Saturday, December 10, 2016

"I thank God for you in my prayers ..."

Day #346

Scripture Reading:  Philemon …

Is there anyone God has brought into your life who has made such a deep spiritual impact in your life that you regularly thank God for them ... perhaps parents, children, other family members?  But who else?  Do you have people in your life with whom you are connected spiritually to the point that you thank God for them in your prayers?  Some might say it was because the Apostle Paul was not married that he so appreciated his fellow-believers, but we who know Christ and who are united by His Spirit with others in His body ought to have many such people who come to mind as we pray and as we give thanks.

At this time in his ministry Paul was in prison, under house arrest.  It is clear that he was able to receive visitors and to carry on his work of spreading the Gospel by teaching those who came and then sending them out with the Gospel.  One such visitor was Onesimus, apparently a slave of a man named, Philemon.  Philemon had sent him to Paul, perhaps to bring Paul some needed items, and Paul had spent some time with him.  Paul calls him, "my son, Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains" (verse 10).  The purpose of Paul's letter to Philemon was to encourage Philemon to consider Onesimus no longer as a slave, but as a brother in Christ.  Onesimus had apparently placed his faith in Jesus Christ through Paul's teaching and it was Paul's desire to see him not only set free spiritually, but also physically.

Paul's approach to this request was masterful, allowing the Spirit to convict Philemon so that what he did would be done voluntarily, from the heart. Paul makes this request in a letter written not only to Philemon, but to others in the church that was meeting in Philemon's home (verses 1-2).  This was part of the body of Christ, the fellowship of the saints, and Paul wanted to teach all of them the importance of the community God was building through the Gospel by the work of His Spirit.  As part of the body of Christ what you and I do affects all the other parts of the body.  We come to Christ as individuals, but we don't remain that way.  We who believe are family!!

To those who confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, Paul wrote, "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (verse 6).  We are told today that "faith" is a personal thing, and it is; however, it is in speaking of our faith, of our knowledge of Christ through His Word, that we ourselves grow and that others in the body are built up in the faith.  We need each other!

After his initial greeting and encouragement to the church, Paul speaks directly to Philemon.  He says immediately, "… in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do …" (verse 8).  Paul had the authority in Christ to order Philemon to release Onesimus from being his slave, for certainly that would have been what God desired, but he says, "… yet I appeal to you on the basis of love" (verse 9).  Paul actually wanted Onesimus to stay with HIM, but he says to Philemon, "I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced" (verse 14).  In other words, "You need to do what you know in your heart is right, not because you have to, but because the love you know in Christ compels you to do so."

It appears that Paul was confident that Philemon WOULD do the right thing, but was perhaps using this opportunity to speak to the whole church about what it meant to love one another in Christ and to consider one another, even in the society of that time, as equal in Christ.  The confidence Paul had was not in Philemon, but in the Spirit of God who lived within him.  It is important to call brothers and sisters in Christ to a higher standard than that of the world around us.  Because God has first loved us in Christ, we are compelled by the Spirit to love one another in a way that the world will never understand.  We need more of that in the body of Christ!!

Throughout the letter you can sense Paul's love for the Church, for the Body, for those who were his brothers and sisters in Christ, and he encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus back "no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother" (verse 16).  He goes on to say, "He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord" (verse 16).  What a beautiful thing Jesus does by bringing together slave and free.  Perhaps this is who Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Galatians, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

Finally, Paul reminds Philemon of the relationship HE has with Paul:  "If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me" (verse 17), and "I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ …" (verse 20).  Such boldness in sharing our needs with the expectation that our brothers and sisters will respond in love is a beautiful gift from God among those who are part of God's family by faith.  It is a love produced by the Holy Spirit and enjoyed by all within the body.  We need to do our best to stir one another up to fulfill our calling to love one another in this way.

As he begins his letters, so Paul ends by pointing those who read it to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  It is God's grace that calls us to put our hope in Him and to rejoice in His love together.  Sharing that joy and love is the beauty of the Church.  May God help you to be part of such a Body and to rejoice in one another, giving thanks for your brothers and sisters in Christ in your prayers, and so glorifying your Father in heaven!

"Father, I thank You for so many people in my life!  You have brought each one to encourage me, to comfort me, to teach me, to hold me accountable, to walk this road of life with me, and I thank You by name for those in the past and for those who are around me at this time.  They are truly gifts from You and partners in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Give me grace to love them as You have loved me and to share life and ministry together, as we give thanks to You, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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