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Terms of Endearment

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 26, 2021 4:00 am

Terms of Endearment

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 26, 2021 4:00 am

When we think about demonstrating our love for God, forgiving those who’ve offended us isn’t necessarily our first thought—but it’s vital! Find out how to make reconciliation a reality in your life when you listen to Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



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One way that we demonstrate our love for God is by loving other believers, even when they've done something that offends us. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg begins a new series in the book of Philemon explaining how broken relationships can be repaired.

The series is called The Road of Reconciliation. Now, since Philemon may be unfamiliar material to some, let me give just the briefest of backgrounds so that we're not coming to it completely in the dark. This little letter is not so much a private letter as it may at first appear to be addressed as it is to an individual, as it is, if you like, an apostolic letter that is dealing with a personal matter. And the matter, as you will see as you read through the letter for yourselves, is that this individual, by the name of Onesimus, has been living as a slave in the home of his master, Philemon. He ran away, perhaps taking material goods with him, and ran away to Rome in the hope, presumably, of just melding into the crowd and disappearing for good. But unknown to him, God had plans and purposes for this runaway slave, and it was in Rome that he ran into the arms, as it were, of the apostle Paul, and Paul then had the privilege of leading him to Jesus. As a result of him coming to know Jesus, his life was changed, and as he began to become a new man in Jesus, he became increasingly useful and helpful to Paul while he was in the jail. So much so that Paul tells us that he was almost tempted to harbor this runaway slave were it not for the fact that he felt a right sense of obligation to return Onesimus to his master, Philemon.

And when you read Colossians, which in one way goes along with Philemon, you will discover there towards the end of chapter 4 that it was another of Paul's colleagues, Tychicus, who was given the responsibility of ensuring that Onesimus arrived safely in the household of Philemon once again. The message of the book is essentially a message of reconciliation—a reconciliation that is brought about in and through the work of Jesus. And while some have languished in their reading of these twenty-five verses on account of the fact that Paul seems not to tackle the issue of slavery head on, I found it helpful to reflect on the words of Jeffrey Wilson when he wrote, If this letter presented no revolutionary challenge to the social structures of the day, the implications of its teaching were bound to prove fatal to slavery in the end.

Bound to prove fatal in the end, as, of course, we are able to see throughout the course of history. One of the things that is immediately striking in reading through the verses is the depth of feeling, the depth of fellowship, that is apparently present in the lives of each of the central characters. And the foundation of that, of course, is that God in his grace has brought each of these characters to faith in Jesus. This is not a book about people who are interested in being religious. It's not about religious experiences. It's not even about a quest for spirituality, which is of interest to many in our day. It's actually about a story that begins out with and beyond each of these individuals. It is the story of how Christianity comes seeking out people and how God in his mercy draws individuals to himself.

And we discover that a once-proud Pharisee is now brought into friendship with a prosperous homeowner, and the two of them are united in their love for one another in their love for one of the dregs of society—namely, this character Onesimus. Well, let's just work our way through these first seven verses, noticing the writer as he introduces himself. And he does so humbly.

You will notice that. This is the only occasion that Paul introduces himself in one of his letters by introducing himself as a slave or a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ. He's not parading any credentials that he might have. He's not reflecting on the extent of the ministry that he's enjoyed. Instead, here I am, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus. And, of course, it is from the context of his own enslavement, as it were, in this Roman prism that he writes concerning this runaway slave Onesimus. So keep that in mind, as physically he's at the mercy of Rome, but in reality, he is the prisoner of Christ. And this letter, as it unfolds from here, is honest, and it is tactful, and it is skillful, and in some instances, I think it is even humorous in the approach that he takes. How is Philemon going to be able to resist the appeal which is penned from within the walls of a prison by hands that are actually held in handcuffs or manacles?

There is great credibility that is written in to the posture of Paul. Now, you will notice that Timothy is with him, as is often the case as he writes these letters. And in the greeting that comes, you will find that the heart of the letter is largely in the singular, addressed as it is to an individual.

There are a couple of places where it moves into the plural, but that really is of very little consideration for us. Notice, then, the recipients of this letter. It's written to Philemon. You will notice who is described as agapetos, which is Greek for our good friend, agape, meaning love, the self-giving love of Jesus. He's our dear friend, and he is our sunergos.

He is our fellow worker. And the synergy that exists between Philemon and Paul, and now Onesimus, is a synergy that is grounded in the grace of God. And you will notice that as he addresses Philemon, down in verse 19, Philemon had a special relationship with Paul. Paul is able to refer to Philemon as the individual who owes his very self to him. And the relationship of Paul with Onesimus is one of father to son in the faith, and apparently so as well in relationship to Philemon.

How that came about, we're not told. I have my conjectures, and they are largely irrelevant, but it had to happen somewhere, and it could have happened, I suppose, if Philemon was on a business trip and went and heard Paul giving his lectures in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. And perhaps he then came home, having come to trust in Jesus, and told Appiah, whom I take to be his wife here in verse 2, and then Archippus, whom I take to be his son, also in verse 2, that his life had been touched and changed by Jesus, and suddenly their home is radically altered. Well, then, he greets them. And look at how he greets them in verse 3. He greets them with grace, charis, and with peace, irene—the standard greetings of both Greek and Hebrew. A reminder of God's grace bringing them into a saving knowledge of who Jesus is and what he's done, and then the peace which flows from that saving knowledge—a peace of being restored to fellowship with a God against whom we have offended on account of the sacrifice of Jesus, being brought into fellowship with those who may be very, very different from us in all kinds of ways, but a peace that ultimately even passes human understanding that is all wrapped up in this lovely greeting. Now, when we get to verses 4 to 7, we move from his greeting to the opening indication of his love and his concern and his affection.

You will notice that there is nothing introspective about Paul despite his circumstances. Many of us, writing from far less daunting predicaments, may have been tempted to fill at least a piece of our letter with a measure of complaint or concern regarding everything that's going on. But Paul pays scant attention to his circumstances, chained as he may be, imprisoned as he is, and he moves immediately to thankfulness, to prayerfulness, and to joyfulness. And it is a reminder to all of us who have a responsibility to teach the Bible that unless the Bible is first taught to our own hearts, then we have no legitimate basis from which to teach it to others at all. I always thank my God, he says, as I remember you in my prayers. What a wonderful, kind, gracious, humble greeting! If you receive a letter like that from someone who says, When I think of you, when I pray for you, it is always with thankfulness. It would warm your heart, I think. It would encourage you.

It certainly does me. Peterson paraphrases this, Every time your name comes up in my prayers, I say, Oh, thank you, God! Well, think about that. Think about all the names and faces that come up when you and I are praying, as they come across the computer screen as if our minds isn't aware.

And what do we do? Reach for the mouse to click the delete button? Boom! Get rid of that face. Boom! Get rid of that name.

Boy, that only causes me concern. Boom! Boom!

Boom! But nod, nod, nod, nod, Paul. No, he clicks for the enlarge button. He enlarges the whole screen, and he fills the screen up with the face of Philemon and is aware as he sees him in his mind eye. He says, Every time your name comes to mind when I'm praying, I just say, Thank you, God! I know you of people that fit that category, and I hope that you take the opportunity in prayer to thank God as he does.

Now, don't think for a moment that this is something superficial or sentimental. Paul makes it clear that that is not the case, because in verse 5 he says that his prayers of thankfulness are fueled because of what he knows concerning this fellow Philemon. What does he know about Philemon? Why does he thank God every time he comes into mind in his prayers?

Well, he tells us, because of what I hear. I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. Your faith in Jesus and your love for all the saints. You see, this kind of cause and effect, that this faith in Jesus and that this love for Jesus produces a trustworthiness and a trustingness and a genuine affection for those who also love Jesus. In fact, John, more than anyone else when he writes his first letter, uses this as one of the defining features of genuine Christian faith. Because, you remember, he says, How could you ever claim to love God whom you cannot see while failing to love your brother and your sister whom you can see? So let your love for your brothers and sisters be the evidence of your genuine love for God who is your Father. And Paul is able to address this very thing. And we have great reason to be thankful for those who are able to pray for us and for whom we pray in this very vein. Now we come to verse 6, in which he proceeds to tell Philemon that when he says his prayers, he specifically asks that something may happen.

And the NIV has, I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Let me give you one commentator's statement regarding verse 6. It reads as follows, The meaning of almost every word in this difficult verse is disputed.

Now, he's referencing—the writers are referencing—the Greek. And then the translation that has come from the Greek is an endeavor on the part of people to make sure that they get it as close to the original as it is written down as they can. That's why if you have the King James Version, you will notice that the word sharing is not there at all, but the word fellowship is there, which is the word from Greek, which is koinonia, which is the same word that is used for communion or for partnership.

Okay? It also means to share in. But the translators of the NIV determined that what was being written in the Greek was about sharing with others this great news, and by doing so, thereby becoming more familiar with the gospel yourselves. Which is, of course, a biblical notion. There's nothing unbiblical about the idea, and we're forced to say the NIV translators may actually be the ones who got it right. But I don't think so.

I don't think so. Because they're out on a limb. They're out on a limb with the others. For example, I just decided—I went to my New English Bible, which I hardly ever pay attention to at all—and I thought, Well, I wonder what they did in the New English Bible. And listen to how it's translated in the NEB. My prayer is that your fellowship with us in our common faith may deepen the understanding of all the blessings that our union with Christ brings us, as opposed to, I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith. You see the distinction? That your fellowship with us in our common faith may deepen our understanding.

Now, why did I go in this direction and decide that I'm not going to side with the NIV on this? Because I studied it in context. And what Paul is actually doing in here is making a plea to Philemon to do something which is not normal, to do something which is not characteristic of the culture of his day, to do something that is actually divine, to do something in the expression of forgiveness that is emblematic of the forgiveness that Philemon himself has discovered as a result of all that he has in and through the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, he is saying, I want you to make sure that you dip into the shared communal mutual reservoir of every good thing that we have in Christ, and as you do so, that this may increase your knowledge of that. And knowledge which he's going to go on to say is not something that I want merely to reverberate in your thinking but to be translated into your doing. And of course, what I have in mind expressly is your response to my plea for your runaway fellow Onesimus—that the sharing of your faith in the faith may reveal this for you.

Let me give you one other paraphrase, and just listen carefully and see if this is helpful. I'm praying that the mutual participation which is proper to the Christian faith you hold may have its full effect in your realization of every good thing God wants to accomplish in us to lead us into the fullness of Christian fellowship that is of Christ. In other words, Paul reckons that if Philemon allows this principle to inform his thinking and in turn his living, then Paul can be confident that Philemon will do what is right in relationship to his slave Onesimus.

So it is the very mutuality of things. It is the essence of our Christian experience that we are brought into a mutuality of relationship in and through Jesus which is so transformative, so life-altering, that it finds that the way in which we work out that experience in our Christian lives is radical and, in many cases, countercultural. Our lives are bound up with Jesus, and therefore they are bound up with one another, and therefore we are to give to one another because we belong to one another. And when we understand the depth of what we share—the depth of fellowship, the depth of communion, the depth of that interdependent relationship—then it will be virtually impossible for us to claim anything as our own or to be unprepared to grant forgiveness where it is due, or indeed to be selfish in hardly any shape or fashion. It's ironic that I think what proves to be the key verse is by the testimony of the commentators one of the most difficult. Well, verse 7 draws us to an end for our time this morning. He says, I want you to know I'm praying this, I'm praying that this will be true, but let me just tell you, he says, that your love, your agape, the love of Jesus in you and through you, has given me great joy and encouragement.

I've derived joy and encouragement from you because of your love, because I know that you've been refreshing the hearts of the saints. What a wonderful thing it is to be a refresher. To be a refresher. The word that is used here is a military word for soldiers on the march, and as they're marching through, I think of, like, a bridge on the river Kwai, and eventually the English guy says, Okay, fellows, you know, take fifteen minutes. And they all just lay down their burdens and grab for water and sit and chat and so on. And it is a moment of refreshment.

That is the word that is used here. What a fantastic ministry, huh? I haven't heard anybody tell me of old, of late, when I ask them, And what gift has God given you? What are you doing with your life?

What are you doing? Immediately, people want to say, Well, I'm teaching a Bible study. I'm involved in a… No, someone says, God has given me a ministry of refreshment.

How does that work? People, when I get with people, they feel like they've had a rest, and they feel like they've had a big drink of water, and they feel like they've been encouraged in Christ. Well, that's a ministry, isn't it? The refreshing ministry. Because you know, we all know, that there are people who are enervating, and there are people who are energizing. There are those who suck the air out of your balloon just when they're walking towards you, and there are others who are able to put a little bit of air into your balloon when you're just like this.

And Philemon was the latter. You have given me great encouragement, he says. When I think of you in prayer, I say, Thank God for Philemon! And I know that a whole ton of people are saying the same thing, because you, my brother, through your love, you have refreshed the hearts of the saints. And that, I think, is our prayer as we go. May then the Spirit of Christ so fill us afresh that we might in turn be a refreshment and an encouragement to one another.

I think it would be good for all of us to take a minute and think about how we might bring refreshment to someone's life this week. That's a question worth pondering from today's message on Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Maintaining healthy relationships with other believers is a biblical priority, but it's also a priority for us to maintain a healthy relationship with God. And, of course, one of the ways we do that is by praying regularly and consistently. If we're honest, most of us would admit that consistent prayer is a challenge for us.

That's why we're recommending to you Alistair Begg's book, Pray Big. In this book, Alistair examines the Apostle Paul and how he prayed, giving us a model to follow. You'll notice, for example, that when Paul prayed, he rarely prayed for material needs or for people's health issues. Instead, he prayed about eternal things, asking that the gospel would take root in people's lives, that the church in Ephesus would grow, that more people would be saved. When you read Paul's prayers, you discover that he asked God to move in big and bold ways so that Christ would be glorified. And this book, Pray Big, guides us as we seek to reframe our own prayers along these lines. Each chapter of the book contains a model prayer. You can either pray it as it's written or use it to frame your own thoughts. There's also a study guide that comes with the book to help you put Paul's pattern of prayer into practice. Request your copy of the book, Pray Big, today. You'll receive both the book and the paired study guide when you donate at truthforlife.org slash donate.

Now, it's not inappropriate for people who are in a position of authority to have expectations or even to make demands of other people. But when the Apostle Paul intervened for reconciliation between two believers, he chose to make an appeal rather than to issue a demand. We'll find out more as we listen tomorrow on Truth for Life. I'm Bob Lapine. The Bible Teaching Ministry of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-19 22:30:38 / 2023-09-19 22:39:09 / 9

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