his kingdom. You see, I think here of 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 and God says, yep, 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. Think of a girl who leads now or 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, 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 Philemons. 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.

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 been 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, what'd 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 wasn'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 the blessing. Have you started that journey?

Have you taken that step? It begins with reception of grace that then turns you into a receptacle and a vehicle of grace. Experience and understand the good things that you have in Christ and share those blessings with others. And with this message, we've come to the end of our short study of Titus and Philemon called Everyday Theology here on Summit Life with J.D. Greer.

Remember, if you've missed any of the previous messages, you can always find them free of charge at As a way to help us all ensure that God is first in our lives this year, we've been focusing the last few weeks on the spiritual discipline of scripture memorization. For most of us, the problem isn't that we don't actually know how valuable the Bible is. It's that we have never brought the practice of reading it and memorizing it in line with this belief. The truth is we need a weapon to keep us from falling prey to the enemy who is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for people to destroy.

And guess what? The most valuable weapon that we can wield is the Bible itself. And that's why we have to keep putting it into our hearts so that when life cuts us, we bleed the word of God. We've put together a pack of 52 memory verse cards for you to use as a daily weapon. We'll send you the 2023 scripture memory cards as an expression of thanks when you donate right now to support this ministry. Ask for them when you give by calling 866-335-7200. 866-335-5220. That's 866-335-5220.

Or you can give online at today. I'm Molly Vidovitch inviting you to join us tomorrow as we switch gears and begin a new series through the book of Ephesians. We'll see you right here on Tuesday for Summit Life with J.D. Greer. Today's program was produced and sponsored by J.D. Greer Ministries.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-06 10:28:03 / 2023-02-06 10:39:26 / 11

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