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Reading someone else's mail

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The appeal from the old man

This week, I came across some observations on Growing Older
- Your kids are becoming you...and you don’t like them ...but your grandchildren are perfect!
- Going out is good. Coming home is better!
- When people say you look "Great"... they add "for your age!"
- You forget names ... but it’s OK because other people forgot they even knew you!!!
- The 5 pounds you wanted to lose is now 15 and you have a better chance of losing your keys than the 15 pounds.
- You realize you’re never going to be really good at anything ... especially golf.
- Your husband sleeps better on a lounge chair with the TV blaring than he does in bed. It’s called his "pre-sleep".
- Remember when your mother said "Wear clean underwear in case you GET in an accident"? Now you bring clean underwear in case you HAVE an accident!
- You used to say, "I hope my kids GET married ... Now, "I hope they STAY married!"
- You miss the days when everything worked with just an "ON" and "OFF" switch.
- When GOOGLE, ipod, email, modem ... were unheard of, and a mouse was something that made you climb on a table.
- Now that you can afford expensive jewelry, it’s not safe to wear it anywhere.
- You read 100 pages into a book before you realize you’ve read it before.
- Now that your husband has retired ... you’d give anything if he’d find a job!
- You have 3 sizes of clothes in your closet .... 2 of which you will never wear.
This morning, we are going to look at one of the shortest books of the Bible, and one that we often overlook because the topic makes us uncomfortable. The book is the letter from Paul, who refers to himself as an old man, to Philemon. It makes us uncomfortable because the topic of slavery is an intricate part of the letter. Paul does nothing to discourage the practice of slavery as it was used in the first century in Rome which was very different than the practice of slavery in our country’s history.
The problem with this letter is that it was often used in the days of slavery to provide justification for slave owners in pre Civil War America. It was certainly a stretch to use this letter from the hand of Paul in this way, but we have to come to grips with our history that proves it was used to do so. While we would never use this letter to defend the practice of slavery today, we tend to stay away from this little book largely, I think, because of the issue of slavery.
We may also stay away from this letter because in some ways it feels like we are reading somebody else’s mail. It is a letter that is written to an individual, yes, but it is also intended for the church that met in his home. Let’s take a look at verses 1-21
Philemon 1–21 NIV
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— 2 also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 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. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. 8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
Paul refers to himself in this letter as an old man - most commentators say that at that time it would mean that he was maybe 60 years old. Isn’t it interesting how the word “old” changes the older you get?
Anyway, this “old man” has written this letter to appeal to his friend Philemon on behalf of his beloved friend and convert, Onesimus.
His appeal was based in love.
Love is a much greater motivator than demands. As an apostle in the early church, Paul claims that he could have commanded Philemon to do what he wanted him to do, but he did not demand, he appealed to the love that Philemon had for him and for God.
I found an interesting article in Forbes magazine from July of 2019 about love as a motivator in the workplace. The author said: As we know, organizations are obsessed with measurable performance and efficiency. But if managers want to motivate and keep their staff, they should appeal to their employees’ passion and desire, which is impossible to quantify. My research has found that many organizations fail to recognise the obvious fact that an organization is made up entirely of people. And the truth is, people are motivated by love.”
He then went to the Greek words for love, Eros, which is the word for romantic love, which, he, of course said was not appropriate in the workplace. He then talked about the Greek word for brotherly or friendship love which is the word Philia. He claimed that this was an important motivator. However, he went on to talk about agape love, which is selfless and pure. His claim was that this kind of love is the greatest motivator in the workplace. This kind of love, though is God’s love, and it lives within us as followers of Christ as we live out His love for the world around us.
It was to this kind of love that Paul appealed to Philemon to convince him to do something completely out of step with how a slave was typically treated.
2. His appeal was based on acceptance.
It was not necessarily the normal thing to accept someone like Onesimus, who Paul says had been useless to Philemon in the past. This contrast was a play on words in the Greek - the name Onesimus literally meant useful, but Paul says he had been useless in the past. Although we aren’t completely sure what Onesimus had done, he apparently had not been a very good slave for Philemon. Yet, Paul encourages Philemon to accept him in love.
The appeal here really is based on how God has related to each of us - He has accepted us into His kingdom, even though we all had been useless to Him and turned our backs on Him in the past.
ILL.- Max Lucado tells this story: When Lloyd Douglas, author of The Robe and other novels attended college, he lived in a boardinghouse. A retired, wheelchair-bound music professor resided on the first floor. Each morning Douglas would stick his head in the door of the teacher’s apartment and ask the same question, “Well, what’s the good news?”
The old man would pick up his tuning fork, tap it on the other side of the wheelchair, and say, “That’s middle C! It was middle C yesterday; it will be middle C tomorrow; it will be middle C a thousand years from now. The tenor sings flat. The piano across the hall is out of tune, but, my friend, that is middle C.”
Jesus is our “middle C”. He is the one to whom we owe our utmost allegiance, He has accepted us in all of our failures and with all of our faults, and we are to base our acceptance of others on His acceptance of us.
Finally, his appeal was to Philemon’s indebtedness.
Paul tells Philemon that if Onesimus owes him anything to place that on his tab. He takes the pen out of the hand of Timothy and says I am writing this with my own hand - I am writing an IOU. Put anything that Onesimus owes you to my account. Interestingly, though, he then claims that Philemon already owes him so much that he should just call it even.
If we can get past the obvious difficulty of Onesimus being a slave and Philemon being a slaveowner, we can see in this little book a description of what Christ has done for us. He loved us enough to come and live among us and offer Himself for us. He has accepted us in spite of our failures and sins. He has taken our sins upon Himself and given us our identity as “in Christ.” Paul’s appeal, as an old man in the faith is that Philemon needs to treat Onesimus in the same way that Jesus treated us.
That, my friends, is our calling to those around us. We are to treat others in the way that Jesus has treated us, with love, acceptance, and forgiveness.
The Communion Supper, instituted by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is a sacrament, which proclaims His life, His sufferings, His sacrificial death, and resurrection, and the hope of His coming again. It shows forth the Lord’s death until His return.
The Supper is a means of grace in which Christ is present by the Spirit. It is to be received in reverent appreciation and gratefulness for the work of Christ.
All those who are truly repentant, forsaking their sins, and believing in Christ for salvation are invited to participate in the death and resurrection of Christ. We come to the table that we may be renewed in life and salvation and be made one by the Spirit.
In unity with the Church, we confess our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. And so we pray:
The minister may offer a prayer of confession and supplication, concluding with the following prayer of consecration:
Holy God,
We gather at this, your table, in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, who by your Spirit was anointed to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, set at liberty those who are oppressed. Christ healed the sick, fed the hungry, ate with sinners, and established the new covenant for forgiveness of sins. We live in the hope of His coming again.
On the night in which He was betrayed, He took bread, gave thanks, broke the bread, gave it to His disciples, and said: “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”
Likewise, when the supper was over, He took the cup, gave thanks, gave it to His disciples, and said: “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in remembrance of me.” Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Matthew 26:27–29, Luke 22:19)
And so, we gather as the Body of Christ to offer ourselves to you in praise and thanksgiving. Pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on these your gifts. Make them by the power of your Spirit to be for us the body and blood of Christ, that we may be for the world the Body of Christ, redeemed by His blood.
By your Spirit make us one in Christ, one with each other, and one in the ministry of Christ to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, let us pray:
(Here the congregation may pray the Lord’s Prayer)
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Before the partaking of the bread, let the minister say:
The body of our Lord Jesus Christ, broken for you, preserve you blameless, unto everlasting life. Eat this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and be thankful.
Before the partaking of the cup, let the minister say:
The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, shed for you, preserve you blameless unto everlasting life. Drink this in remembrance that Christ died for you, and be thankful.
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