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Faithlife

A Christian inspite of Everything

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            Last time we were together we started thinking along the lines of the tests that come to our faith. These tests come not to destroy our faith but to help strengthen and mature our faith. Just as anything of value is tested to prove its worth so is our faith tested to prove its worth! Remember what Peter said to those first century Christians about their faith? 1Pe 1:6-8  “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: Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

Peter said that their faith was being tested and if it passed the test would be even more costly, more precious, more valuable than gold!

When we come to this little letter of Philemon their was some serious testing going on. Tonight we are going to look at the first principle character in this letter; Philemon and hopefully see just how his faith was tested so that we can be forewarned when our faith is put to the test just as his was.

Philemon was an inhabitant of Colosse, and apparently a person of some note among the citizens (Col. 4:9; Philemon 1:2). He was brought to a knowledge of the gospel through the instrumentality of Paul (v19), and held a prominent place in the Christian community for his piety and beneficence (v4–7). He is called in the epistle a “fellow-labourer,” and therefore probably held some office in the church at Colosse; at all events, the title denotes that he took part in the work of spreading a knowledge of the gospel.[1]  Philemon must have been a man of some means for two reasons; (1) because their was a church (probably the church he attended) meeting in his own house v2. (2) Philemon owned slaves. Chances were greater in the first century that you could have been a slave rather than being the slave owner; unless you were well above the poverty line like is assumed about Philemon. Notice also whom Paul greets, v2 And to our beloved Apphia[2], and Archippus[3] our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house…” Apphia is a feminine name, most likely this was Philemon’s wife and Archippus must have been Philemon’s son who was engaged in some kind of ministry work because Paul honors him with the title ‘fellowsoldier’. A fellow solider in this war against the devil. Archippus is mentioned again in Col. 4:17 where Paul says, “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” Then add to all this that Philemon was on a first name basis with the Apostle Paul!  Paul was appealing on the basis of their friendship. This letter would mean nothing to Philemon if Paul, was just a missionary that came by once in a while. There was more there, there was a friendship between these two men.

What does all this say about Philemon as a husband, a father, business man, friend, a Christian? Well I think it is safe to say that Philemon is not the ordinary man or ordinary Christian. He was lead to the Lord by Paul himself. Then to have your whole family in church, your wife and your own son also engaged in ministry is to say that Philemon and his walk with God was pretty well above average. He loved the Lord and was not ashamed to lead and guide his family in the ways that would please God! Obviously Philemon didn’t call his son into the ministry; God evidently did. But Philemon didn’t discourage it or hinder it, or think of the ministry as a waste of time and life as so many dads do when their sons are called into the ministry. Maybe even Philemon was proud that God did call his son to be apart of something greater than anything that Philemon could offer his son. I have friends that even though they have been in the ministry for years now, some of their families still think that they are wasting their time and lives.

We need to understand that God doesn’t call men to serve him because they can do nothing else in this world; no! God calls men to serve him, whom God knows will give and do their utmost best and even die for him if need be. This idea that God only calls the lazy, the ignorant, the stupid, rejects of men to be his preachers, just because they can do nothing else with themselves is a lie some bitter Christian thought up to make themselves feel better.

In fact, to be God’s man is the highest office in the land even higher than the president’s in God’s eyes. And it really says something about a parent when God calls a son into the ministry who has seen the good side of Christians enough to know that there is reality to being a Christian.

            When I read about Philemon I don’t sense a man that despises God for taking away his son from him, but is glad that his son could used for God’s glory. Philemon was a loving father, a devoted husband, a valued friend, but above all this he was a Christian.

            But with all this going for him; he was not exempt from a test of his faith. And a big test at that. Apparently, while in the midst of serving and loving God, he was subjected to a test within his own house. Onesimus; an evident slave of his had stolen something from him and then ran away!

Philemon was wronged by another! Now that may not mean anything to us, but just think of the last time you were wronged by another person. Maybe you were stolen from, maybe someone close lied to you or lied about you to another. Maybe someone didn’t pay you back, after it hurt you to help them in the first place. Or just maybe someone did or took something that was so small offence in their eyes that just treating it as nothing, made you even hotter! Or maybe they hurt you and they didn’t even know it.

But we all can relate to Philemon because we have all be on the receiving end of hurt! We know how it feels and it doesn’t feel nice, we don’t want to talk about it, we just want to forget it and move on. We take our lumps and that’s that.

But then it happens again and again and again, people all around us seem want to do nothing else but to hurt us! That’s what we think and feel like. What do we do? Just forget about it, run and hide away somewhere we think we won’t every be hurt again?  Or do we realize that is test of our faith; if we react right as we should then we pass the test for now; but if we ignore it and run from it; then we will have the same kind of test to face later. Names and places will be different but the test will be all the same.

We have to learn what Philemon was forced to learn; that we have to be a Christian in spite of everything we face, even when we are genuinely hurt, even when it’s the other person’s fault.

 

If we are to be a Christian in spite of everything;

I. We must learn to deny ourselves what we have every right too.

There’s that dirty little word again deny. Jesus said If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Matt.16:24  

The word deny means to disavow, to disown, to reject, to refuse responsibility for and so on. Jesus says that you are going to have to learn to refuse, to reject, to disown, and to disavow what was previously your own. And when we are genuinely wronged by another the one thing that we feel we have every right too, is to get even. Justice, fairness, evenhandedness, impartiality call it what you will, but it is based on the idea that we are owed something when we are wronged.  This is a great lesson that is not easily learned that sometimes to be closer to God means we are going to have deny our rights that are due us. Sometimes that’s the lesson that God has put before us. We need not think that we are doing something other Christians haven’t. There have been some greatly used men of God that have learn this lesson too.

A. Nehemiah     Neh 5:15 

But the former governors that had been before me were chargeable[4] unto the people, and had taken of them bread and wine, beside forty shekels of silver; yea, even their servants bare rule over the people: but so did not I, because of the fear of God.

Nehemiah is saying that the other governors before him took what was legally theirs under law. The people were financially responsible in a sense to bring their money, food etc to the governor so he could eat and work for the people.

But Nehemiah denied himself this right! So to speed up their building project.

B. Paul 

Paul denied himself regularly to perform his ministry.

He had every right to have a wife, Paul had every right to expect to be taken care of financially but he denied himself these things.

 

1Co 9:5-6 Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas[5]? (Peter was married, Paul is saying there’s nothing saying I can’t have a wife too, but he denied himself this right)

Or I only and Barnabas, have not we power to forbear working? (Paul was saying that he had every right to expect the church to take care of him financially, he had nothing to be ashamed of to be supported by the church)

In fact, Paul confesses that because he didn’t let then take care of him financially; was to their hurt as a church.

2 Cor 11:7-9  Have I committed an offence in abasing myself that ye might be exalted, because I have preached to you the gospel of God freely?

I robbed other churches, taking wages of them, to do you service.

And when I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied(church at Philippi) and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself.

2Co 12:12-13  Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.

Paul confesses that he was wrong to take love offerings from other churches to pastor them! Why? Because it is a good sign of maturity in a church that they recognize and accept the fact that they are responsible for the support of their own pastor. Paul never gave them the opportunity to show that they could support him; because he came with his own support. Its down right wrong and unethical to have a man and his family strung along financially when the church has not the means nor the intentions to say, “we just can’t afford you brother” and let him move on to a church that can. I had a friend pastoring in North Texas at a small church. They called him, took him and his family warmly. Then after months the church couldn’t pay him his salary and because they were unethical and lacked the honesty they didn’t pay him for six months. They paid every other bill, except their pastor’s salary. He stayed around doing what he could to pay his bills but it was never what he needed. So ultimately he left, he had too. There’s just so much credit a person has. He’s not pastoring anymore, because he’s trying to dig himself out of the debit he created while pastoring them! Was that the best thing for him to do? I don’t know. I not him. But it is unchristian and unethical to let the pastor or any man for that matter come to the point that he has to buy food for his family on credit! If a church can’t support a pastor and his family then they don’t need one. They need someone else to fill in.

Paul was saying that he had the right to expect the church to take care of him, instead of him having to work, but he denied this right which later he said was wrong for him to do.

Philemon was facing the rights he had as a slave owner verses the command of the lord to deny himself and follow Christ’s example. Which one would he follow, what the Lord wanted him to do or what the state allowed him to do? Yes, we have to follow the laws of the land, but there isn’t a law saying we can’t deny ourselves what is due us. Jesus had every right to be the king of the Jews, human as well as divine but he didn’t pull these out and use them, rather he submitted himself to his father’s will. 

If we are to be a Christian in spite of everything;

II. We must not avenge ourselves when we are wronged.

Rom 12:19  Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.

What is the natural reaction when someone has wronged you? To fight back, to avenge yourself right? But we are told that the Christian must not play God and try to avenge ourselves when we are wronged. Returning evil for evil, or good for good, is the way most people live. Lost folks think that is just normal. But the Christian must live on a higher level and return good for evil. We must give place to “the wrath”— i.e. the wrath of God (Deut. 32:35). Paul quotes from the OT to show that God’s justice is certain and sure![6]

I.e. we are to withhold what comes naturally to us, which it to fight back and give God some room to work his wrath. I have a friend that thinks if you defend yourself, then the Lord can’t defend you. Leave it in His hands. My friend followed that wise counsel, and the Lord vindicated him.

We see a beautiful illustration of this NT truth in the OT story of David and King Saul. Remember Saul was hunting down David for some number of years and twice the bible says that David had a chance to kill Saul; to avenge himself; to defend himself and rid himself of Saul forever. That seemed right didn’t it? After all, David was God’s choice for king not Saul.

But remember what David did? Twice David stayed his hand and those that were with him from killing Saul. He waited on God to defend him! God took care of Saul in his own time. David gave place to God’s wrath concerning Saul. David remained peaceable, clam, and in God’s will.

Someone once said that the wheels of God’s justice move very slow, but grind exceedingly fine!  Just as in the case of Saul and just maybe in our cases as well.

If we are to be a Christian in spite of everything;

III. We must exercise our Faith in God’s plan for our lives.

There’s an acute sense of loneliness when we are wronged by someone else. We feel that no one knows what we are going through; no one sees us, no one understands our perspective; no one comes to our help, we’re all alone! That all maybe true in the physical sense, but that is not ture with God! Did you know that there’s nothing that can happen to us, without God knowing about it and allowing it. Even when we are wronged by another; God fully knows. When you think about your wrong that way; (that God knew this was going to happen to me) then that should lead us to exercise our faith that God is using this no matter how bad and hurtful it is to work his overall will in ourlives. It takes faith to believe that “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.” That verse doesn’t make sense without first faith in God!

Do you really believe that God has your best interests at heart? Do really believe that he loves you and wants to see his blessings in your life? If you find that hard to believe then that’s where your faith is at! The bible never says we have to have perfect faith in him, but we must have some faith that God can use this hurtful thing to work for his glory and our good!  For us not to totally lose it, we must exercise our faith in God’s plan for ourlives.

Closing:

Philemon stands for all Christians who have ever been wronged by someone else. Maybe you have seen your case in Philemon’s tonight. Just as Philemon was faced with a choice we are too. To keep his testimony in spite of being wronged or just go with the flow of his natural emotions? But if he saw this as a test of faith; then he chose to do these things that we have mentioned tonight.

But what about us? When we are wronged and some else is seriously at fault what choice do we make? Do we look at it with the perspective that this is just testing my faith as a Christian and we decide to pass it or do we fail it? Or do we do what comes naturally?  

But I do know this. That if you are faced with a test like this, then you should try to pass it. Otherwise, you will have to repeat it over and over again. The names and places will change, but what God wants to see from you will still be expected. He’s not trying to destroy your faith only to strengthen it. To be a Christian in spite of everything!


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[1]Easton, M. (1996, c1897). Easton's Bible dictionary. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[2] Philemon’s wife

[3] Philemon’s son

[4] means that they “laid heavy burdens upon the people”

[5] Cephas was Peter’s name in Aramaic.

[6]Wiersbe, W. W. (1996, c1989). The Bible exposition commentary. "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt. (Ro 12:17). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.

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