The Other Side of the Coin

Our fascination with the Royal family has continued throughout the generations. Since The Crown started showing on Netflix in 2016, 73 million households have watched it. Every year countless books have become best sellers as we avidly want to know the people behind the throne. In 2019 such a book was published called, “The Other Side of the Coin” by Angela Kelly who as the exalted title of Personal Advisor to Her Majesty (jewellery, insignias, and wardrobe). Of course if you are looking for some sordid gossip it won’t be found in this book as I presume Kelly likes her job. Unlike Marion Crawford the Scottish governess of the Queen and her sister Margaret who moved from confidante to villain, losing everything, because she was too frank in her descriptions of life behind the throne. Sadly after her article and book ‘Little Princesses’ published in 1950 her life was never the same. She tried to commit suicide twice and died in as nursing home in 1988. A Channel 4 documentary of her story was told in 2000 titled, The Nanny Who Wouldn’t Keep Mum. A sad ending to someone who tried to tell the other side of the coin.

Let’s go to someone way beyond the Queen and the Royal Family. Let’s go to Jesus. The Apostle continues this ultimate and supreme mission of our Royal Divine King:

“Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2: 9-11`)

Therefore.

The Amplified helps us if we happened not to have read the verses before, “For this reason also [because He obeyed and so completely humbled Himself], “

This side of the coin is:

The highest place.

The name above every other name.

Every knee from every place will bow before Him.

Every tongue will acknowledge Him as Lord.

This is the glory of God the Father.

But it is only so because of what is on the other side of the coin. God doesn’t shield that from us. We know what is there. We know what happened.

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! (v8)

This side of the coin we see:

A man.

In humility.

In death.

A criminal’s death not a hero’s.

The other side of the coin.

It applies to our lives too.

Today may be hardship. You may have grief and struggle. Pain may be all around you. For you, life may be one of experiencing failure in the eyes of others. But turn the coin over and you will see Christ wins. Turn the coin over and you will see what He has done for you meaning that you win also. This life isn’t all there is. This world will end and the new world will begin. Our life as we know it will close but our real life will begin. It’s time to flip the coin. In a year quite like no other. When you have perhaps been sick, lost your job, grieved over loved ones, known a despair like never before, you must remind yourselves it is just one side of the coin.
A humble man/woman obedient throughout their life to the path of God who dies even in a pathetic state, if they die in God, they rise with Christ. It will be worth it. Don’t remain fixated on one side of the coin. Keep flipping it. The other side of the coin is important.

The way to heaven

We are either the victors or the victims of pour attitudes. We get to choose that.

These next few verses are the ultimate passage in this wonderful letter to the Philippians. However, in the introduction to this letter I reminded us that Paul was addressing a church with problems from those who insist on extra rules such as circumcision but also 2 ladies that have caused a war in the church through their arguing. That’s the context.

The next time you are in an argument. The next time you are thinking of storming out of the church door because ‘there’s no love here’, the next time pride rises within you so that you will not back down because you are right; the next time you are about to write someone off; the next time that you are about to win and someone is about to lose think of these verses:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very natureGod, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very natureof a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2: 5-8)

This is the ultimate passage because it reveals a decision made by Jesus in His pre-earthly state. That decision said, “Today, it is not about me.”

Of all that is in heaven, Jesus, Son of God, part of the Godhead, is hearing cries day and night, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” Beings are laying prostrate, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. “ (Revelation 4)

From this position of power and of who He really is said, “Today it’s not about me.”

A Servant (noun) one who serves, or does services, voluntarily or on compulsion; a person who is employed by another for menial offices, or for other labour, and is subject to his command;

A person who labours or exerts himself for the benefit of another, his master or employer; a subordinate helper

A devoted and helpful follower or supporter.

Now what’s the argument, really?

From Saul Bellow’s collection of traditional Jewish tales comes this story:

In a small Jewish town of Russia, there is a rabbi who disappears each Friday morning for several hours. His devoted disciples boast that during those hours their rabbi goes up to heaven and talks to God.

A stranger moves into town and he’s sceptical about all this, so he decides to check things out. He hides and watches. The rabbi gets up in the morning, says his prayers, and then dresses in peasant clothes. He grabs an axe, goes off into the woods and cuts some firewood, which he then hauls to a shack on the outskirts of the village. There an old woman and her sick son love. He leaves them the wood, enough for a week, and then sneaks back home.

Having observed the rabbi’s actions, the newcomer stays on in the village and becomes his disciple. And whenever he hears one of the villagers say, “On Friday morning our rabbi ascends all the way to heaven, “the newcomer quietly adds, “If not higher.”

Have we forgotten the way to heaven?

Let your outlet mirror your inlet

As a proud parent I watched with intrigue my children’s sports day and in particular the bike race. Anyone would have imagined that the way to win this race was to pedal faster than anyone else. But that wasn’t the rule to the race. If you finished first you actually lost. The rule was to stay on your bike but cycle the slowest and be the last person to cross the line without putting your foot on the floor or indeed falling off the bike!

It’s a beautiful illustration of the Christian race. Though some misunderstand it. The aim is to have the same thinking as Jesus in relation to other people.

I’m not interested in charming personalities, charismatic gifting and theological minds. That’s not what impresses me anymore. Those heroes died disappointingly a while ago. However what gets my attention is the mental outlook on how a person thinks and feels about themselves in relation to others, their circumstances and life itself.

The Message translation of Philippians 2: 3-4 says:

Don’t push your way to the front;

Don’t sweet-talk your way to the top.

Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead.

Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage.

Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

Our best example, the Apostle will say is of course Christ Jesus and we will see this in the next few days. But let’s read the whole 5 verses.

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mind set as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2: 1-5)

Let your outlet mirror your inlet.

IF …

Christ has encouraged you.

Christ’s presence has been known by you.

Christ’s love has consoled you in your bad day.

The Spirit has partnered with you.

You have received tender compassion when you have either failed or been hurt.

IF that has been your inlet. Then your outlet should testify of it. How can it be different?

Did we achieve anything to qualify us for such an inlet of blessings?

Nothing at all.

Therefore, let it be the same. Our outlet of blessings is not to people we necessarily love to be with but in fact those who don’t qualify. It is hard to bless when your culture is one of blame. To be like Christ is counter-cultural to what we know and experience. Nevertheless our world needs to see Jesus. We can show Him today.

Whatever happens

I’ve got some simple questions today:

“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1: 27-30)

Whatever happens…

Whether you are persecuted or sick, successful or failure, if things are for you or against you, happy or hurt, whatever happens ….

BEHAVE: How are you going to respond and react today? “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

BELONG: Who are the people you stand with today? “I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel”

BRAVE: What will you not give up on today? “without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”

BELIEVE: Will you trust Jesus enough to suffer? “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him”

BENEFIT: Who will you look to in the struggle of today to learn and gain the positives of your experience? “since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have”

They gain!

17th September 2018 was a highlight for me as I led a service at the Elim International Centre for the families of our 12 Elim missionaries who were killed on the 23rd June 1978 and a further died from the brutalities the day after their funeral. This traumatic event 40 years previously was at the Elim Mission station in the Vumba Mountains, Northern Zimbabwe. The sheer brutality of this massacre shocked the world. It was a privilege to be at the service alongside the families and in particular, the sister of one of the missionaries named Mary Fisher.

I cannot read these next verses of Philippians anymore without thinking of this missionary who had escaped from the macabre scene and was found unconscious. The severe head trauma had caused her heart and lungs to fail and she was buried in a simple quiet ceremony next to her friend Wendy.

(Philippians 1: 18-26)

Paul is in a quandary. What does God want for his life? If he survives the prison then he can see the good for others but if he dies it would be even better for him. That in itself is a challenge for us today.

To live is Christ:

  • To make Him known, this is the most important thing

v18. “The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice”

  • To see the purposes of God in the difficult things I go through

v19. “for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.”

  • To display Christ in my life for others to see

v20. “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

  • To be an influence of others for the better,

v25-26 “Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”

To die is gain:

  • For people will see Christ in me as this life fades

v20. ““I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”

  • I will depart the struggles of this earth, I will be free

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

  • I will be with Christ,

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

  • The next life is far better than this life

v23. “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far”

This whole passage hangs on these words, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” v21.

Alistair Begg, a Scot, who now Pastors in Ohio and a well-known Christian author preached a message in January 2011 and during that sermon was describing his evangelistic endeavours in London as a student and a special friend he knew:

“1974 , I went in the evening with one of my friends and this girl to the Thames Embankment Mission in London. All the street people were more interested in the physical food than they were in the spiritual food that was on offer from my buddy and myself. I won’t take time now to give you the details—many of them humorous—which made perfectly clear to us that there was very little interest on the part of these men and some women that were there. Our preaching was no good, as far as they were concerned. The only time that they listened was when Mary sang. And Mary was a little girl from Wales. She looked a little bit like Mary Hopkin[s], actually—the girl of “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end.” And she had a lovely, lilting Welsh voice, and when she sang, the people put down their newspapers and began to listen. And it was a very humbling thing for myself and my colleague: this little slip of a girl—fairly plain, friendly eyes, long blonde hair, crystal clear voice. Wasn’t really a performance that she did; it was more of a sacrifice.”

Who was he speaking of? It was Mary Fisher.

An inquest into the deaths of the missionaries and their children was held in Umtali by the Rhodesian authorities on 21 August 1978.

On playing one of the cassette tapes retrieved from the kitbag of a dead guerrilla, Mary Fisher’s fine voice soared hauntingly from the machine, her song of worship momentarily filling the room. She was teaching young children to sing the words of the Apostle Paul:

For me to live is Christ, to die is gain,
To hold his hand and to walk his narrow way.
And there is no peace, no joy, no thrill
Like walking in his will;
For me to live is Christ and to die is gain

Mary Fisher and the other 12 missionaries and every missionary around the world today, the church in Northern Nigeria and the many terrible places in the world to live as a Christian, they all do the same thing: they put their whole life in the ring—and sometimes they pay the ultimate price. 

For everyone who has died in Christ whether in the persecuted fields or a struggling hospital bed, they gain.

They gain!

Does it really matter?

As I’ve got older cynicism has become a friend. I didn’t ask it to be. It kind of just latched on to me. I know the dangers of this friend and have seen people ruined by it but even though I try and shake it off it seems glued to me. I heard recently someone was prayed for “that the spirit of cynicism would leave them” but the person prayed for just rolled their eyes when they told me. It seems some friends are for life.

Are you cynical?

If you have a “tendency” to put “inverted commas” “around” “everything” then you “just may be”.

If you believe that mankind has failed to achieve anything of interest or note since the moon landings were faked, then it is possible you are.

If your answer to the question, “are you one of those conspiracy theorists?” is “why, who are you working for?” then you might be cynical.

What I didn’t realise in this journey of cynicism is that Cynicism is a school of philosophy dating back to the time of Socrates. I don’t know much about him but he was intelligent so that makes me ….?!

The Cynics believed that only the bare necessities were needed to live. So what we needed to do was strip back and reject everything including possessions and property. One of the disciples of the founder of the Cynics (Antisthenes) was a man named Diogenes. He lived in a tub on the streets of Athens and was well known for his wit, which I guess he needed a lot of when living in a tub.

After about 800 years the Cynics finally disappeared but their traits were definitely seen in early Christianity and though cynicism in 2020 is not the same, we can train this awkward friend to work for us and not against us.

Let’s read some more verses from the Apostle, Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Philippians 1: 12-18)

Paul says this:

Some are using my situation to defend the gospel and some use this to preach with hidden agendas, but I am just happy that Christ is preached.

I see something here that is wonderful and helpful in making cynicism my helper and not an enemy.

As I have got older then the things I just accepted naively as being true takes longer to digest. That isn’t necessarily wrong. I am not an advocate for sitting in a tub and eating raw meat on the streets of Athens but I do believe we need to see the difference between what really matters and to do that we need to let go of those things that would just get in the way of our thinking. Cynicism pushes me to the truth, to what is important, past the crowds and the accolades to the absolute.

The Apostle got there. He sharpened his gaze and said, ‘what does it matter? Christ is preached, so let’s be happy.’

So today I will allow my friend to speak up and show me the indulgences, the selfish ambitions and the hidden agendas but I will control this friend and push forward into discovering the truth. My goal is to find Christ. If I do then cynic has helped me. If Christ is not there then cynic has still helped me.

Does it really matter? No is the answer to many things when the one thing is Christ and the gospel.

Oh one more thing, some of you may be thinking I am only writing like this because it is World Philosophy Day. But that would be cynical eh?

A Prayer for the Church

I have spent much of this morning thinking about 1 year of my life as an 18 year old. I had just joined a US based theatre company and I was in Stuttgart, Germany at the training school and something happened which is hard to explain. For those who have been in this organisation or something similar they understand ‘love-bombing’. As new recruits we were placed in the centre of the room and suddenly in came running a whole crowd of people singing a song:

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord/ We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored/ And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

As they circled us I knew I had never experienced anything like it in any church I had been in my entire life. This was life-changing.

One year later on a brief visit back home I decided to break the 2 year commitment I made and leave. I received a letter which titled me as ‘persona non grata’ and that the friends still in the organisation would never be in contact with me again. Those who left after the 2 years or had made the next level commitment of 5 years and even a ‘life-time’ commitment, if they broke it, they too would receive the same letter.

I have found myself caught up in reading pages of threads on the internet from people who had left that organisation and the trauma they faced.

An organisation which created an incredible culture of love but left scars that people are still trying to find solace from. I got out early.

What happened to me isn’t unique in that someone always has a similar story from some ministry or church. Love is powerful because it can be very manipulative and abusive.

I have never written about my experiences and I find the above quite cathartic.

It has come because of this amazing letter to the Philippians. Paul has incredible love for them and praises them for their love. In the last couple of hours I have been praying and thinking about Christian love. The people I have loved and love. Those who have died and have loved me and those still alive who tell me in many ways that they love me. Paul writes, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.” (Philippians 1: 9-11)

And I understand something new. This is not love-bombing. This is not some gushy, sentimental, feel-good love. It is this and this is his prayer:

Love that grows in a personal experience and the ability to apply that into practical living.

Paul doesn’t say where that love should be directed or who the personal experience should be of. But it is obvious that he is thinking of Jesus Christ and God.

Our love for God flows into our love for others. Not the other way round.

Jesus is always first.

Love that has a sense of what is vital

I use the Moffatt translation for that heading.

In a plethora of opinions, views, campaigns, theories, attitudes and behaviours, love tests them all and then knows not what is good from the bad but also the best from the better.

Love is intelligent.

Love is real

The Message translates Paul saying he prays that their love will be sincere.

The word sincere means without wax. When merchants were wanting to hide the defects and cracks in their pottery they would use wax to sell at a better price. The buyer could only see the wax if they held it against the light. Reputable merchants would advertise their products as ‘without wax’, sincere, real.

Paul also says our love should be blameless. The word is skandalon. It is used for a snare that causes others to fall.

Real love is only seen if it is held against the light of Jesus Christ.

That’s our prayer for the Church.

A love that does not manipulate, that does not use guilt or fear, mind-controlling techniques and spiritual abuse. A love that puts Jesus first, that gets to the best for that moment and which is real and can stand the test of the light of Christ.

An aching love

These next 2 verses have got to be the most loving in the whole of the New Testament between an individual and the Church. These are words from a Pastor to their church, it is the church that the Apostle planted and it reveals how after probably 10 years since he last saw them that he loved them with an aching love. In the tomorrow he loved them. They are incredible words..

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1: 7-8)

Love gives the right to deserve the best for one another.

In the verses before this we saw how Paul would pray with joy and thanksgiving for them and how he believed God would finish the work that He had started in them. Now we know why he said those things? Paul carried the Philippians in his heart. He didn’t have them on a prayer list. They were etched into his heart. Break him open and Philippi was written there. This love gave the permission to want the best for them. It is not rooted in some light affection. It is die-hard love. To stress the point he would say “it is God Himself who will agree to what I am saying.”

Can you imagine loving your Church like this?

Love which is not dependent on the circumstance.

Sixty years ago a group called the Shirelles sang:

Tonight you’re mine completely/ You give your love so sweetly
Tonight the light of love is in your eyes/ But will you love me tomorrow?

It’s a beautiful song written by an extraordinary song-writer, Carole King. The love today is exquisite but will it last? When tomorrow is a different day will it still be there?

The Apostle says that the love they have for one another is not based on whether he is doing well, preaching the gospel, itinerating on his missionary journeys, planting churches, being successful. Here he is in prison, not going anywhere and the love is still there.

Love gets tested. Circumstances test it. In the moment you can kiss anything. But tomorrow when it rains will you still love?

Can you imagine loving your Church like this?

Love which aches from every part

My heart aches for you. We love those words don’t we? Maybe you have used them recently. One thing I don’t think you will have said is this: My bowels ache for you!

The NIV has Paul expressing that he longs for them with the affection of Christ Jesus. That’s a nicer way of saying it but it is too soft. The KJV has it much better, “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” (KJV)

The word is splagchnon and it means the intestines, the inward parts. Paul aches for them in such a way and he knows it comes from Jesus Christ, it flows from him. But he could also have been meaning how the Message translates it beautifully, “Sometimes I think I feel as strongly about you as Christ does!”

Can you imagine loving your Church like this?

What would the Church look like if they loved in such a way as Paul did Philippi?

I’ve started so I’ll finish!

There isn’t many Brits, certainly of my generation who don’t know the catchphrase, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish.’ Magnus Magnusson (1929-2007) was Icelandic but lived the majority of his life in Scotland. He became a BBC journalist and came to fame for the television quiz programme Mastermind. Whenever time ran out during him asking a contestant a question he would say the phrase, ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’.

As we commence this prison letter of the Apostle Paul we are reminded to finish what we have started.

“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1: 1-6)

When Paul prays for them he is always thankful and happy.

We will discover in this letter that the Philippian church had problems and Paul does not turn a blind eye. He describes those who insist on circumcision for the faith as ‘dogs’ and ‘mutilators’ (3:2). Apart from Timothy who is co-sending this letter and Epaphras who Paul promises to send to them, the only two people that are mentioned are Euodia and Syntyche who have caused a war in the church through their arguing.

You may wake to your day and you know the problems that are in your life and in your work. You may even know problems in your church. However, what will you spend time thinking about? Do you want to be discouraged? Not that we bury our head in the sand but our first call is that of thanksgiving not complaint. “Count your blessings name them one by one” is a hymn we probably all know and helps us to focus on what the Lord has done.

“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy.” Paul doesn’t say he prays joyfully in the majority of his prayers for some of them, the nice ones. But all for all. Which person or situation is a challenge to pray joyfully for? Have you stopped praying like this? Then start and continue again.

We are going to see joy and rejoicing as a major theme in this letter.

Paul prays thankfully, joyfully, all the time for all of them, continually because ….

They have partnered with him continually from the first day

Paul is encouraged to write a letter to them as a response to being the only recorded church that had raised a financial gift to help him in prison which he received as a fragrant offering to God (4:18). They have proven to be true partners. But he remembers the first day being with them and planting the church there (in Acts 16). Paul and his missionary team had stayed in Philippi for several days because of a) the people they met, including Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl and a prison guard. They are amazing stories and they kept the team in the city because of what they encountered; b) the influential city which Luke had described as a leading city (Acts 16:12); c) God’s Divine purpose orchestrating them being there because of the vision of the man from Macedonia calling to them. This partnership was birthed on those 3 important aspects of stories, influence and purpose and it continued throughout the years. We must make sure it is true for our lives also.

Paul, the Philippian believers and also God.

God started a work in them and will finish it.

Paul didn’t start the Church, God did. Paul hasn’t furthered the work of that first fledgling church, God did.

God will continue until the return of Christ. God hasn’t finished with us yet.

If today looks bleak it’s not over yet. It isn’t finished until He says it is finished. Paul is confident, he has become convinced that there is more of God to come. He will continue to speak, move and lead us to be who we have been created to be.

Paul started praying with thanks and joy and continues.

Philippian believers started partnering with Paul in the work and continue.

God started a work in us and will continue.

I’ve started so I’ll finish.

Philemon 22-25

So Paul’s letter to Philemon comes to an end. He hasn’t mentioned the cross and the resurrection of Christ. It is the only letter where he doesn’t. Yet it is a letter regarding the outworking of what Jesus Christ did. This is the application of the gospel message. Will Philemon forgive and be reconciled to Onesimus not as master and slave but as a brother in the Lord?

“And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 22-25)

(The letter was written in Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome around AD59-62. He would be released and there are substantial reasons that Paul continued to travel for a few more years as far as Spain. He would then be captured around AD68 and be held in prison until his death where he writes 2 Timothy)

As he closes this letter to Philemon we find the following:

  • He believes he will be released.

He is telling Philemon to make his decision about Onesimus and be ready because he could turn up tomorrow! He has hope to be restored to Philemon just as he hopes Onesimus will be restored also.

  • He knows his release will be in answer to prayer.

Paul knows that his release would come not because the rulers of Rome showed clemency but in direct answer to the prayers of many people, including Philemon.

  • He knows it will come as a grace from God

He is in prison waiting for justice from Rome and yet trusting in the grace of God to set him free. His letter to Philemon is appealing for grace where justice is expected.

What was the decision? Did Philemon set his slave free?

We don’t know. But let me share one ‘probably’. The reason why Philemon has made it into our Bibles could have been because of Onesimus. The bishop of Ephesus in AD 110 was a man named Onesimus. If he was in his teens or early twenties then that would have made him aged 70yrs which was a good age to be a bishop at that time. It’s a probably, but a nice one.

However, one final thought:

  • Jesus has told us to get ready for His coming.
  • He will come in response to our prayers, “Come Lord Jesus Come”
  • Our lives are set in the community of believers (Philemon’s household of faith and Paul’s friends Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke.)
  • We are to live in the light of that working out the grace of Christ in our forgiveness and reconciliation of one another.