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Tests of Our Maturity: Studies in Philemon

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            I assume none of us tonight likes to take tests; it may have been a good while ago since we have been students and so began our distaste for tests, but nonetheless tests are still unwelcomed aren’t they. Tests may still be unwelcomed in our life, but since we have grown up from being students; we know and realize and accept the fact that tests are necessary in life. Do you realize that everything, and I mean everything that you use and have in your life, right now has gone through a series of  tests before ever became yours.  I mean from the cars we drive; to the foods we buy at the restaurants, from our clothes to our shoes; from the paper towels in our kitchen to the shampoo that you used in your hair last night; everything has went through some kind of tests to see if indeed it is what’s supposed to be and do.

            Tests are apart of life. Tests serve a purpose, which is to reveal knowledge. Why does the student take a test on what was covered in class? To reveal if they retained that knowledge that was given out? Tests reveal.

I was watching a documentary about how that Ford motor tested cars from the 1920’s to the 1960’s. In Detroit Michigan there was a test track designed to test how far and long the engines that Ford made could withstand before they quit. This track was designed that the cars could sustain a speed of 100 mph through the turns; that means these cars never went under one hundred miles per hour unless to fill up or change drivers. The turns were four miles long, so that the driver didn’t have to slow down at all. They would drive those test cars (24/7, four shifts of drivers) until the engines blocks would heat so they would crack and warp and stop the car. They did all that to reveal just how long their engines could hold out under the serious strain. They wanted to know what their engines could do if put to the test.

I said all that to get you to thinking about tests; because as Christians we are going to be tested to see if we can live out what we say we believe. I.e. we can say that we going to be tested to see if there’s any spiritual maturity in us as believers. Are we further along with the Lord, now than when we were first saved? Have we grown in the Lord? Have we learned to control our tempter? Do we know more of the bible now than when we started? Have we learned that even bad things can be used for God’s glory? Do we give God the benefit of the doubt when we don’t understand things? Do we react to problems with prayer or pointing the finger? All this and even more will be revealed by a test!

Nothing seems to test us more than life and the different situations that we are faced with. I can’t help see a more challenging test of someone’s faith than in that little letter written to Philemon. This letter is more like a post card compared to Paul’s other letters. Just 25 verses compared to 443 verses in Romans alone.  It’s size and that the fact that it was written not some much to a Church but to a person is of great importance. Paul had friends and he wrote to his friends; this little letter to Philemon is just one of those! But Paul writes to Philemon because he has too. A situation is arising between his old friend Philemon and his new friend Onesimus. A situation that is going to prove to be a serious test of both of his friends’ maturity as believers.  This test was going to reveal some things about each of these men as Christians for their good or their bad.

            We won’t get into any of these just yet. Because there’s some ground work that needs to be laid before we see the situation through the eyes of all persons involved and try to understand what God was doing with this test.

I. We should understand the difference between Temptations and what I believe to be Trails/Tests. 

When used in a negative sense, temptation means to lure or entice. It is the result of an appeal to inward lusts or desires. The aim of this kind of temptation is to lure us into sin – to entice us to satisfy God-given needs or desires in our own way instead of His way. It is a tool used by Satan to disrupt our fellowship with God and destroy our lives. (James 1:12-15)

When forced to flee for his life Paul expressed his concern for his new converts in Thessalonica 1Thess 3:5  For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.  Paul was aware that Satan would lure away his converts by the use of temptations.

Yet in the bible, the word temptation can also have a positive meaning. When used in a positive sense, it means to test or prove. This is the result of outward pressures and problems being used to bring our godly virtues to the surface.  This kind of temptation; or tests our faiths are allowed to strengthen our faith not to destroy it.

A. 1st Century Christians were tempted in this sense.

Peter is writing to Christians that were literally being buried alive under Emperor Nero.

1 Peter 1:6-7  Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:

That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:  

Peter is a saying that these manifold temptations that you are facing have come about to test your faith in God! Their faith was being tested through what they were allowed to undergo.

B. Jesus himself was tempted in this sense.  Heb. 4:14-15

Though Jesus had a human nature,(two hands, two eyes, two feet, he breathed, he eat, etc) he possessed no sin nature.

Jesus was tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin.

In Matt. 4 Jesus was led up into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil. Tempted to turn bread into stones, tempted to jump off the roof of the temple and tempted by all the wealth and glory of all the nations on earth.

All these temptations were but a test to prove the faith that Jesus himself had to accomplish the father’s will. They revealed his faith that he had in his father!

Faith that God would provide for his physical needs.  Stones to Bread

Faith that God would give him following by preaching rather than by performing stunts to gather a crowd.

Jumping off the Temple’s roof.

Faith that in God’s timing he would indeed rule and reign over the world as King of Kings and lord of Lords!

Kingdoms of the world offered by Satan.


Jesus didn’t have a sin nature to connect to the temptations.  Yet, Jesus was proven faithful, they revealed his faith, tested his faith that he had and he passed with flying colors!

C. Abraham was tempted in this sense.

 Another case in point. This throws a lot folks off; Gen 22:1  And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

Gen 22 is where God asks Abraham to take his son Isaac and offer him up as a sacrifice. Now with the help of the NT we know that that God does not tempt man in the negative sense to bring him to sin; James 1:12-15, we just read it. God didn’t want Isaac’s death, no. Yet, God was testing Abraham’s faith, that none would come between Abraham and God, not even Isaac.

 God was testing the faith of those Christians that Peter wrote too. God was testing the faith of his servant Abraham. Why should we entertain the thought that our faith will never be put to the test?  Why should we think that we are exempt from the tests of faith? The fact is we aren’t. A lot of the things that we content with on a daily basis in our lives are not signs that God has left us, or that God doesn’t love us; but they just might be the ways and means that God is using to test our faith! 

I’m certain of two things; if there’s any faith in us to test, it will be put to the test. If we aren’t truly saved; then we have nothing to test, in the first place. And secondly, unless you pass the test of faith that’s put before you won’t progress to the next level with God. I.e. you failed the test. Then you have keep taking the test until you pass it, God won’t take away the test until you wise up and pass it.

Unless you are content to stay in the same grade year after year while others pass the test and pass you by, then the next three messages from Philemon won’t matter to you. But if you go to the next grade so to speak with God, then pay close attention.

II. What were the tests of faith that we are going to see in the book of Philemon?

Since we see the difference between temptations to sin and tests of faith, what exactly was happening in this little letter?

A. Philemon

Well for starters, there was an older established Christian, named Philemon that had been seriously wronged. He was a friend of the Apostle, he had a church in his own home, he had some means of wealth, he owned slaves, his son was his own pastor. Yet He was stolen from by his slave, and then his slave ran away. He was genuinely wronged by someone else.

No one likes to be wronged by someone else, whatever century you live in. However God was allowed this to happen to Philemon to test Philemon’s maturity as a believer that he could apply what he has learned from God to this situation instead of claiming his legal right of killing a runaway slave. And no questions would ever be asked. It was a test to see if Philemon could deny himself his legal right for the sake of his faith in God!

That’s a big, big test in the Christian life. Being able to deny yourself what you have every right under man to have. But Jesus has said, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matthew 16:24 

That’s a test a lot of Christians fail. But Philemon is faced with it. What will he do?

B. Onesimus

Onesimus was Philemon’s runaway slave. He had ran away as a slave and by the providence of God he became saved by the influence of none other that the Apostle Paul himself! Now he’s happy, he’s glad about having his sins forgiven a home in heaven, but as a new Christian he’s faced with the thought of going back to his wronged master and making things right! Why? Because now he right with God, and at least Paul knows Onesimus should be right with man, especially now as a brother in Christ! 

Onesimus’ newly found faith is being tested for its sincerity. He stands for all those young believers that have had to go to someone else and humble themselves and be willing to take whatever the consequences are to make things right.  How far to you go to make sure things are right with your brother or sister in the faith? Do you go so far as to humble yourself before another and say, I sorry, I deserve what ever I get?

What a test for a new Christians to face! To admit that you were in the wrong and be willing to take the consequences. That’s his test of his faith.

C. Paul

Paul as the older, maturer believer sees all this happening between his friends. He decides to get involved. He decides that someone must stand for the God’s truth. He could lose his old friend Philemon, while send a young man to his certain death, or just do what all Christians have done and is still doing; nothing! Don’t stand for God, it’s not worth it. Paul must have seen this as a test to his faith because after all it was him that God used to write: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28  Paul was taking a stand for the truth of God!


Before we end all these talks, hopefully you will find someone that parallels your situation. Hopefully you will see something in the lives of these persons involved to give you reason to hope while your undergoing your test of maturity. God wants to see if there’s maturity in our lives and if its there then situations like this will certainly reveal it, but if not it will create the need for it.

I hope you look forward to our time together, I do.

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