Faith That Prepares
I pray that you all had a blessed Easter weekend and that each of you took time, not just while you were in church but on your own, to reflect on the power of the resurrection and what that actually means in your life.
What does it mean to live in the power of the resurrection?
What was the point of the resurrection?
The immediate point and purpose was to conquer death - but was there a greater purpose for Christ’s resurrection?
How should this fact impact our daily lives? Do you recognize that it is a fact? Do you still recognize it as the most amazing, awesome act in human history?
Or has the resurrection, like many things in the Bible often can, become just one more event that we look at with familiarity but don’t really see it?
As a young man, I lived in western upstate New York. We lived really close to Niagara Falls so whenever visitors would come we would always take them up to see the Falls. After a while it just became routine for me - millions of gallons of water cascading over the same cliffs - but for them it was magical and majestic.
Has the resurrection just become commonplace - something that we celebrate to be sure - but maybe with a little less luster than we did as new believers?
Keith and Krysten Getty have a song called “Don’t Let Me Lose My Wonder” - and I wonder if maybe some of us have lost our wonder at what has been accomplished for us.
We look at our world today and are tempted to be mesmerized by the depravity and seeming lack of hope and then our familiarity with the events that should spur us to greater hope and confidence don’t anymore.
We may have lost our wonder at the cross and the resurrection.
The things we profess to believe are of such a nature that we cannot be lukewarm without practically denying them. Better be cold, be frozen. Better abandon all profession of interest in sacred things than to pretend to believe them and sing about them, and yet be lukewarm. We work far more harm to our age by tepid character than by open denial of Christ.
G. Campbell Morgan
I was humbled this past weekend when one of you came up to me and mentioned that I spend a lot of time emphasizing the cross and don’t really emphasize the resurrection.
One of the reasons is that I see both events as two sides of the same coin - that by speaking of the cross I mean the entire event - the crucifixion and resurrection together
Another is that the cross is the main event - the place where sin was expiated
But as I mulled it over I realized that there was truth in your statement - that without the resurrection the cross just provides one more dead leader of a religious system and so we should highlight and have hope in both the cross and the resurrection.
I’m sure you’re wondering what does this have to do with the last five verses of Philemon?
Well it’s safe to say that Paul never suffered from this malady - for him the cross and resurrection were his source of confidence and his optimistic outlook on life even while chained to a Roman soldier on house arrest
Paul has written this letter to Philemon as a way to smooth reunification with his runaway slave Onesimus. So far we’ve seen Paul highlight Philemon’s character as one who had a faith that refreshes. Then we looked at the power of a faith that forgives. Tonight we’re going to see Paul shift his focus to a faith that prepares. We’re going to see Paul’s confidence in verse 21, Paul’s optimism in verse 22, Paul’s community in verses 23 and 24 and then we’ll see the reason for each of these in verse 25.
Open your Bibles with me to Philemon and we’ll read verses 21-25.
Read Philemon 21-25
Philemon 21; Philemon 4-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 4:1-3; Galatians 5:10; Philippians 1:6; 2 Timothy 1:12
Paul doesn’t mince words with Philemon - he just says that I am confident that you’re going to be obedient to what I’ve requested of you
Paul bases his confidence in Philemon on two levels - the first is Philemon’s proven Godly character and the second is Philemon’s Godly submission - which really is more about the source of Philemon’s strength than it is about Philemon’s submission
Philemon’s Godly Character
Philemon’s Godly Character
Paul has already highlighted Philemon’s character in this letter
In verses 4-7 he commends Philemon for his love and care for the saints
I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake. For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.
Philemon’s growth as a Christian reveals the Godly character that is being developed in him
Conduct is what we do; character is what we are. Conduct is the outward life. Character is the life unseen, hidden within, yet evidenced by that which is seen. Conduct is external, seen from without; character is internal—operating within. In the economy of grace, conduct is the offspring of character. Character is the state of the heart, conduct its outward expression. Character is the root of the tree, conduct, the fruit it bears.
E. M. Bounds
Philemon’s conduct toward the saints and even here in his forgiveness of Onesimus’ sin against him reveals to all the genuineness of his conversion and the genuine character change that takes place within the Christian as a result of the Spirit’s work in his life
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Philemon has demonstrated a maturity that Paul knows he can count on to do what is right - without external intervention or oversight
Contrast this to the admonition in Philippians 4:1-3
In Philippi he has to enlist the outside help of the “true companion” to help these two women get along - now this is not to say that these women were not maturing because it takes a lot of faith in their maturity just to call them out by name - but whatever the situation was outside intervention was required to mitigate it
In Philemon’s case Paul is confident that no outside mediator would be necessary - and that would have been awkward as the elder in Colossae was most probably Philemon’s son Archippus
Can you imagine that meeting - Onesimus on one side of the table, Philemon on the other and Archippus
I think if it were me my chair would be scooted just a bit toward my dad’s side of the table
but here Paul merely assumes Philemon’s obedience will happen - a great testament to Philemon’s maturity
But there’s more to Paul’s confidence than simply confidence in the flesh of a man
Philemon’s Godly Submission
Philemon’s Godly Submission
Paul’s confidence is in the One who had grabbed hold of Philemon’s life and was daily sanctifying him
Paul’s confidence for the change or steadfastness of individual’s was always in Christ
In Galatians 5:10 Paul is writing to a church under attack by false teachers who were telling the church in Galatia that they had to submit to the Law in order to be Christians
Now here’s the interesting thing - and it’s something that we must grasp in each of our Christian lives - Christ did not come to abolish our responsibility to the Law
Hear me out here....Christ said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfill it
I am not saying that we should be keeping every law in Scripture - there are some that have been superceded by New Testament revelation
But it is the Word of God that determines which laws still apply and which don’t - not our own opinions or feelings
What Christ came to do was to redefine our relationship to God - so that we no longer define our relationship to God by keeping all the Laws that He commanded, but we define our relationship to God through our relationship to His Son
The false teachers in Galatia were attempting to define the Galatian’s relationship to God through Christ AND the Law…which is not the Gospel and is not Christianity
We do not define our relationship to God through either our keeping of the law or our freedom from the Law - through legalism or anti-nomianism - because either way we’re trying to define our relationship to God through the Law
We define our relationship to God through Christ
In Galatians 5:10 Paul writes
I have confidence in you in the Lord that you will adopt no other view; but the one who is disturbing you will bear his judgment, whoever he is.
What he is saying is that his confidence in the Galatians is not in their ability to keep the view that he had preached to them but instead it is in the power of the Holy Spirit working in them to help them keep the correct Gospel in view
He also understands the same Spirit that is at work in the Galatians is at work in Philemon to enable him to do what Paul has asked him to do
I am satisfied that the almighty power which sustains the stars in their orbits is equally necessary to carry me with safety, honor, and comfort through the smoothest day of my life.
It is almost ludicrous to think that we could do this in our flesh - even when unbelievers forgive it is almost always with strings attached
But Paul here not only has confidence that Philemon will forgive but that he will go beyond simple forgiveness and also have reconciliation and more than that that he will partner with Onesimus in ministry
Where does that belief come from - it comes from confidence in the One who effects these changes on our lives
For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.
For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.
The obvious question here is do I exhibit this kind of sanctification in my life that my character has been transformed and others can have confidence in my actions - that they will be Godly and edifying to the body?
We may not all receive grand commands or opportunities from a spiritual giant like Paul but in our church are we exhibiting this kind of spiritual growth that if it became necessary the request could be made with full confidence that whatever is asked would be carried out?
Philemon 22; 2 Corinthians 11:28; Colossians 1:28; Galatians 4:19; Philippians 1:19;
Paul shifts gears quickly now telling Philemon to prepare a room for him
Paul’s plans had changed in prison. Originally his plans after visiting Rome had been to continue on to Spain to preach the Gospel there (Romans 15:24, 28) but it seems that now he intends to return to the churches he had planted and followup with them. A reason for this shift in plans can be found in the purposes of all three of the prison epistles.
Colossians, the epistle which would accompany this letter, was written to fortify it against false teachers who might try to impose strict rules about eating and drinking and religious festivals.
Philippians was written for many of the same reasons as well as to promote unity within that church.
Ephesians was written to demonstrate the beauty of God’s eternal plan for humanity. The last three chapters of that epistle demonstrate the practical implications of God’s plan for humanity in the church, families and individuals. It climaxes in the passage to take up the armor of God - you only need armor if you’re going into battle. So it was probably Paul’s intention to return to the churches to continue the work started by his letters to them - shoring up their faith in the face of persecution.
Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.
Paul’s deepest concern was for the sanctification of the people in the churches he had planted
This is the mandate of the pastor - to ensure that the people we preach to are delivered to God sanctified
We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you—
This is not to say that we are the Holy Spirit or that I can cause you to grow - but there is a tension in the pastor to see the people of Christ grow and develop - and it is this tension that drives Paul to write these letters and to travel back to see the saints that he “fathered” in the faith
There is also something subtle here - Paul lets Philemon know that he will be coming for a visit
Commenting on this verse J.B. Lightfoot wrote:
“there is a gentle compulsion in this mention of a personal visit to Colossae. The Apostle would thus be able to see for himself that Philemon had not disappointed his expectations”
This is not to say that Paul was contradicting himself - that in verse 21 he says that he is fully confident that Philemon will obey and then in verse 22 he thinks but just in case I’m going to threaten him with a visit that says you’d better do all that I’ve asked
We used to have a saying in the Navy - You can expect what you inspect
When I would send my Sailors out to do a job I was confident that they knew what was expected of them and knew that they would do the job - but I found that if they knew I was going to inspect that they did the job just a little bit better knowing that I was going to come through
Paul sincerely expects to be released from prison - but recognize that the agent of his release isn’t through political action or the benevolence of his captors - it is through the effective and fervent prayer of believers
I hope through your prayers I will be given to you
To the Philippians church Paul wrote
for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ,
Paul recognized that just as he was in prison for the glory of God and the furtherance of His Gospel, that he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus and that when His purposes had been fulfilled that Paul would be released to continue his ministry to the churches
In all our necessities, trials, and afflictions, there is no better nor safer remedy than prayer, and hope that God will provide for us in His own way.
John of the Cross
Two questions present themselves for us to consider
What does God want you to prepare for and are you preparing for the eventual task that He will have for you?
Are you praying for His preparation of your heart and spirit - and not just that - notice that Paul’s request isn’t for his emotional well being or his spiritual encouragement but for the physical preparation of a room for his use. We should also be praying not simply for the spiritual growth necessary to accomplish the tasks that God will set before us, but also for the physical means.
We must be like the farmer who knelt by his bed night after night and prayed for rain - but in the morning he would rise, go into his fields and plow and lay out row after row of seed - we must pray like the results depend on God and work like the results depend on us
But we cannot do this alone - notice that Paul starts the letter to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church in their home and he finishes it by detailing those who are with him. We are not meant to live our Christian lives in isolation - but in community.
It is striking to me that some of the greatest intellects in the history of the church suffered from depression
and Paul - just to mention a few
Seek out each day the presence of the saints, so that you may find comfort in their words. Do not strive after division, but bring peace to the ones who fight. Judge justly, do not show favoritism when bringing sins to light.
Paul recognized the importance of community in the life of a Christian
In every one of his letters he details those who are with him - in Romans there is a whole litany of people listed
A few things to note here - Paul is accepting of everyone
A couple of the names that are with him are interesting
First is Mark - also known John Mark - Barnabas’s cousin and former missionary partner with Paul
Early on his first missionary journey Mark left to go home so when Paul and Barnabas wanted to depart for their second journey Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them
But Paul refused and this resulted in a schism between Paul and Barnabas
Now though Mark is with him in Rome
Later in his ministry Paul will ask Timothy to collect Mark and bring him with him because he is useful to him for ministry
Another name that is with him goes the opposite direction
Dimas is listed in both Colossians and Philemon as being with Paul (which would make sense because the letters were sent together)
Later in 2 Timothy Paul says this “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica”
Paul never hid himself from anyone - he was open to all people
Community is something that is sorely lacking in our churches today
With all due respect to Paul Simon we are not rocks and we are not islands - but listen to what he says and ask is this a description of the church today?
I've built walls A fortress deep and mighty That none may penetrate I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain It's laughter and it's loving I disdain I am a rock I am an island
One reason for this is that our world has insulated us and allowed us to put on a happy face like everything is fine - we don’t even really have to interact with anyone if we choose not to. We can walk down the street with our headphones in and never talk to another person and then when we get home we “talk” to our virtual community which allows us to hide what is really happening with us
In his book Becoming a True Spiritual Community Larry Crabb writes this:
“Why is spiritual community so rare? I suspect it has to do with the requirement of brokenness. We’d much rather be impressively intact than broken. But only broken people share spiritual community”
Paul recognized that we cannot go through this life alone and more importantly that the spiritual life is one that is meant to be lived in community - and he sought to foster that with everyone he met.
The reason for this was the source of Paul’s ministry, mission and life - the Gospel
Conclusion - Paul’s Source
Conclusion - Paul’s Source