The challenge to the Church all over the world has always been that we have wanted a Christian nation with a Christian culture with Christian values but not enough for that to be seen in how I personally live my life. So we pick up our protest banners against injustice and unrighteousness and we vehemently shout, stamp our feet and point the finger at those who are obviously to blame. We may have every reason to be greatly concerned but when Jesus said we would have trouble in this world was he wanting us to be filled with hope or hatred? There are many who believe what Gandhi said: “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” Meanwhile the true persecuted Church pursue their perpetrators with the gospel and the love of Christ. The irony.
The Apostle Paul, around 58-60AD, is in a prison and he is writing to a dear friend who has a church meeting not in a fancy Temple or Church building but a home and says these words to him, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.” (Philemon 4-7)
Philemon wasn’t perfect. The reason why Paul writes to him (Onesimus, his slave) gives us lots of problems in our mind as to what kind of man owns slaves. We need to deal with this somehow. However, whether or not owning slaves in the first century made him imperfect we obviously know he lived in times that were difficult, a nation that wasn’t Christian amongst people who worshipped other gods and yet he was being commended for his discipleship. In every generation the world cares less in what you think or believe but are greatly influenced by how you live your life.
What can we learn from these verses?
- Faith is not a private affair. There is only one faith and it demands to get out and known and demonstrated. If 4,000 miles away from the UK ordinary Christians in northern Nigeria, just like you and me, with desires and dreams are being hacked down, captured, tortured and killed for their faith then the injustice of this world lies within our own hearts if we do not demonstrate our faith publicly. Paul had heard of Philemon’s faith. Can your world hear of yours?
- Prayer for one another is essential for us to become better people. We don’t need more things we just need to become better people. We don’t need open doors, blessings, provisions, answers, but we do need to become better people. Maybe we do need all those things but we need to become better people more than them. Seek first the kingdom …. Paul prays for Philemon to be effective. Pray for someone you know today that God will grant them to be a better follower of Christ.
- Partnership means our decisions affect others. We are not an island. Biblical individualism doesn’t exist. We are not entitled to our own opinions and decisions regardless of how much it may hurt someone else. Paul prays for their partnership to be seen in the good things they do together (he is laying the ground for the big ask that will come next). Philemon would need to answer the responsibility of partnership. Belonging to the Church means you need to think more of others in the decisions you take.
- How you made others feel will be your legacy. Philemon refreshed the Lord’s people. Was that through hospitality? Through gifts? Words? Paul doesn’t actually say. But Philemon was the opposite of being a person who drained others. We need to look for many ways we can refresh, lighten the load, to make someone smile, care and encourage. We need to be good to be around.