Interceding For Me
Continuing with our story; if you remember, Paul is in house arrest in Rome. He is chained to a guard 24 hours a day switching off every 6 hours with a new guard. He had preached in Ephesus and spent a long time there founding churches and leading many to Christ. That resulted in the Gospel being spread throughout the region and this included Colossae in Phrygia. One of the founders of that church was the recipient of our letter, Philemon.
We learned last week that he led a life worth emulating. As a saint, a follower of Christ, he showed his faithfulness through strong faith, love for the saints, and openly sharing his faith. But we also learned something else about Philemon, he was a man who had slaves as part of his household. Let’s spend just a minute talking about slavery in the Roman world. I told you last week that 1 in 3 people in Italy were slaves. I also told you that the Romans brought back conquered people and made them slaves. A majority of them were European. Slaves in the Roman world were considered the least of all in society. They were nothing more than chattel The slave in Roman society had no rights and no inherent worth. Though hailed as the birthplace of Democracy, one of the states of Greece, Attica, which was home to Athens, some have written that there were 4 slaves for every ONE citizen.
Most slaves worked in groups in fields, mines, or factories. Wealthy landowners in Italy were known to hold thousands upon thousands of slaves that could be will to their heirs. Yet slaves had NO rights. They were not even allowed the simple act of marriage. If the owner was predisposed, he may allow some to cohabitate, but not marriage. Usually a slave’s partner was assigned by drawing names. The slave was completely under the control of his Master who could dispose of him as he wished.
According to Lightfoot, for the least offense he could be scourged, mutilated, crucified, or thrown to wild beasts.
To give an idea of the severity, history tells us that a Roman Senator named, Penanius Secundus, was killed by one of his slaves in anger or jealousy. Because of this act by ONE of his slaves, EVERY slave in Secundus’ household was legally condemned to die. So, 400 slaves, human beings, were sentenced to die. Surprisingly, the local population rose up to save them causing Senate deliberation. One Senator, speaking in favor of the punishment, argued that because of the vast number of slaves from varied countries, the only possible way of control was with FEAR. The rest of the Senators agreed and the 400 slaves were executed for the action of one.
My point in sharing this is to show you the society and cultural norm to which Philemon was a part. Slavery was a part of society that Lightfoot observes “to prohibit slavery was to tear society into shreds.” He goes on to say, “nothing marks the divine character of the Gospel more than its perfect freedom from any appeal to the spirit of political revolution. It belongs to all time: and therefore, instead of attacking special abuses, it lays down universal principles which shall undermine the evil.”
But the Gospel IS concerned with the Salvation and Radical Transformation of ONE LIFE. That life, transformed multiplied by another transformed then WILL transform Society.
So it is into this world that we have Philemon and Onesimus. Now we have to surmise from scripture, but let me paint an authentic picture of what most like went down to bring about this letter.
Onesimus was sold into Philemon’s household as a slave. Some believe he may have been the son of nobility whose father was deposed and killed. Philemon became owner of Onesimus before he ever met Paul, heard the Gospel, and received Christ. I’m surehe became a better man, and thus a better master, but there was still the matter of slave and Master. Onesimus must have shown himself faithful because he gained access to Philemon’s funds. Perhaps he ran the household of Philemon. But being the property of another is never an enviable state no matter the goodness of the master.
Paul had encouraged those in both stations
1 Cor 7:21-24 - Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
But Onesimus, though I’m sure he heard the gospel, had not received it.
So, somewhere, somehow, he planned his escape. He stole money from Philemon and he ran off. If you are going to run away as a slave, where will you be safest? Where can you get lost, if not Metropolis Rome? A city of nearly a million. It was a city with 400,000 slaves, by some estimates. But the slabves for the most part looked just like everyone else. He could get lost there. And so there he went. But God knew where Onesimus was and God had a plan.
How he came to Paul, we are left to wonder. Die he stumble down his treet and hear Paul preaching or teaching from his house of detention? Die he, perhaps, begin to feel guilty for what he had done, hear that Paul was there and seek him out? I do not know but it is reasonable to imagine that as a trusted slave he would have accompanied Philemon to ephsesus. He had probably heard Paul preach the gospel but had not yet received it himself. Yet in the providence of God, he now had found Paul. He had heard the Gospel, the Holy Spirit had drawn him, and he had embraced Christ as Lord through the ministry of Paul in Rome. He was then discipled by Paul and became a voluntary servant to him and to God through him.
Eventually though, Onesimus knew that he needed to make things right with Philemon. But I’ve already told you how slavers were treated for offenses. He was rightfully afraid of how Philemon would respond.
So, now you see the point for this letter. Paul knew Philemon. He knew the faithful saint that he had become and with proper instruction how he would respond. So, Paul wrote this letter to his friend on behalf of another friend.
Let’s read the first half of the part of the letter regarding Onesimus.
What a beautiful letter, how masterful it is. Pau is so gentle and persuasive at the same time. But there is a deep well here from which we can drink refreshing spiritual water.
Now remember what had happened. He was a slave, he fled from his Master. He was guilty of many offenses. He had been chosen by Philemon and he had once been useful. Onesimus most likely had a different birth name but as was common for slaves, he had been given the name Onesimus which meant “useful”. Common servant names like Chresmus or Chrestus also meant “useful”. Onesiphorus meant “profit bringer” and Sympohorus meant “suitable”. So Onesimus was so useful that he was that he was named “useful”. But in this act he had become worthless or useless to Philemon. He had betrayed him. But IN CHRIST, he was now SOMEBODY.
Now, I want you to listen again and see the majesty of this letter. Paul wasn’t just talking about this human relationship, though it was important. Paul was reminding him what Jesus had done for us? So imagine this letter as written FOR YOU to God the Father. Because, aren’t we just like Onesimus? As humans we were created for nobility, just a little lower than the angels. But we were sold into slavery by the sin of Adam. But still he treated us right, while offering us rules to live by. But we ran from God and tried to hide and run our own lives. We are guilty and deserve the worst of any punishment God would give out. But when we met Jesus Christ everything changes. Jesus has one desire then to reconcile us to the Father because of our relationship with Christ and the new person we have become.
Romans 5:9-11 - Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
2 Cor. 5:19 & 21 - that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. – 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Now, let me read this again and I want you to hear jesus writing this letter on your behalf to the Father
Paul was interceding for Onesimus and Jesus interceding for us.
Romans 8:34 -Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Hebrews 7:25 - Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Alright, I only have a few minutes left but let me show you what Jesus did for you and me.
Paul begins with “Therefore” – he was appealing to Philemon based on
Because he was known as a Faithful Saint, he knew he would respond rightly to Onesimus.
And so Jesus intercedes for us based on the Reputation of God
Exodus 34:6,7 - And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; …
So, because of who God is and what Christ has done to take away the guilt of our sin … God must respond.
Yet Paul also appeals to Philemon based on the love had for Paul and the love in general he had for the world as a child of God
And so Jesus appeals to the Father based on his love for the son Jesus Christ and the World
John 3:35 - The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.
John 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.
Matthew 17:5 - While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
John 3:16 – God So loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life
1 John 4:9-10 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Oh the love of God for his Son and for the World. He already loved us before we knew or loved him!
Because of his love for Jesus, Jesus knows he can intercede for us.
Then Paul appeals to Philemon based on the NEW state of Onesimus, that is a relationship with Paul.
V10 I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son”
These words must have resonated with Philemon because he had a relationship with Paul and now so did Onesimus.
Jesus writes to the Father for us and he tells the Father … “Jim Goforth has become my son.” Oh people, Jesus Christ was born my “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father.”
I am his and he is mine. Because Jesus has a relationship with the Father and we have a relationship with Christ, that enables us to have a relationship with the Father as well.
Then Paul intercedes based on the Worth of Onesimus
I love the play on words that Paul uses. He used to be worthless. I’m sure that Philemon in his skewed and imperfect understanding felt betrayed by Onesimus. He probably had been good to him while still owning him. When Onesimus left Philemon most likely thought him useless or worthless.
Paul acknowledged Onesimus, whose name meant useful, was achrestos (akh-res-tos) = useless unprofitable but NOW he has become euchrestos (yoo-khrays-tos) = useful /– a synonym for his name Onesimus.
On a human level, this understanding strikes a blow to the root of slavery. He addressed the worth of every man. He was not addressing a political leader so he didn’t address the issue of slavery. Instead the worth of people is seen regardless of their station in life. He was challenging Philemon not to worry about the world but change HIS world.
He addresses him based on the transformation that has taken place by the touch of Christ.
So also, that is what Jesus does as he intercedes for us with the Father.
Yes, when it comes to the Righteousness and Holiness that god demands, ALL our righteousness is like filthy rags. Yes, there is NONE righteous, not even one. Yes, all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. But, if we come to Christ Jesus, through his cross, the story changes … THEN
2 Cor. 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
So, IN CHRIST … Romans 3:23’s judgment that “all have sinned” changes in verse 24 Hallelujah to “and are justified freely by his grace …” and he made it as if we had never sinned and
1 Cor 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
And so we went from being worthless people, clothed in filthy rags, short of God’s glory … to someone who In CHRIST JESUS … I am SOMEBODY, and I am I a NEW Creation, I am Righteous, Holy, Redeemed! Somebody say “YES!”
And so then finally, Paul appeals to Philemon based on the Hand of Providence
5. Providence vv15,16
In all this God was at work. God didn’t cause Philemon to buy those slaves. He didn’t cause Onesimus to steal from Philemon and run away; but God in his Omniscience knew it all before it ever happened and was using the slavery, the rebellion, and the work of Paul to get Onesimus to a place where he could hear the gospel and be redeemed, saved, set free by the Grace and Mercy of Jesus Christ.
So, Paul tells Philemon, “perhaps he was separated from you … that you might have him back a better man.”
Listen, God knew Onesimus would be HIS before he ever heard the Gospel. But Onesimus still had to take the journey, hear the gospel, open his heart, and embrace forgiveness and newness of life through his exercise of faith.
And so God works in our lives to bring us to the place where we will repent of our sins, exercise faith, and embrace him as Lord.
People, the greatest mystery of the Gospel is that there is a responsibility for us to exercise faith by believing on Jesus Christ and yet understanding that because God has always known we would be his, HE CHOSE US FIRST. He called us, he justified us, he is sanctifying us, and he will glorify us.
Faithful servant, I believe with all I am that we are accountable to exercise our faith in God and so in action we choose him freely with our mind, will, and emotions …but when we do … a blessed truth reveals itself to us, that he chose us first. And so, while we came into his family in our experience at a fixed time and place, yet in God’s mind, we have always been his. Likewise, the ones who God knows will never respond, they are never his.
God’s Election and Man’s Responsibility are NOT contradictory any more than Gravity and Aerodynamics contradict. Those two things were once thought contradictory until they were understood. Well we will never fully understand how these two reconcile until God’s presence in Glory, but that doesn’t mean both aren’t TRUE.
Charles Spurgeon spoke to this mystery in speaking about the difficulty in reconciling these seemingly competing points of our responsibility and God’s sovereignty and election … Charles Spurgeon once said “Friends I do not have to reconcile them, we are chosen, but it is in agreement with foreknowledge. No one can blame God for being lost, but we all must give him credit for our salvation” … Then this lengthy quote
That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.
If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.
These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.
Oh the Wonder of it all
The Wonder of it all,
Just to know that God loves me
Oh the Wonder of it all
The Wonder of it all
To think that God loves me
(George Beverly Shea)
Oh how wonderful, that when I stand Redeemed, Clean, Saved, and Whole in Glory.
I will enter not by my works or Goodness, but because the work of Christ on the Cross, so my Faith enables me to enter the Beautiful Mystery
The reputation and love of God and his relationship with Christ allows my relationship with Christ to transform me into a New Man who by the Hand of God was drawn and welcomed into the Family
Oh the Wonder
Oh the Wonder of it All
J.B. Lightfoot, writing on this passage says
“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty, who is weak and I am NOT weak? Who is offended and I burn not? Such ever was love’s story, to RISE … it STOOPS.”
Love Stoops, We Respond, It’s All Jesus …
That’s the Love of Jesus Christ … while I was a slave on the Run, he stooped down and became like me to redeem me and draw me to himself.
He left his Glory in Heaven to Stoop Down to My Level and as He stooped, his love was tall, and I RISE into the Glory of God!