Well, we spent many months in the book of Matthew and finally concluded it last week, Matthew having 28 chapters. And now we're going to look at a little book, and I'm going to preach a book of the Bible in one message.
Some of you don't think I can do that, and we're going to see if we can. It's the letter of Philemon, written by the Apostle Paul around 60 to 61 AD, when he was a prisoner, probably in Rome. And Paul, the great theologian, the brilliant missionary statesman, incredible intellect, and yet here is a very warm letter revealing the heart of this mighty Apostle, Apostle Paul. He's writing to Philemon. Philemon is a believer in Jesus Christ, is a Christian, and the church at Colossae, which is present-day Turkey, the church in Colossae meets in the home of this man, Philemon. This short letter, Philemon, is going to be carried from Rome by two men, Tyticus and Onesimus, who's mentioned in Philemon.
And these two men, as Paul says in Colossians 4, also take the letter that Paul writes to the church at Colossae. Now, what makes it very interesting and very intriguing and raises all kinds of questions in our minds, and all of them I'm not going to be able to solve, I assure you, is that Philemon is the owner of Onesimus. Onesimus is a slave, and Philemon is a wealthier man, clearly. He has a house to accommodate the church, and he, under the slavery system of the day, he owns Onesimus. Now, Onesimus' name means profitable. It means useful, but sadly, this man, this slave, Onesimus, has not been useful to his master.
Rather, he has been useless. He is a runaway slave. In some way, he wronged his master. Perhaps he stole from him, but in some other way wronged him, and he finds himself in Rome as a runaway slave. Now, slavery, I think most of you know, was prevalent in the Roman Empire. It was an integral part of the social and economic conditions of the Roman Empire, and the Romans depended on slavery to run their empire. It's calculated at this time in the first century, about 35 percent of people were slaves. What's a slave?
Someone who is totally under the authority of a supposedly superior human being. Slaves at this time came from all races, all ethnic groups, and they occupied all occupations. Don't think of slavery under the Romans as confined to those who did just the trivial, menial tasks of Rome.
That's not the case. Some of these slaves are highly educated. They're in positions of great influence. Some of them are doctors, lawyers, administrators, and we're not sure exactly what Onesimus did, but clearly he probably was to help Philemon in the running of his home. As a runaway slave, he's in a very precarious position.
Incidentally, I checked this. Do you know how many people are in slavery today in 2022? It's reckoned there are 40 million people who are slaves in the world today. We've not eradicated slavery, have we? And 71 percent of these slaves are women or girls.
You can imagine what they, what kind of lives they live as slaves. Now, Onesimus had met Paul in Rome. Some commentators think it was Ephesus. I think it was probably Rome.
In one sense, it doesn't matter. Paul is a prisoner. He writes as a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And in the amazing providence of God, isn't God wonderful?
He can do all things. In the providence of God, Paul, who knows of Philemon, knows of the church in Colossae obviously, that this man who'd run away from Philemon finds himself with Paul. The circumstances we don't really know.
Paul doesn't reveal the circumstances. But what is wonderful that this man, Onesimus, a useless man, probably a thief, an unreliable fellow, a kind of rascal, run away and he hears the wonderful gospel of Jesus Christ. It's wonderful to know that whoever you are, whatever you've done, God in His grace can reach down. We were saying we remember the day of our salvation.
I hope you can do that. God in His grace reached down. And through this great apostle, Paul presents the gospel to Onesimus. You say, well, I wonder what kind of gospel Paul presents.
You don't need to wonder about that. You can read it in Romans. You can read it in Galatians. You can read it in Paul's wonderful letters. We know exactly the gospel that Paul would have preached.
It's the gospel of God's grace. And now, what's going to happen to Onesimus? How is Paul going to handle this? He's still a prisoner.
Can this man who was useless now be useful to Philemon? The answer is, I think, in this beautifully written little letter where we get a glimpse of the family of God. I've called this, I think, the family of God. There are many privileges in life, many things that you can belong to. To me, the greatest privilege is to be a member of a local church. That God in His grace, as we will see, when we are saved, doesn't leave us as individuals, lone ranger types as it were.
No, God does a marvelous thing. We are all, through the baptism of the Spirit, baptized into the body of Christ. And God in His grace sets up, as we have here at Calvary, local body of Christ. This is the church. This is the household of God. And how wonderful that we who have been saved, we who have been rescued, that God doesn't leave you and me to flop around ourselves. No, He brings us into this marvelous new community, this new society, the church of the living God, where we worship together as we're doing, where we serve together, where we do life together, where we reach out to the unbelieving world together, where we're refreshed and helped in the church of Jesus Christ.
That's wonderful, isn't it? But sometimes in churches, sometimes in families, sometimes in relationships there are tensions. And this little letter, which I'm now going to read, if you've got your Bible, turn there to Philemon, just before the book of Hebrews. It will help us to see the importance of two things.
Many things we could say about Philemon, but I want to focus on two things. Refreshment in the family of God, and the reconciliation in the family of God. In the family of God, we are refreshed.
In the family of God, there is wonderful reconciliation. Here now is Paul's letter to Philemon. Here's the word of God to us, Philemon, verse 1, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother, to Philemon, our beloved fellow worker, and Apphia, our sister, and Archippus, our fellow soldier, and the church in your house, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Can you see Paul writing it in the prison? I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints. And I pray that the sharing of your faith may become evident for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake, I prefer to appeal to you. I, Paul, an old man, 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 to you and to me.
I'm sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep 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 perhaps is why he was parted for you from a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant as a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 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 your owing me, even your own self. Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I'm hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so does Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit." Isn't that a brilliant little letter?
Do you see the subtleties? Do you see his heart of this man writing to Philemon? First of all, I want to say something of refreshment in the family of God. If you were following closely, you saw that a couple of times, refreshment in the family of God. And we have to think of what it means to be in the family of God.
It is essential in the Christian life that we understand our identity in Christ. Did you notice the terms which Paul uses to describe others? Verse 1, he says, Timothy, our brother. Verse 16, beloved brother.
Verse 20, yes brother. He refers to Apthia, possibly Philemon's wife in verse 2, as our sister. Several times he uses this word fellow. He talks about a fellow worker.
He talks about archippus being my fellow soldier. He never says here that he is an apostle. He's not going to use that as a word to put pressure on Philemon, but he writes to him as a brother.
I think that's wonderful. Paul was an apostle, but in the family of God, such as we have at Calvary Church, we're all on the same level. Paul refers to Philemon as my partner, one who has fellowship. It comes from the same word being Greek, fellowship, kind of, and he has a form of that.
You're my partner. You're one that I have fellowship with. This man, archippus, he served in the church of God. He's my fellow soldier in Christ. Epaphras, verse 25, is Paul's fellow prisoner in Christ. The four men in verse 24 are my fellow workers.
You get that? Is that what you think of others? Our world wants to divide us, doesn't it? People love their titles as they preen themselves, but in the church of Jesus Christ, this is our identity. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And also, if you look at the text, in verses 5 and 7, Paul refers to the saints, for all the saints, verse 5. Verse 7, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Now, if you're not familiar with the New Testament, you think this is strange. You think a saint is someone who's died and has been canonized.
Absolutely not. In the New Testament, a saint is someone who is saved by the grace of God, separated from the world unto Christ. We have been sanctified.
We've been saved. So if you are an authentic follower of Christ, you are a saint. I can say I am Saint John. Does that sound strange?
It does a little bit, doesn't it? Saint Mary. Saint Bob. Saint Nathaniel came and prayed.
Saint Chelsea was singing. You think of yourself like that? What an identity. I am a saint. I am a brother in the family of God. Notice what Paul does not do, what we sometimes do. He never refers to anyone as a wretched sinner. You say, well, we are sinners.
Well, let's be careful. Your identity, if you are a true follower of Jesus Christ, is not a sinner. The New Testament does not want you to think of yourself as a sinner. In Romans 6, Paul very clearly says that through our Lord Jesus Christ, the power of sin and the dominion of sin has been broken in our lives. Yes, we are sinful.
That is true. Yes, it is true that as brothers and sisters in Christ, as saints, we do sin, but our identity is not as a sinner, it is as a saint. Remember what Paul says to the Corinthians, who had done all kinds of nasty, evil, sinful things before their conversion.
What does he say? Such were some of you, but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God. You were like that. You were dirty. You were a sinner, but now in the grace of God, you've been washed, you've been sanctified.
There is a dramatic difference, a dramatic change in the life of the believer. I hear sometimes those who have had problems with drink or those who've had problems with drugs or other issues and they have been saved for many, many years, but they still want to think of themselves as an alcoholic or as a drug addict or as a promiscuous person. Do not think of yourself like that. That is not your identity. Your identity is, you are a child of God.
You are a saint. Yes, I know all of those of you who know me know that I sin, and if I know you, I know that you're a sinful person, but our identity is that we are saved. We're washed. We're cleansed. You say, well, but we're still sinners. Yes, we're still sinners, but the New Testament, Paul, as he writes to believers, doesn't say to them, you terrible sinners. He says, listen, you did live like that, but now you are a new creation in Christ.
How wonderful. Here in the family of God, I am washed. I'm sanctified. You may have been the worst sinner in North Carolina in your past.
Think how wonderful. You are totally washed. You're sanctified.
You are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice also Paul's tender heart. He refers in verse 10 to Onesimus as my child. I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. You see the concept in the family of God of intimacy, of warmth and love. In what way was Paul the father of Onesimus? He was the spiritual father.
He had led Onesimus to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Do you get a spiritual father? Today we talk about a mentor.
Do you have someone like that in your life? I trust you do. I'm privileged to be a spiritual father to several. I don't like them calling me father because it makes me feel very old, but Paul does refer to himself in verse 10 as an old man. Those of you who are older, could you look at some man and woman and say, I'm their father. I'm their spiritual mother.
Not marvelous. To have that relationship of guiding, of praying for, of discipling, leading them to Christ, walking with them, and so that they look to you as a spiritual father or a spiritual mother. You know you may have come from a terrible home. Your home may have been dysfunctional and perhaps your relationship with your mother or your father or your brother or sister was terrible.
I know some of you come from these homes, but now you're saved by the grace of God. You're now a new creation in Christ. Now you have a Father in heaven who is absolutely perfect, who loves you. We're saying He's been faithful to you. He's with you. You're now different.
You have a new identity. God is my heavenly Father. What grace. Remember John says in 1 John 3 verse 1, see what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God.
Think of that great love that God has for you. Not only does He love you, not only does He save you, He brings you into your very family that you and I through faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, we're children of God. We're in the family of God, the eternal family of God. This is what it means to be a Christian, doesn't it? And think of us here at Calvary, we're a very diverse group, all ages, in a sense coming from all over the world. But we are, as we were singing, Paul says in Colossians 3, Christ is all and in all.
And he's talking there in Colossians 3 about all the different people, even the barbarians and the Scythians and all the different groups in the first century where he went and spread the gospel. But now he says, Christ is all and in all. The Christ who saved you is the same Christ who saved you, me. And the Spirit of Christ who's in you is the same Spirit of Christ in me. The blood that saved you is the same blood that washed me. Do you understand this? That Christ indwells us through His Spirit that we are brothers and sisters of the same family of God.
And here's what happens. Fellowship in the family of God refreshes us. Wouldn't you like to meet this man Philemon? He must have been a very loving, a very caring man. Paul refers to him in verse 1 as our beloved fellow worker. Paul says in verse 7 that the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. He uses in verse 6, I pray that the sharing of your faith, that's a Greek word koinonia from which we get fellowship. This is a man who knows about Christian fellowship. He knows about spiritual refreshment and Paul, the great apostle asked that Philemon, verse 20, will refresh my heart in Christ. I want to be with you, Philemon.
Set up a guest room. I want to spend some time with you because how wonderful that you, Philemon, could refresh my heart. Do you ever feel you need spiritual refreshment?
Of course you do. This word refresh here is similar to the word of rest that the Lord Jesus uses. Come unto me and I will give you rest. Our world is tough. Life is tough.
Life is disappointing sometimes. Nathaniel was praying for some in our congregation who are going through tough times and all of us experience them from time to time, don't we? The toughness of life, standing strong for Christ.
It's easy to become weak, isn't it? And what do we need? We need spiritual refreshment. Some of you for physical refreshment may go to the spa, may get a massage. I've never, never done that. Occasionally, Goodney will go there and she comes and she says, oh, I feel so good.
I don't like the idea of somebody pummeling my back, but there we are. But what's a spa? It's a place of refreshment, a place of rest.
You go there because you're weary, you're tired, your muscles are sore, and you want to be physically refreshed and rested. What do we do spiritually? Do you ever feel spiritually down, spiritually tired?
The answer is yes. Notice what Paul says here in verse 7. I love this. For I derived much joy and comfort from your love. Joy and comfort from your love. And the Apostle Paul needed it. And you needed, and I needed, and where do we find that? In the family of God. You know, after our son's death last year, Goodney and I praise God for our brothers and sisters in Christ here at Calvary who brought spiritual refreshment. We can say we derived much joy and comfort from your love.
You feel you're about to drown, you feel you're about to go down a dark hole. And God in His grace brings to us, to our side, brothers and sisters who do what? They refresh us. Do they understand the experience?
Probably not. Ah, but they bring joy and comfort from their love. It's wonderful to be part of the family of God, isn't it? And we say, as many of you have said through these difficult times, how could people who don't know Christ survive?
The fact is some of them don't, and they become bitter and angry. And in the family of God, we're refreshed through our worship as we're doing it, through serving one another, through people praying for us, through personal encouragement, through practical kindnesses. So I ask you, do you spend time with the family of God? You say, well, I come here, yes, but is there any connection that you have with others? Do you go to Life Group?
No, these are community groups. It's not just so someone preaches at you. I believe in preaching, but we also need a kind of personal touch from time to time, don't we? Someone put their arm around you and pray for you. Someone to invite you into their home for a meal.
Someone to bring you a meal. I know an encouragement, a verse of Scripture, isn't it? To be refreshed spiritually. One of our themes today, Tim Hathaway, our chapter of worship, preached on it during the summer is to encourage and build up one another.
That's the refreshment, isn't it? We need encouragement, and we're refreshed spiritually when we see what's going on in the family of God. We're refreshed in people's home. Now, we don't all have a church in our home. I don't have a church in our home.
Philemon did. But when Goody and I first got married, we covenanted before God that our home, wherever we stayed, was going to belong to God. And we both came from homes where our parents were very hospitable, both coming from large families and people were invited in, missionaries, evangelists, brothers and sisters, into our home. And we've sought in the grace of God not only to be, we ourselves, refreshed in other people's homes, but bringing people into our home to refresh and to encourage. Do you do that in your home? You say, well, I've got my family.
That's wonderful. Well, what about if you're a single person? Invite in a couple. What about if you're a couple inviting a single mother? What about someone from another country? What about a widow? What about someone going through a tough time or someone you just meet and they're new to Charlotte and you want to refresh them?
One way, and there are other ways of course, is to have them into your home. Spiritual refreshment. I need spiritual refreshment. We've needed it. I thank God for this family, and I'm suggesting to you that all of us from time to time are weary, are spiritually down. We feel weak.
We feel the devil is harassing us, and this is why we have the family of God. There's another one of course, refreshment, but also reconciliation. That's one of the points, isn't it, of Philemon, that Paul is appealing to Philemon to be reconciled with this man who wronged him. And he says, look, I understand formally he was useless to you, but now he can be useful. Verse 12, I'm sending him back to you, sending my very heart. Verse 13, I would have been glad to keep 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.
Paul's not even using episodic authority here. He's saying, listen, this man could be useful to me in my imprisonment, and I know you. You probably would agree that he can do that, but he really needs to be back with you, Philemon. I'm sending him back to you.
I'm doing this from my very heart. Notice verse 14, no longer as a bondservant, but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother. Now, it's difficult for us to understand the relationship between slave and masters then, but Paul is saying, if you receive Onesimus, it's like receiving me, verse 17. And if this man has done any wrong, put it to my account.
I'll take care of it. And so, can you picture Onesimus going back, and here is Philemon. But now, they're brothers. Now they have a shared sonship, an equal sonship. Onesimus has received the same forgiveness of God as Philemon has received. Both are now in Christ.
Both are now beloved brothers. And this relationship of being in the family of God transcends the relationship of master and slave, transcends the relationship of slave and free and all other distinctions that there are. We are now one in Christ. Not only brothers and sisters, but equal brothers and sisters. As Paul's argument in the opening verses of Ephesians 3 with the Gentile, Paul is saying, listen, the Gentiles now, through the work of Jesus Christ, are now part of the family of God. They're part of the church, but I want you to understand, you Jews, that the Gentiles are now equal with you. How wonderful that all of us, the youngest little boy who is saved, to the great experienced person who's walked with God almost all their life, we stand equal before Christ.
I'm going to ask you to do something very difficult. I'm going to ask you to be a reconciler, a peacemaker. Remember Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 that Christ has given us the ministry of reconciliation, not the ministry of being a troublemaker, not the ministry of going around creating habit, being a gossip. There's always those in the churches, aren't there? They're never happy until they're in the middle of a fight. They're always in some controversy. They're always going behind someone's back and cutting them down.
Don't do that. Remember Jesus said, blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. We who have known peace through Christ, we who have been reconciled should be masters at peacemaking in a world of division, in a world of rhetoric, in a world where people shouted at each other and write nasty comments on social media, even Christians doing that.
How wrong. Is there someone that you need to be reconciled to? Perhaps in your own family. Perhaps you're not reconciled with a brother or a sister. Perhaps some of you are not reconciled with your parents. Perhaps some of you are not reconciled with your sons or your daughters.
Perhaps some of you are not reconciled with a brother or sister here. You say, well that person did me wrong. All of us have been wronged. Philemon was wronged. Onesimus was a runaway slave but Paul is saying, listen, he's now your brother, Philemon.
You need to take him back not as a slave but more than that as a beloved brother. Think of the evidence of the grace of God in that church. When Onesimus comes back, I can see Philemon and Onesimus hugging each other and with tears Onesimus saying, please forgive me.
I did wrong. And Philemon saying, now you are my beloved brother. What an impact in that church, isn't it?
As people would understand this, here is Philemon. This is the man who owns the house in which we meet. And he's had this wretched man who created all kinds of trouble for him. But now he's back reconciled. I'm confident that there was reconciliation. Paul says in verse 21, I'm confident that you'll do even more than I say.
And there's extra biblical evidence that Onesimus became one of the great leaders in the church in Ephesus. Now we're about to break bread, so I have to say to you again, is there someone that you need to be reconciled with? They've wronged you.
They've done wrong, but possibly you have as well. And perhaps for months, can I say even years, you have been away from that person. Paul writes, Colossians 3 verse 13, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Ephesians 4 verse 32, be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
There it is. You've received God's forgiveness. Now that forgiveness must be demonstrated to that person who has wronged you.
Think of the refreshing. Think of the wonder of the grace of God when that relationship which turns sour and caused such bitterness in your heart and such alienation through the wonder of the Spirit of God, you're now reconciled. Someone says, what about slavery? Why didn't Paul condemn slavery explicitly? Well, he doesn't do so expressly, but surely he undermines the dreadful practice of slavery.
Lightfoot in his commentary says, a principle is boldly enunciated, which must in the end prove fatal to slavery. He's right. As we come to the Lord's table, again I've got these two questions for you. Are you refreshing others? I mean, be honest. Or have you become a very selfish person? Children, is life all about you?
Students? Young married couples, you're really wrapped up in yourself and you're starting your married life, but what about others? People need refreshed. Don't be selfish. That's a question to think about.
How can I refresh others? Don't say, well, I need the refreshment. That's true. You do. I do.
That's not the question. Are you refreshing others? And then secondly, do I need to reach out in an act of reconciliation? Possibly to someone in my family, someone at work, some relationship, someone who has wronged me.
Do you have to do that? We're coming to the Lord's table. We think of the magnificence of God's forgiveness. He's cleansed us.
He's washed us. We're in the family of God. Forgive us this day our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us. It's right in the Lord's Prayer.
It's throughout Scripture. God has forgiven you. Humble yourself. Stop trying to vindicate yourself.
Stop trying to prove that you're right and you want everyone to know how terrible that person is. Go in a spirit of grace. Go in a spirit of humility.
Go in God's help and be reconciled. I pray that this church, Calvary Church, is a place where people are refreshed. I trust that Calvary Church is a place of reconciliation in a world that is so divided that as we come here, it's not a matter of Republican or Democrat or whether you're Caucasian or an African American or whether you're rich or poor or whether you come from the north or the south. I come from the far north.
Good, he comes even further north. So, receive us. We know you're better, but be kind to us that whoever we are, that we come on more on the same level and that your home and this church is a place of refreshment, a place of reconciliation. Our Father, we need your help for that. We confess that we are sometimes very selfish and we confess that we're sometimes very slow to forgive people because we want to defend ourselves, we want to vindicate ourselves, but may your spirit break us. And I thank you for my many brothers and sisters here at Calvary who do a magnificent job of refreshing others. May that continue. We thank you as we come to the Lord's table for your magnificent forgiveness of us. May we be transformed to be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving others even as you in Christ has forgiven us. In Christ's name, Amen.
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