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Introduction to Philemon

A Note to a Friend  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction to the book of Philemon including the setting, the story, and the significance

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This morning, we are going to beging a new series in a little book that most of us probably rarely think about in our Bibles
It is a book that is very short…only one chapter long
It is a book that, when I told you to turn in your Bible’s to that book, you probably needed a little extra time than usual to find it
But don’t feel badly, I need extra time to find certain books as well
We are going to start today looking at this little book of Philemon
As we get into the message, and into this series, let me tell you a little bit about where this series idea originated
As you know, my family and I were away recently
We drove from Barrie to Oklahoma City and back
That is a long drive (about 2,100 km each way)
To drive that far each way takes quite a bit of time
Although there are several drivers in our family, I prefer to do the driving
Because we leave at 4:00 AM, there is quite a bit of sleeping that goes on by the people in the van…other than the driver…me
Because of that, I have quite a bit of time to myself
There are a lot of different things that I do with that time
I may just sit quietly while I drive and think about things
Either things in my family
Or things in the church
I may listen to some music
I may listen to my Bible reading for the day
With my Bible app, I can push a button and it will read to me my Bible reading for that day…rather than actually reading it…which can be dangerous while driving
I may listen to some sports podcasts that I have downloaded
Usually about the Toronto Blue Jays
Sometimes about the Toronto Raptors
Rarely about the Toronto Maple Leafs because I don’t want to be in too bad of a frame of mind while I am driving
But other times, I may listen to some other spiritually helpful podcasts that I have downloaded
There is one called Tiim Talks that my friend Al Stone does
I often will have downloaded some of those to listen to
Another podcast that I really like is one that Scott Pauley has called “Enjoying the journey”
It is a tremendous podcast
It is about 10 minutes each day
I don’t listen to it every day, but I will binge listen to it when I have time…like when I am driving
On this most recent trip, I downloaded Scott Pauley’s entire podcast series on the book of Philemon
It was such a blessing to me
As the Lord was ministering to my heart as I was driving, I felt that God would have me to preach through the book of Philemon
So that is exactly what I am going to do
I think that there will be about 12-15 messages from this little book
A lot of what Scott Pauley said in his podcasts are things that I will mention throughout the series
And I communicated with him and got his permission to use the material from that podcast
I hope this little book will be a blessing to you as it was to me as I was driving over the last couple of weeks
Last Sunday afternoon, Pastor Jesse preached about restoring a fallen brother as we are commanded to do in Galatians 6...
At least, that is what the spiritual person is supposed to do
If we are not restoring those that have fallen, maybe we are not really as spiritual as we like to think that we are
And that concept of restoration really ties in very well to this little book of Philemon because we will see that restoration is very much one of the themes of this little book
There are other themes, but restoration is definitely one of the very obvious and visible themes of the book
Before we get into this little book, you might ask, why are we going to take time to go through a book of the Bible that is so small?
If it is so small, is there really that much in it for us?
To that, I would say, that there is an awful lot for us to glean from this book
I would also say that, even a short book like this is not in the Bible by accident
Can I remind you of what the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16?
2 Timothy 3:16 (KJV 1900)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
All Scripture is inspired by God…including these 25 verses of Philemon
All Scripture is profitable for us…including these 333 words in the book of Philemon
And so we are going to take some time over the next few months to really get into this book
Quite often, when I preach through a book, I just preach through it from start to finish…kind of verse by verse
While there will be a little bit of that during our time in this book, it won’t be exclusively that
We will do a bit of a deep dive into some of the characters and some of the themes of this little book as well
I think it will be exciting as we go through this together
Knowing that we are going to be in this book for the next 3 months or so, I want to challenge each of you to do something...
I want to challenge you to read through this little book…25 verses…333 words…at least once a week in it’s entirety
It will help you to familiarize yourself with the book...
And it will help you to be even more prepared for the messages that we will be looking at each week
If you really want to get into the book, read it once a day…or 2-3 times a week...
But I do challenge each of us to read through this entire book at least once a week for as long as we are in this sermon series
Before we get into the meat of what I want for us to see today, I want for us to see one more of the overriding themes of this book
Paul gives the introductory remarks in verse 1-2 (which we will look at in more detail in this series), but then gets to the meat of the letter in verse 3
Notice how verse 3 starts… “Grace to you”
This letter starts with Grace
But then look at the very last verse of this book:
Philemon 25 (KJV 1900)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.
So we see that this letter starts with grace and it ends with grace
Another of the overriding themes of this book is the grace of God
That grace is something that we should all be thanful for…and that we should all be mindful of
How focused are you on the grace of God?
I think that this little book is going to help us with that
I have entitled this sermon series “A note to a friend”
The reason for that will be pretty clear as we go through this book
This book is a very personal note written by Paul to his friend Philemon
We see other of Paul’s letters and some of them are letters to churches to give instruction or rebuke
Think of Galatians, Corinthians, etc.
Others are written to individuals but are very doctrinal in nature…instructing pastors...
Think of Timothy, Titus
But this book is a little different
It is just a note to a friend
As we begin this series, in this introductory message today, I want for us to see three things about this note…this little book of the Bible:
We will see the setting, the story, and the significance

1. The Setting

We are not going to spend much time on this point at all, but as we get into this book, it is important for us to understand the setting
It has been said that, in order to understand any text, we must first understand the context
That is why, so often, as we look at a passage of Scripture, I try to take a moment to help us understand the context of what is being written
It helps us to understand the content if we understand the context
So what is the context of this letter…the setting behind the story?
We, we can see from the very first word of the very first verse that this is written by the Apostle Paul
This was written by Paul from Rome...
Either from a prison cell or while under house arrest...
He was never living in freedom while in Rome
Paul was in Rome after he had appealed his trial to Caesar
We saw that a couple of years ago when we were studying in the book of Acts
So this is written by Paul from Rome while he was a prisoner there
This was written to a fellow-believer named Philemon
Philemon was a Christian that lived in Colosse
Paul wrote a second letter that was delivered along with this letter to the believers at Colosse...
That is the book of Colossians
We will see that a little more in a future message
As we consider the setting of this book, here is something that we must remember...
These are the very early days of Christianity
Jesus and His followers had turned the world upside down
Acts 17:6
And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;
Talk about that verse
Remember, the message of Jesus was contrary to what the religious leaders of the day wanted
Jesus, as the Messiah, was not what the people were looking for…they were looking for a conquering Saviour…to defeat Rome
So, while the religious leaders hated Jesus, many people…especially the common (poor) people loved Jesus...
Because the message of Jesus was for them
It wasn’t just for the elite…it was for all…and it still is, by the way
But eventually, as we know, Jesus was crucified…he died
But then Jesus rose again…that was inconvenient for the religious leaders of the day
They had to do everything that they could to keep that quiet
And so we see that people that trusted in Jesus were persecuted
We see that throughout the book of Acts
But through persecution, the church flourished
Churches were planted all over the known world
I say all of that though to say that being a Christian wasn’t easy at this time...
And that is the setting for this letter
Being a Christian isn’t always easy in this time...
But if the people in the day that this was written could be faithful to Jesus in the face of intense persecution, then certainly we can be faithful to Him today as well
So that is the basic setting of this letter
Let’s take a look secondly at...

2. The Story

What is the story of this letter?
Why did Paul write it?
What was it about?
We will see more of this as we go through this series, but here is the basics of the story of this letter
Paul, while in prison in Rome meets a someone who was almost certainly a fellow prisoner
This man was named Onesimus
As was pretty much always the case, Paul told this man about Jesus…and Onesimus got saved
As they got talking more, Paul found out that Onesimus was a runaway servant...
And not only that, but Paul knew his former master
Now, servants weren’t always the same in Bible days as we think of them now
In many cases, they were more like paid employees…but other times they were more like slaves
We are not sure exactly what Onesimus’ status was as a servant, but he was a servant to a man named Philemon
Obviously, that is the man to whom this letter is written, and that is the man that was the master of Onesimus…or was at one time
It would seem that Onesimus had wronged Philemon in some way…and then ran away...
Most likely, he stole from Philemon
Look at Philemon 10-11
Philemon 10–11 (KJV 1900)
I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me:
Look down a few verses at Philemon 18
Philemon 18 (KJV 1900)
If he hath wronged thee, or oweth thee ought, put that on mine account;
So we can see from these couple of verses that Onesimus had been unprofitable to Philemon is some way...
And Paul says “if he owes you anything, put that on my account”
Again, I would say that, from those descriptions, we can say that Onesimus was not a good servant
He probably stole from Philemon
If he didn’t steal from him, he wronged him in some other way
Rather than staying and facing whatever punishment he might have had coming to him, Onesimus ran away
When he runs, he runs to Rome
Why Rome?
Probably because it was such a large city that he figured he could just kind of go unnoticed...
He could be lost in the big city...
But God knew exactly where he was and what Onesimus needed
After running away to Rome, he meets Paul in prison
It would probably not be too far fetched to think that maybe he had stolen again and gotten caught this time…and that landed him in prison
But that is where he met Paul…and that is where his life would be changed forever
Don’t you love how God orchestrated all of this to bring Onesimus to a place where he would be saved?
Through a very unique set of circumstances, God brought Onesimus to a place where he would hear the gospel and be gloriously saved
Can I tell you something today...
If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Saviour, God has orchestrated the events of your life to allow you to be in this service today
God is allowing you to hear the gospel
You see, just as Onesimus was saved way back in that Roman prison, you too can be saved today
God loves you
Jesus died for you…for your sins
He paid sin’s penalty for you
And if you would, by faith put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your only hope of salvation…He will save you
I said that one of the themes of this book is the grace of God...
Well, it is by grace that we are saved...
Ephesians 2:8–9 (KJV 1900)
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
You can experience this same grace that Onesimus experienced if you will trust in the same Jesus that Onesimus did…and that many of us in this room have already put our faith in
Do you think it was a coincidence that Onesimus ended up in prison in Rome where he would meet Paul?
Absolutely not!
God put all of this together
And whether you see it or not, God is working in the details and circumstances of your life as well
Think about this just as it relates to the characters that we have seen in this story
God was working in Paul’s life even though he was in prison
God was working in Philemon’s life even though he had been wronged
God was working in Onesimus’ life even though he had sinned and was on the run
And God is at work in your life today
If you are not a Christian, He is working in your life to bring you to Himself
If you are a Christian, He is working in your life to draw you closer to Himself
Whether you have been wronged or have wronged others, God is at work in your life today
And so we see the story of this letter
Onesimus was a servant that wronged Philemon
While in Rome, he met Paul…who introduced him to Jesus
Now Paul is writing this note to his friend Philemon about this servant that had wronged him before
This letter is a letter of forgiveness
It is a letter of restoration
But I would suggest to us today that this is a letter for each of us today as well
If you need forgiveness today, that is available
If you need restoration, that is available
As we go through this note to a friend, we will see some of these themes…forgiveness, restoration, the grace of God, the love of God...
And it is all available for you and for me
So we have seen the setting…and we have seen the story, now let’s look at...

3. The Significance

We have already touched a little bit on the significance of this note to a friend
The reality is that the significance of the note is that, everything that is in here for Philemon is for us today as well
Everything that we will see in here that Onesimus experienced because of Jesus Christ…is for us today
But here is what I want to focus on as far as the significance of this note today...
The significance of this note truly is the great grace of our great and loving God
Remember, we saw that Paul opens the letter by talking about grace...
He closes the letter with the grace of God as well
Grace is one of the great themes of this book
Really, it is one of the great themes of the Bible
We already looked at Ephesians 2:8-9 that tell us about the grace of God that is necessary in salvation
But we need the grace of God far more than just at the time of our salvation
We need the grace of God every day
Look at what we are told in Romans 5:1-2
Romans 5:1–2 (KJV 1900)
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
This mentions justification…that is what takes place the moment that we get saved
We are pronounced innocent as though never guilty
Because of that, we have peace with God...
We talked about that a little but when we were looking at the names of Jesus at Christmas from Isaiah 9:6…the Prince of Peace
We talked about having peace with God…with others…but also experiencing the peace of God
But peace with God comes through salvation...
And this verse talks about that...
But did you notice what it said in verse 2?
“We have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand
We need this grace every day in order to stand!
The grace of God is much more than something that is imparted at salvation and that’s it…we need it daily
It is the grace of God that allows us to do anything that we might do for him...
2 Corinthians 9:8 (KJV 1900)
And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
Because of God’s grace, we can abound to every good work that God might have for us
And it is because of God’s grace that we can be forgiven...
It is because of God’s grace that we can be restored
It is because of God’s grace that we can get back what we may have lost
Onesimus lost any relationship that he had with Philemon…but because of the grace of God, that could be restored
Beyond that, Onesimus got, not only what he had lost…he got to experience something he never had...
Salvation through the grace of God
This little letter to a friend is 333 words that is filled with the grace of God
I believe that it is going to be a help to us in these weeks to come
In his podcast, Bro. Pauley mentioned this about the grace of God
He said, when it comes to this grace, everyone needs two things:
Everyone needs to receive grace...
And everyone needs to relay grace
Have you received His grace today?
Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour?
If you were to die today, do you know for 100% sure that you would go to heaven?
If not, you can leave here today knowing that for sure…because of the grace of God
And then, are you relaying grace today?
Is there anyone today that you need to show the grace of God to?
Is there someone that you need to show grace to by forgiving them?
Is there a reconciliation or restoration that needs to take place?
You can relay God’s grace to them through your actions
But you can also relay God’s grace by sharing the good news of the gospel with someone else
Who do you need to share the gospel with today or this week?
As God brings people across your path this week, are you ready to share God’s love and grace with them?
I trust that, as we go through this note to a friend, the truths that we will see will become a part of our daily lives
Pray

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