July 20, 2014
Pastor Kenny Lee
As we enter into the new building, I want to talk to you about something that is close to my heart. It is something that I think God wants our church to hear. Nothing ruins a church more then bad relationships or no relationships. It tears apart a church. Culturally, the reason why many Korean folks do not like Korean churches is because church splits are extremely common. “I am sick of it pastor. I’m sick of church splits.” Church splits happen because there is no reconciliation. Christianity is about reconciliation. It is the reason why Jesus Christ came down to earth. We weren’t reconciled with God due to our sin. Jesus Christ had to pay 100 percent of everything so that he could reconcile with us. Now we are called to reconcile as well.
[[There is no greater book than filet mignon. Just kidding, Philemon.]]
Paul writes to a dear brother Philemon from a prison in Rome. While in prison, Paul meets a guy named Onesimus from Colosse. Paul knew Philemon was from Colosse. Come to find out Onesimus is a run away slave whose master was Philemon. Before we get started I want clarify certain things about slavery back then. When we think about slavery, we think about the Civil War. Slavery was different in Biblical times. They didn’t have a robust banking system in those days. As a result when you wanted to do business and take out a loan, you would borrow money from the local rich man. In this case, it was Philemon. Onesimus borrows money from Philemon and cannot pay Philemon back. In order to pay Philemon back, Onesimus had to become his endured servant until his debt was fully paid off. Once his debt is paid, he is free. Onesimus must have been treated unfairly or thought he was treated unfairly because he runs away without paying Philemon back. Onesimus happens to meet Paul in prison. What are the chances? That is a miracle in itself. Long story short, Onesimus starts talking with Paul and believing in Christ. Paul used Onesimus to spread the gospel, probably to write letters to other churches.
THE IMPORTANCE OF RECONCILIATION
Paul writes a letter to Philemon; the letter is not just to Philemon. Paul knows that this bondservant and his master need to reconcile. Onesimus has become a new creation and now they need to reconcile. Who does Paul write to? “1…To Philemon our beloved fellow worker 2and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house…” He is writing to everyone: Philemon, Apphia -probably Philemon’s wife, Archippus- a pastor, and the whole church. It is matter of Philemon and Onesimus, but the whole church is involved. Reconciliation may be about two people, but it involves the church. When two people don’t get along it is not just about those two people. You think it will be solved if they just ‘talk it out.’ It affects the whole church. Paul knows that and writes to the whole church.
Paul is an apostle. What an apostle means is that he has perfect theology. He is able to write Scripture. He writes almost half of the New Testament. The man has authority. He has more authority than I do. I read and regurgitate what he says. That is my job. Paul doesn’t use his authority with Philemon. He can, but he doesn’t. He starts off by saying, “4I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, 6and 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 is thankful to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the church. He remembers them in his prayers and hears amazing things about them. He is interested in seeing how they are doing. He desires that they grow. He is almost like a Dad towards his son. “I thank God for my son. I remember him in my prayers. I hear the amazing things that you’re doing.” Paul’s joy was Philemon’s success. Paul’s joy was that the church and Philemon were doing well. 7For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Apostle Paul doesn’t command them to reconcile but says, “8Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you- I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” He would rather talk and relate to them then command them.
He goes on through this argument. He is a wonderful arguer and says, “10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.” He is saying, “Do you know once we accept Christ you are born again?” Born again means you are born into a new family. He calls Onesimus his child. He acknowledges that Onesimus was a thief in the past, but wants Philemon to see that Onesimus has become born again. He writes exercising a play on words, “11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.}” Onesimus means useful. Paul is saying that Onesimus is living up to his name. Let me ask you. What’s your name? What’s your identity? Do you call yourself a Christian? Are you living up to your name? Or are you living up to the name of being a good dad, a good worker, etc? That’s useless. The only thing that matters is that you are a Christian. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything will be given unto you.” I know that may sound cliché, but only God is good. What God cares about is reconciliation.
Paul sends Onesimus back. “12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord.” Paul could have given all the reasons in the world to keep Onesimus. “He is doing amazing work for God.” He doesn’t use that argument. I am tempted every day to use that excuse. “Honey, I am doing the work of God. You got to leave me alone. The dishes will get done somehow.” “You want me to give other people rides? No, I have to do the work of God.” You can’t use that as an excuse. “I can’t reconcile with you because I have to go to church.” I prefer you not go to church and reconcile. That’s how valuable a person is to God.
RECONCILIATION MADE POSSIBLE THROUGH CHRIST
Reconciliation wasn’t just important for Philemon and Onesimus, but it was necessary for the church. Are you guys not reconciled with a person in the church? You know that you are destroying the church? I am talking about full reconciliation. “16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother- especially to me, but how much more to you both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Can you imagine if somebody stole a whole boatload of money or embarrassed you in front of everyone? I don’t want you to hang onto that bitterness. If he comes to you I want you to forgive him and to love him. I want you to love him like you love someone so dear to your heart. Paul doesn’t say to just forgive. In verse 18, “If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” We are apt to saying, “You just got to forgive.” We can’t say that. Paul is acknowledging the hurt that Onesimus caused Philemon, and is telling Philemon that he himself will pay for it. Paul is willing to be Philemon’s slave until Onesimus’ debt is paid off.
How does Paul do that? Paul sees Onesimus truly as his son. Paul is able to pay someone else’s sin. Somebody has to pay for all sin. Let me give you an example. Just say I go to your house and completely destroy your nice, new lamp. I go leaving the broken lamp. There is one person who is not able to study because they are studying in the dark. I offer to give you my functional lamp, and take the broken one from you. Somebody is paying for the price of the broken lamp. Somebody has to pay the price of sin. We have this weird sense of justice, and say things aren’t fair. “That person owes me and hurt me. That person needs to pay!” Apostle Paul realized that there is so much sin he has done. You know that yourself. If I came up to and told you that you were a sinner you would agree. Maybe some of you would get defensive, but deep down you know that you are. We sin against each other. Jesus Christ loves us so much that he identifies himself with us. Each time we sin against one other he hurts. In other words, when you sin it goes directly against Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ says to give him all those broken lamps, all those sins. He takes them on himself. At the cost of himself, he gives a new lamp, a new life to us. He took all of that. Paul knows that. Paul is saying that because Jesus Christ forgave all his sins he is able to forgive. If somebody died for you to save your life, could you risk your life for another? Yeah, you could do that. Jesus Christ took all your sins away. Could you forgive the sins of someone else? That is what Paul is saying. Paul is telling Philemon to forgive because Philemon knows the extent to which Christ saved him. And if Philemon cannot forgive Onesimus, Paul will take on his debt because he knows what Christ has done. I pray as we go into the new church that we are people whom continually seek reconciliation. We submit to God’s authority. We submit to Scripture. That is why Paul is writing to Philemon. He is telling Philemon to submit to apostolic authority and seek reconciliation. If you truly know the gospel, you will see at its heart is reconciliation.