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From Useless, to Useful (Philemon 1:10-12)
– This is one of the Apostle Paul’s “prison letters”, he wrote while he was imprisoned in Rome.
– Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon.
– The other 3 were written to all the believers in a particular city. This one was written specifically to one man, and his small house church.
– Philemon is a respected spiritual leader in the city of Colossae. He is known for his loving kindness.
– Onesimus was Philemon’s slave, who had run away. (Slavery was wide-spread in the Romans world. This in no way justifies it as right, anymore than incest, etc.. in the Old Testament.)
– This letter reads like a compliment sandwich. (Praise him, critical feedback, praise him.)
– Example: Just like when any boss wants to correct you! 1. Quick hello, and small talk. 2. Compliment. 3. Correction or critical feedback. 4. End with positive encouragement.
– Paul writes this letter to Philemon with specific feedback that he wants to deliver to him.
1. Useless becomes Useful when the Holy Spirit enters the picture.
– Onensimus was a runaway slave. The punishment if he was caught was beatings or even death!
– What did he do to Philemon? Why would he risk the punishment of running?
– The scripture says he was useless to him. He added no value to Philemon’s life.
– Onesimus ends up in a Roman prison and is saved, because Paul shared the gospel with him.
– Onesimus means “useful”, and he is finally living up to his name. (Play on words in v. 11)
– In Col. 4:9, Paul now describes Onesimus as, “A faithful and beloved brother.”
– Forgiven and free in Christ, but not free of the worldly consequence of your actions. Your bad behavior ruins relationships, closes doors, possibly ends in punishment.
– Example: Baptism scene from “O Brother Where Art Thou”. Delmar baptized…
Delmar: The preacher says all my sins is warshed away, including that Piggly Wiggly I knocked over in Yazoo.
Everett: I thought you said you was innocent of those charges?
Delmar: Well I was lyin’. And the preacher says that that sin’s been warshed away too. Neither God nor man’s got nothin’ on me now. C’mon in boys, the water is fine.
(Pete runs into the water to be baptized too, Everett criticizes them)
Pete: The preacher said it absolved us! Everett: Yeah, for him, NOT from the law!
– The world’s trash has become God’s treasure! Useless, has become Useful after salvation.
2. God can change THEM, but you have to let Him change YOU too!
– Philemon was wronged and betrayed by Onesimus. He has every right to punish him, and be made whole. The law is on his side. It’s natural that he wants what is right.
– Humans need to “be right”. It’s in our nature.
Example: Time Magazine Marriage Study, “Is it better to be happy, or right?” Husband secretly agrees with everything wife says, even if he really doesn’t. He ends up miserable, and she doesn’t end up much happier either.
“The researchers concluded, shockingly, that humans need to be right and acknowledged as right, at least some of the time, to be happy. In politics, people often note that there can be no peace without justice, and that’s true of the domestic sphere as well.”
– I’m not suggesting that you give up all your convictions, or never disagree with anyone. (Unhappy)
– I’m saying that you should care more about the relationship, and the outcome, than you care about what’s fair, and the need for others to validate your “right-ness”.
– Easy example: Pedestrian right-of-way vs getting hit by a car. (Think of spiritual metaphor.)
– Through Jesus Christ you can “give up being right”, and overcome your human nature.
– Eph. 4:23-24, Let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God, truly righteous and holy.
– Learn to let some stuff go! If it’s not growing the Kingdom, it’s probably not worth what the fight will cost you.
– Paul wants Philemon to forgive Onesimus and show him grace, because he, himself, has been shown grace by the Lord.
– Paul tells him he could demand it, but he wants him to choose it.
– (Read) Philemon 1:13-14
– God won’t force us to change, but he will give us the ability through His Spirit.
– God can transform attitudes and relationships. He can change the very nature of a man.
– Onesimus was a law breaker, a sneak, and a slave, BUT through grace and forgiveness he has become so much more.
– He is now a faithful servant, a beloved brother, and minister of the gospel.
3. Pruning today produces fruit tomorrow.
– Giving up something hurts. Philemon had to give up being right, and give up what he was owed.
– His sacrifice of obedience may have only seemed to effect him, but it moved the whole Kingdom!
– The Bible doesn’t say what Philemon did when Onesimus returned to Colossae, or talk about how Onesimus’s life turned out, BUT maybe we can know through another source?
– Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, martyred for Christ, and Catholic Saint.
– From “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians”: I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop.
– Could this be the very same Onesimus?! High praise, from such humble beginnings!
– 50 years later he is a prominent church leader and Bishop to the providence of Asia.
– Where he started, did NOT determine where God could take him!
– Imagine the GREAT impact on the Kingdom of God because of 3 small things:
1. Paul shared the gospel with Onesimus.
2. Philemon forgave him, and allowed him to be a new man in Christ Jesus.
3. Onesimus was obedient to the calling God had for his life.
Redemption. Reconciliation. Obedience.
– From Slave to Saint. From Useless to Useful. From Trash to Treasure. All through the power of the Holy Spirit, and forgiveness.
– Your actions today will affect The Kingdom tomorrow:
– What if Philemon wouldn’t forgive, and had to “be right”?
– What if he demanded what was owed to him?
– Sandwiched between the bookends of “loving encouragement”, sits the constructive feedback that the Apostle Paul is telling Philemon:
– Philemon 1:6, And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.
“Stop looking for what you are owed, and start looking at what you already have, in Christ Jesus.”
– Prayer –