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On the Basis of Love (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
July 28, 2021 4:00 am

On the Basis of Love (Part 2 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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July 28, 2021 4:00 am

It seemed unlikely that Onesimus, the runaway slave, would become a believer once he escaped to Rome. So what caused the turnaround? Find out what the book of Philemon teaches us about the inescapable providence of God, on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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After the servant Onesimus ran away from his master's house and ventured to Rome, it seemed unlikely that he would become a believer. So what was it that caused a dramatic turnaround in his life? To bring men and women to himself. He chooses in his purposes to give us often a part in that, but all we are are voices.

All we are are fingers pointing. And Paul was clear on that. He says, What after all is Paul?

What after all is Apollos or Cephas? Only servants through whom you came to believe. That was the instrumentality whereby they had come to faith. If any man or woman is in Christ, they are new creations.

The old has gone, the new has come. Not the attachment of religious exercises from the outside, but the transformation of God's grace on the inside, thereby working its way out through every element of life. And it is because of that that Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases.

Hopeless cases. There are two reasons why people stay away from Jesus as a Savior on the cross. One, because they think they're too good to need him. And two, because they think they're so bad that he could never cope with them. And in this room right now, those who are not in Christ are apart from Jesus on the strength of one of those two things. And here's the wonderful thing. Unlike every other religion in the world, which either creates in our minds pride, whereby we're doing everything we should, or despair, whereby we cannot do what we think we ought to do, Christianity deals with both our pride and our despair. Because those of us who think we're doing marvelously well run right up against the requirement of absolute perfection. Unless your righteousness, said Jesus, is akin to that and greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.

What is the standard for entry? Absolute perfection. Okay?

How do you feel you're doing on that basis? Exactly. Was there ever anybody who kept God's law in its totality? Yes, one, namely Jesus. So unless I am placed into Jesus and credited with all that he has done in the keeping of God's law, I have no place before him. And to the person who feels himself in absolute or herself in absolute total despair and ignominy, you look up there upon that cross, and bearing shame and scoffing rude, in the sinner's place condemned he stood, taking all of the punishment that my sin deserves.

So that I might be accepted before the Father. All of this is wrapped up in what has happened to Onesimus. People might have said of Onesimus, when they went for their shopping, they said, I believe Philemon's slave has buzzed off.

Oh, yes. Yes, he's away now. Apparently, he took some of his stuff. Maybe they went to the church in Philemon's house. And they said, well, he was always a bad egg anyway, that Onesimus character.

Funny that his name would be funny. He would be called Onesimus, you know, because he frankly was useless when he was here, and he's useless now that he's gone. How could he ever come back useful? I don't have time this morning to rehearse stories out of pastoral ministry where I can tell you about guys who couldn't hardly read, write, or do arithmetic, who, for them, the starting point of the total transformation of their lives was the discovery of Jesus as a friend and Savior. And those who apparently couldn't complete high school went on not only to graduate from college, but to do postgraduate degrees in theology and are now successful and erudite pastors today. But it all started not as a result of a college course, but it all started as a result of acknowledging that they were absolutely useless, and they needed someone, namely Jesus, to come and change them from the inside out. That is what has happened to Onesimus, and that is what must happen to each one of us. What a radical change. And what a wonderful way that this once proud Pharisee describes this man who'd been one of the dregs of society.

It's terrific, isn't it? This is what Jesus does as well. He puts people together who, if you see them from the outside, have really nothing in common with one another. One is bright, the other is silly.

One is athletic, the other one's adult. And here they are, and they're having a wonderful time together. Why are these people together?

Because of Jesus. Didn't you go to a really good university, Saul of Tarsus? Absolutely I did. Didn't you have some of the finest teachers?

Yes. Well, why are you writing a letter on behalf of one of the dregs of society, a slave? What makes you so interested in the slave? Well, the same Jesus that dealt with my proud heart is the Jesus that dealt with the despair of this same slave. And so, actually, we're standing side by side with one another.

We're holding hands with one another. In fact, I'm sending him back to you. He's my very heart.

He's my very heart. The word there is splenchna. I hope you like that word as much as I do. There's just some words I like.

Splenchna is on my like list at the moment. It's a graphic word. It's in the same category as spligizomai, remember?

Three of you do. But it is expressive of that which is at the very core of your being. It is the epicenter of your emotion and your humanity. It is that which is the area in which you get airport tummy if you're a scary flyer, where all of a sudden you're having a kind of spligizomai experience. What is happening? It's all happening in your splenchna.

All right? That's why in the King James Version, when I was a boy growing up, and a naughty boy growing up, I looked for all the sort of funny parts of the Bible, and when I would find bowels of tender mercy, I thought, wow, there's an interesting one. I'd probably point to it to my father if it was the reading. Look at that! It says, bowels! Bowels! It says, be quiet! Be quiet!

I'll talk to you when we get home. It says, Dad, look, it says, bowels! Why does it say bowels? But that's it, you see. It's the realm of compassion.

It's the very core of things. That's what Paul's saying about this character. He's my splenchna. And there's a lot of splenchna actually in this.

Philemon is all about it. You have refreshed the splenchnas of the saints, verse 7. I'm sending him back, my very splenchna to you. Down there in, what is it, verse 20, refresh my splenchna in Christ. Phil Collins, two splenchnas, living in just one life. If you should leave me now, you'll take away the very splenchna of me.

Oh, baby, please don't go! That's what he's saying here. Do you get this? This is Christianity. This is what it means to be in Christ. This is not membership of an organization. This is not people who've been put together on the strength of a strain of a shared intellect. This is not folks who like the same kind of songs. This is a diverse group of people whose hearts have been invaded by Christ.

And as a result of that, it transforms their relationships with each other. That's why Paul says there is no Jew or Gentile, Greek or barbarian, Scythian or free or bond, black, white, whatever it is. He's not reducing everybody to the one shape or color, but he's saying that irrespective of all of these things, in the realm of our splenchnas, God has done something. Well, you see, you'll be going up to people now saying, Do you want to get a coffee?

And I'll just refresh your splenchna for a wee while before you go home. Now, if this is such a good deal, would Paul keep him? Yes, he says in verse 13.

Because this is the real test. This is not a snow job on the part of Paul. I'm sending this character back to you. He's really terrific, and he's really done nicely, and you can have him.

No. Look at verse 13. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I'm in chains for the gospel. If Onesimus had stayed with Paul, he could have done what Philemon would have done.

That is, he would have looked after him for the gospel's sake. But I didn't want to do anything without your consent. He's given up his apostolic authority in making a demand, and now he's prepared to give up his preferences.

His preference would be to keep Onesimus, but he is prepared to forsake his preferences, and he wants Philemon to share in the decision-making process, and therefore, without your consent, I want you to do what is good. The NIV again sends us wrong here in the phrase, So that any favor you will do. It doesn't say anything about doing favors.

Paul is not asking for a favor. He is appealing to him on the strength of Agathos. He is appealing to him on the strength of goodness. The same goodness that is referenced in verse 6—remember, the difficult verse, where it talks about Pantos-Agathon, that your goodness, that you may have a full understanding of every good thing—Pantos-Agathon. Now he says, You share in all of that goodness, and therefore I am appealing to the goodness that is in you, and I want you to operate in a way that emerges from that goodness, that it is the result of compassion and not the result of coercion. And then he draws it to a close in verse 15. He says, You know, if you think about it, perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good and no longer as a slave.

In other words, what does he do? He encourages Philemon to see these circumstances as being an outworking of God's providence. In other words, to see God's hand in the ordering of these events. Surely Onesimus made his own decision and made a run for it. And yet God was at work in his departure as well as in his return.

Perhaps he was separated for a wee while so that you might have him back for good. It's a similar sound, isn't it, to Mordecai when he speaks to Esther in Esther chapter 4 and verse 14, and he says to her, Who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? He says, Maybe it is that God has ordered your steps and brought you to this absolute moment so that you can be this person in these circumstances. In other words, our lives are not haphazard. In Christ, we're not held in the grip of blind deterministic forces. We're not bobbing around in the sea of chance. We are under the tutelage of God's providence. And you know, from a human's perspective, if you stand back from this, you would say to yourself, you know, if Onesimus was going to become a Christian, where is that most likely?

In his master's house. He's surrounded by them. There's Appiah.

There's Archippus, the soldier boy. And if we look at it, we say, you know, that would be his chance. Onesimus, what a wonderful thing. The people in the congregation gathering in the household saying to one another, you know, and let's, before we do anything else today, let's pray for some of these slaves and servants in our house. Let's pray for this one and that one. Let's pray for Onesimus. And here's the great opportunity, if you like, for the gospel. But no.

No. Onesimus makes a run for it. And people might justifiably have said, Well, his chance is gone. There's little chance now that he's run away. If he wasn't going to become a Christian when he's surrounded by Christians, there's no way he's going to become a Christian in Rome, because that's a big, bad place. If he goes away to Rome, there's no chance there, is there?

Yes, there is. Why? Because God is God. Because God is omnipresent. Because God's ways are not our ways.

And here's a word of encouragement to every parent of a runaway child. God is greater than even their rebellions. God is sovereign even over their capitulations, over their turning over the tracks. And though you may not have been successful in this moment here, hold on and watch God do what he does in Rome and in the equivalent of Rome in the twenty-first century.

There are, I say to you again, no impossible cases. And here is Onesimus, and he runs away into the security of his anonymity in Rome. Does he get a job in the jail? I don't know. Is he serving the meals? Is he mopping the place out?

Who knows? But in the providence of God, he runs, smack, bang, into the evangelist, the apostle Paul. And Paul must have said to him, What are you doing, Onesimus? He said, Ah, nothing much, you know.

Come on, tell me what you're doing. How did you get here? Well, you know, I was a slave. I had a really nice boss.

His wife was nice too. But I just ran away. You know what, Onesimus? You think you're running away from Philemon. You think you've got issues. You think you've got issues, and they have to do with being a slave and have to do with being in Philemon's house and issue this, issue that, issue the next thing. Hey, well, let me tell you something, Onesimus.

You don't so much have issues as have an issue. And the issue is this, that you're running from God. And I believe, Onesimus, that you've run, slap, bang, into me so that I could tell you that you're running from God, and I could tell you that God, in the mystery of his purposes, has appointed your steps in such a way that of all the people you might be serving lunch to or whose cell you might be mopping out, look where you've ended up. Let me tell you about Jesus.

And that's it. And as a result of that, maybe he was gone for a wee while so that you might have him back forever. In other words, he's not going to just make an appearance and run away. He'll stay. But even more than that, he's going to stay forever. The word there, forever, is ionon.

It's the word that gives us in English the eons of time, the eons of time. I watched a really sad part. I've been watching Cranford. Judi Dench is in it, and some others. And there was a really sad scene last night.

I watched it when I finally came bouncing out of the skies from Jackson, Mississippi, and Houston. And so I said, Let's do something that is relaxing before we go to bed. And so we sat and watched Cranford, and there's this wonderful scene where this particular girl, Mattie, who's played by Judi Dench, has been proposed to by a man thirty years previously, and because of her commitment to her family, she refused his initiatives. And thirty years of life have gone by, and this farmer, this elderly farmer, has reappeared on the scene and reappeared in her life, and he comes to her and he informs her that he is going to take a journey. And the reason he is going to take a journey to Paris is in order that he might give her time to consider in his absence whether, despite all the years that have elapsed, she might look on him with tenderness and affection, and they might become one in marriage. And so he leaves and returns and dies of pneumonia as a result of his journey back across the English Channel. And the pathos that is represented as she walks in and puts her hand, removes her glove, and does what in that eighteenth-century life would be quite unthinkable, and puts her hand on his hand, now gone with no prospect of a relationship. And all of the pathos that's into that, all of the years, the thirty years, and the unresolved hopes and dreams and everything, just gave me a big lump in my throat, sentimentalist that I am.

But let me tell you something. If there's been thirty years for you where Christ proposed to you, as it were, and for whatever reason you resisted his initiative, if he has come around again to your house, if he is knocking at your door, I beseech you, on Christ's behalf, accept his invitation. Be reconciled to God. You're listening to Truth for Life with Alistair Begg. Be sure to stay with us. Alistair will be back in just a minute to close with prayer. Maybe the story we've heard today is prompting you to respond to Jesus' invitation to become a committed follower, but you're uncertain about the next step you should take.

If that's the case, we would love to help you. Visit slash the story, and there you'll find a short video that explains God's plan for salvation. As you listen, you'll hear that God's saving grace is nothing we can earn on our own. It's a gift that is given freely to those who believe.

Again, go to slash the story. The story of salvation that's presented in this video is a message that we are committed to sharing here at Truth for Life. We teach from Scripture every day so that God's Word will go out and be heard by as many people as possible. Our hope and prayer is that many who hear this daily program will come to trust in Christ for their salvation. In addition to teaching the Bible, we recommend books to help you grow solidly in your faith. And for a few more days, we're offering Alistair's book on prayer.

It's a book you may have heard me mention earlier this week. It's called Pray Big. And in this book, Alistair examines the way the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesian church. Paul wasn't hesitant to ask God to act in big ways, to ask him that many of the Ephesians would come to be followers of Christ.

When you read Paul's prayers, you'll see that they stemmed from a desire in him to see the gospel spread so that many people would be saved. As you read this short book, you'll learn how you can pray similarly with the same confidence Paul had. Request your copy of the book today when you make a one-time donation at slash donate.

Again, that's slash donate. Now let's join Alistair as he closes today in prayer. For this little letter, O God, we thank you.

For its instruction and direction, we give you our humble praise. Look upon us in your mercy. Shine the light of your everlasting gospel into the darkness of our hearts and minds, so that we might first of all see that we can't see. And then in learning that it is our very lack of sight that demands that he who is the light of the world might come and illuminate the darkness of our hearts, we cry out to you, Lord Jesus Christ, the pursuing one, even when we have resisted his grace. Accomplish your purposes today, we pray. And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be the portion of all who believe now and forevermore. Amen.

Have you ever held a grudge against someone while at the same time accepting God's forgiveness for your own transgressions? I'm Bob Lapine. That's a question we'll come face to face with in tomorrow's program. I hope you can join us. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-19 10:46:13 / 2023-09-19 10:54:59 / 9

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