Going Deeper 9-5-19

The second reading for Pentecost 13…

Philemon 1:1-21   Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus.  I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.  I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.  For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.  Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.  So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self.  Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ.  Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.


Here we have a story which illustrates the kind of radical change and healing that can result from becoming followers of Jesus.  Philemon, a convert through Paul’s ministry now considered both a brother and co-worker, has gained a reputation as a follower of Jesus whose life is marked by faith and love.  That reputation in now being put to the test as Paul appeals to Philemon to do something extraordinary: to forgive and welcome home as a brother a run-away slave by the name of Onesimus, who has now also been converted to the faith. 


This truly would be extraordinary.  Onesimus has broken the law and Philemon has the right to have him imprisoned.  But Paul is asking for grace to be extended.


What strikes me as being profoundly important is to note how Paul goes about making his request: “though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love… I am appealing to you.”  This is the way of grace.  This is the way of love.  God appeals to us to not only trust and believe, but to follow, and to learn to live out the grace and love we freely receive.  But God does not force us to follow, nor to love and be gracious… and neither does Paul.  Here and elsewhere Paul appeals, invites, urges, encourages, instructs, and admonishes, but does not command.


This is the transformational way of God.  He loves us and invites us to be changed by that love.  God wishes to first inspire and then to empower us to be changed from within, to become more and more like Jesus, to live lives marked by radical faith and love and grace and generosity.  I appeal, invite, urge, encourage, instruct, and admonish you to hear and heed God’s call.


With You in His Love,


Mark Gabbert, Pastor

Zion Lutheran Church, Wellington, Colorado


“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”