Philemon 1:4 I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6 and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ
Paul says in verse 5, “I hear of your love and the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” Paul is basically complementing Philemon. I hear that you are doing great. I hear that you are excellent.
But how did Paul know that? When he was writing this letter, he was under house arrest in Rome. He didn’t have much access to the outside world. But what happened? Onesimus, a slave, ran away and came to Paul in Rome.
He even stole money away from his master Philemon and ran away. He came to Paul. What do you think Onesimus told Paul about Philemon?
Good things or bad things? Paul is saying he hears of all these great things about Philemon. He had to hear these things from Onesimus, right?
Most likely, Onesimus told bad things about Philemon to Paul than good things. If all was good, he would not have run away. But Paul is amazing. The apostle doesn’t start out his letter with rebuke. Rather, he says you did well. There is so much we must learn from Paul.
But anyways, Paul knows there were problems. Big problems between Philemon and Onesimus. Could Onesimus have said something like this?
“Apostle Paul, listen to my sad story. That Philemon you trust so much, he is no good. I thought he was a Christian but, oh my, let me tell you what he did.”
When we live alone, there is no conflict, right? But when we work and live around others, it’s hard not to go thru disagreements, problems and conflicts.
Today marks 50th year when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. 50 years ago, the atmosphere was very different in this country. People lived in the same country but they were very divided.
On the night before his death, Dr. King gave a speech to sanitation workers who were on strike. They were working in a very bad condition, getting very low pay, and some were even getting killed at work place. Many of the workers were African American. Racism played a part in discriminating too. So they began a strike by not going to work and organizing protest. Dr. King was delivering a speech to the workers gathered in Memphis, 50 years ago, yesterday.
It was almost prophetic when he said in his speech, “Like anybody, I would like to live a long life, but I’m not concerned with that now. I just want to do God’s will and he’s allowed me to go up to the mountain and I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.”
The very next day, which is 50 years from today, he was killed.
Racism. One group of people regarding themselves better than the other. This is sin. And we still see that today, everywhere. Was there racism involved with Philemon and Onesimus? I don’t know. It’s hard to say. The Bible doesn’t give us the detail about that.
But what the Bible does say clearly, is that, we are all created in the image of God. What does that mean? That means we all have this dignity. We were all equally made in the image of God. Imago Dei. Apostle John said God is love. And we all are His children, made in His love. No matter who you are, where you are from, we all have this image of God in us.
That means, as much as I regard myself, my children precious and valuable, the person next to you and their children is also valuable and precious in God’s eyes. I can’t regard the other person as subhuman or less than me because they are not as educated, not as wealthy or not as faithful as I am. But the less fortunate they are, the farther they are away from God, the more we are taught to care for them in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 10:18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.
God cares for those who are in need. God cares for those who are farther away. Think about what Jacob said to Esau his brother. He said he sees the face of God in Esau. The one who is farther away from God. Is that how we see things too?
We must think about how Philemon viewed Onesimus. Onesimus was a slave. Did Philemon viewed Onesimus as a brother?
Philemon lived in Ephesus. That’s somewhere in Modern day Turkey. Back then, only wealthy people owned slaves. Most likely Philemon was a wealthy Christian.
Philemon didn’t know Christ actually. But by God’s grace, he met Paul. And not only Paul brought the gospel to him but his whole family. They were saved through Paul preaching the gospel to them. So, Philemon was very grateful for the new life he received in Christ through Paul.
But just like every other Christians, Philmon must’ve struggled with his past sin. I’m not sure what sin it was. But whatever it was, that sin caused problem with Onesimus. What do you think his sin was?
Was Philemon too aggressive toward Onesimus? Or was it because he didn’t pay him well? Maybe, right? Or maybe Philemon pushed Onesimus to work too hard? No one knows.
Or maybe Onesimus was just tired. Maybe he wanted to take a break and do something else than living a life of slave. Maybe he didn’t like Philemon’s management style.
Or what about this? Maybe Onesimus felt Philemon was so fake. A big fake Christian and he saw no future living under his household.
but anyways, whatever the reason, the conclusion is, he ran away.
Isn’t this what we do also? When things get too difficult, too unbearable, many of us think about running away. And some of us really do run away.
But running away is not going to solve anything.
Few years ago, I was thinking about running away. And then, one person told me something really amazing. I had a conflict with a member and I was thinking about moving away.
But then, this person said, I will find someone just like that person even though I move to another city. That shocked me. Because in a way, I can see he is right.
It’s not just his or her problem. But there is a problem in me too. And the problem in me is causing the conflict. So unless I deal with what is wrong with me, sooner or later, I will once again get into the same conflict with someone else at somewhere else.
Psalm 126:5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
The Bible tells us to sow with tears. It’s true. If I have an enemy, I’m supposed to sow love with tears. Pray for that person, do good to them, have faith in them and embrace them although it feels like sowing with tears.
When I sow love with tears, then not only I change, but also the other person change too. If I embrace the one who gives pain to me with faith, hope and love, rather than anger, hatred and bitterness, a day will come when I reap with songs of joy. This could be true in marriage, in ministry or even for parents to their children.
But let me make this point. That doesn’t mean we should always embrace the problems and try to deal the problem or problematic person with patience and love.
For example, news about sexual harassment is everywhere nowadays. There are times when you must speak out. Expose to stop it. There are moments when firm actions are needed.
Racism, too. Firm actions were needed. That’s what Dr. King did. One of the person who influenced Dr. King was a famous theologian named ‘Reinhold Niebuhr.’
He was famous for taking firm and strong action although a Christian. When many Christians were against entering WWII, because Christians must not kill, right? but Niebuhr asserted U.S. must enter the war. And he provided theological support for why it is justifiable for Christians to engage in warfare. It was called Christian realism and just war theory.
One of his famous quote says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
This is what we really need even today. To accept the things I cannot change and to be able to have peace about it. Yet, if these are things I can change to make things better, then to do with with courage to make the needed change. But above all, to have the wisdom to know the difference between the things I cannot change and I can change, so I don’t waste time and energy to try to change things that can’t change, or be a coward and loser by not changing the things I have the power to change. Reminds me of the movie, Saving Private Ryan, the scene when the guy could have saved his friend but didn’t.
Sadly, many of us don’t have the wisdom to distinguish the two. What we can and cannot change.
The Bible says, fear of God is the beginning of the wisdom. But we don’t have the fear of God.
In Romans 3, Paul says in verse 18, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” This is how, we, sinful men are like.
In our sinfulness, we don’t have fear of God. So we lack wisdom. So we can’t accept the things we cannot change with peace. But we foolishly try to change things our own way. What can only be done with God’s grace, we try to change it thru politics and humanly ways.
But on top of that, we run away from things we can change, we have power to change and we must change. Because we have no courage. We are afraid to try. We don’t have faith in God.
I see this in my failure of making true peace and reconciliation with others. I really lack courage to love again after I get hurt. So I stay away or do the minimum I can to keep the relationship going. But I know in my heart, many times, I’m not being sincere.
During the North America mission conference, pastor said how in the secular world, people make peace very easily even though they fight. They just go to a local bar and drink a pint of beer. After few drinks, they reconcile. They get drunk together and then just let go of their grudges and hate.
But then, he asked what about Christians? We Christians, we know the Bible so well. We see the others’ weaknesses and sin really well. And so we don’t easily forgive. We hold on to the grudges. Pastor said he saw a church with a billboard that had a question printed, “Is our faith not even worth a pint of beer?” Actually the example he used was Korean rice alcohol.
Christians can be so hypocritical. The difference is who can fake better. We smile and we hid. But inside, we are horrible. We remember what others did wrong to me and we don’t easily forgive. It’s worse than secular people. Secular people, few pint of beers will do. But not for us.
Few days ago, I was supposed to celebrate this special day with someone; but I ended up getting into a fight with that person. Then I realized, it was a special day for us.
Sinners life is quite hopeless. It almost feels like death. Darkness. Where I am powerless. I can’t do anything, I have no courage, and I have no wisdom. I’m a failure.
And that’s where Christ came. For you and for me. He didn’t come to us at the moment of our best performance and best behavior. But in the most hopeless moment and place, we call it the cross, the moment and the place where mankind utterly failed, God brought us new life thru Jesus Christ.
Putting the son of God to death on the cross, that meant death for the whole wide world. We crucified our only hope. We sealed our faith for eternal death. But God turned our evil to bring His good. Life to all mankind.
That’s what Paul says at the end of Romans 4. Jesus was delivered to death for our sin, and was raised to life for our justification.
He put the darkest of all our sin upon himself, and died on the cross. Then where we failed most misraebly, there he brought us the new life. He charged all our sins upon himself, and through his suffering, his tears of blood he sowed, He brought us joy and eternal life.
Philemon 1:17 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.
Look at Paul and what he says. Is this not that same Saul who killed Christians and put many in jail while he was filled with hate? Where is that hateful Saul?
But who do we see here? A different man. His heart is overflowing with love and grace. He is even willing to pay for what Onesimus did.
Where did this love come from? Paul received it from God, through Jesus Christ. His sins were removed, he received salvation freely, and now Paul is willing to give the same love he received to others.
So, we ended 3 months of 2018. We celebrated Easter. We have Pentecost ahead of us. But let’s look at ourselves now. Are we changed? Do we know the meaning of the cross? Do we know the meaning of God’s love thru the cross of Jesus?
Because knowing that love will change us. We can’t live the same anymore after knowing that love. I’m born an Asian. And my hair comes out black. I can’t change that. Once born as Asian, my hair will be black.
Same thing. Once we are born again in Christ, we can’t help but love as Christ loved us. We can’t help it. We will live His love. Jesus’ love. Just like Paul did. It’s inevitable. We will want to give that same love to others. That’s the life for those who are saved.
Is your life living that love? Are you loving others as Jesus loved you? If not, then have faith in Jesus. Open your heart and receive his love he gave you when you deserved the least. Receive it with faith. Faith is the channel way to receive His love, his grace that saves us. So receive that gift. It’s available for you freely.
But you are Christian. And are you still having hard time forgiving and living the life of love? Then don’t worry. Keep growing closer to God thru Jesus. Pray and ask for God’s help. Then the Holy Spirit will come. Whoever calls on His name, the Holy Spirit will come and save. He will change you.
And that’s Pentecost. The Holy Spirit will come and teach us of God’s love and change us so that we can begin to live the life of love shown and given us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s pray.
Father God, let us follow your son Jesus out of abundance of love you give us by the Holy Spirit. In Jesus name, amen.