September 7, 2023

What to do when someone wrongs you

Blindspots | Wk. 2

I went home last Sunday, and I have a little tradition that I do. It's pretty common that I do this on Sunday evening. I know where I'm at in a series, I know where I'm going, and I have a bunch of different ideas that I can pick from. I usually decide which one I'm going to pick for the next week. Even though I've laid out several weeks, sometimes I change, and I want to pick something else. Then what I do is I put the passage that I'm going to work on — that evening before I go to bed, I usually get out my computer PowerPoint, and I go ahead and put the passage together so that I can live in that passage for the week.

Last Sunday, when I went home, when I was sort of doing that in my office, I started thinking about growing up in church. I started thinking about that most of the churches that I was in were never this size. They were much smaller. When I would go visit my mom's side of the family in North Carolina, the church was 40-50 people maybe. For the choir, everybody would come up from the church to become the choir, and there were like four people out in the congregation. Then you'd go back out. They had pews. Maybe some of you all are younger and don't know what a pew is. You think it’s like a bad smell or whatever. Or Pepé. So, those were the benches with cushions. Many of you all probably grew up that way, and I grew up that way. I grew up singing hymns. Stained glass windows.

I don't know. I just had this moment in my office, last weekend, and I was like, “Do you know what? We're going to sing ‘How Great Thou Art,’ and I'm going to wear a suit, because everybody who I used to listen to preach wore a suit, and I'm actually going to bring out my Bible.”

Now, don't get too crazy because, next weekend, I'm back to normal. Okay? Some of you all are like, “He got saved on Sunday.”

No, no, no. But I think it's important because we're in a series called “Blind Spots,” and I think, oftentimes, especially for those of us who maybe came to faith in the last five to ten years or whatever, or maybe who didn't grow up in church, this is what we know. LED screens, cool lights, singing, and awesome sound systems. That's not the way the majority of church has been. Sometimes we forget that we're a part of something much larger than we are. There were pulpits and Bibles. Not that that makes it more spiritual, but I just was like, “Do you know what? I'm going to do an old throwback and just sort of preach like it was back when I was a kid, just a little bit differently.”

We will make sure that somebody clicks the slides just so that you can at least follow along. I get that part, but I just want to do something a little different. I hope that this really ministers to you and speaks to you. It’s just a thing I wanted to do. So, indulge me for thinking about how it used to be, and we will go through this.

So, anyway, we're in a series called “Blind Spots,” and we're talking about areas in our lives where we maybe don't see those blind spots. I want to go through an entire letter with you. I'm going to read the entire letter. I’m going to read right out of the Bible, make some commentary, and I think it will be incredibly powerful. There are a lot of blind spots that are in this letter that we probably need to see and listen to. Some of those blind spots, the perspective that's in this letter is not of this world, so to speak. It's a perspective that's shaped by heaven. It's a perspective that's shaped by being transformed by the Gospel. Oftentimes, that perspective, we can lose, especially as American Christians, where everything is sort of here and now, everything's right here, and it's the grind of life. So, there's going to be a little bit of a perspective shift that's going to make some of us have to think about our Christianity, our life with God, and those things, which will be good.

There's also, in this letter, a real sense of participating in something greater than just ourselves. We're part of a body, part of the body of Christ. Oftentimes, you’re probably like me, and you think about your own life and what's going on in your life. We’re sort of trained, especially in the world that we live in, to be very individualistic in our thinking. This is going to push us, a little bit, to think a little bit larger than that. I also see that there's this true belief that when we meet Jesus there is a transformational power that resides within us. I think, oftentimes, just because of the way life is, because we live with some relative conveniences, and we're not desperate to see God move, sometimes we just sort of go through life, as Christians, and we miss some of the real power that God does in our lives to transform us.

So, those will be some things that we look at as we go through, but the letter is a letter that I find many Christians are unaware of. It's a very small letter. It's the smallest letter that Paul has written, and it's a letter that was written to a gentleman whose name is Philemon. I need to set this up because reading it would be one thing, but understanding why this letter was written and what is going on sort of helps us to interpret it better than if we didn't know those things. Many of you all tell me regularly that you love that we go back into the background and talk about that stuff, so I want to set this up so that you're aware of what's going on. Then we're going to go through it verse by verse, and I think it'll be super powerful. It's a powerful letter.

So, Paul is in prison. There's debate exactly where he is at in prison. There are people that would say he's in Rome. There are other people that would say he's in Ephesus. It's not really important that you know where he's at. The bottom line is he's in prison. While he's in prison, he writes to a gentleman whose name is Philemon. And Philemon is a fairly well-to-do Christian believer who has a church that's in his house. So, he's well enough to have his own house and to have a church that people can gather in. So, it's a little larger house than maybe the normal people would have. Because he lives in Colossae, which is in Lycus Valley, he's part of the Roman Empire and he would have a household. There would be the wife and the children, and then they would have slaves. Philemon has found Jesus because of Paul. Paul converted Philemon. So, Philemon owes his Gospel presentation to the Apostle Paul, and they've obviously done some things together, and worked together in the Gospel.

So, Philemon has a slave whose name is Onesimus. Onesimus’ name means “useful,” and Paul will play with that wording in Philemon. We’ll see that. Onesimus, from what we can gather, has stolen from Philemon. He’s stolen and run away. Now, for those of us who don't understand the first century — and I would readily concede that most of us, probably, are not going to be first century scholars. I get that. In the first century, a slave that would steal and run away, by Roman law, could have severe consequences. I mean, be beaten really badly and imprisoned. There's even data we have that he potentially could just have his life taken from him. Roman law would allow that to happen. So, Onesimus has fled, he’s stolen from Philemon, and he meets Paul where Paul is in prison. We don't know exactly we he's there. He might've sought Paul out to try to say, “Hey, can you work out a deal between me and Philemon?”

He might've just coincidentally been around some people who talked about Paul because, back then, people didn't come and bring you stuff when you were in prison. You just died. They didn't have a cafeteria or whatever. I mean, people had to take care of you while you were in prison. So, he meets Paul, and Paul leads Onesimus to the Lord. So, now Onesimus is a Christian. So, Paul, who really believes that the Gospel transforms people, tells Onesimus that he needs to go back and make it right with Philemon. Now, you can imagine that's not a guarantee of anything because Philemon has every right under Roman law to have this man beaten, thrown in prison, and maybe even killed. So, Paul sends this letter, presumably, with Onesimus back to Philemon. I can imagine that when Onesimus shows up and Philemon sees him, he's probably enraged, but then he hands him a letter that's from the Apostle Paul. I can only imagine the drama that's there, and it's now appropriate for us to turn and listen to this letter. It’s very short, but very, very, very powerful.

It says, “Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

“To Philemon our dear friend and coworker…”

Now, I don't have time, obviously, to go through every line, but I do want to highlight some major things here. First of all, Paul says that he is a prisoner. He doesn't address people that way when he writes. he addresses people as “Paul the Apostle.” Why does he say prisoner? Well, I think he definitely wants to make sure that Philemon realizes that he's in a humble position. I think he definitely wants him to know that he's writing from prison, which he would know that. But I think the big reason why he says this is because Paul, by virtue of Roman law, is imprisoned, but Philemon knows that Paul should not be imprisoned because he's doing Gospel work. So, Paul appeals to Philemon as a prisoner who is justly in prison by Roman law, but he really shouldn't be in prison because he's a follower of Jesus and He’s doing Gospel work. He says he's a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Notice he doesn't say, “I'm a prisoner of this terrible empire,” he doesn't say, “I'm a prisoner of these vagabond Romans that don't understand the Gospel,” or, “I'm politically being persecuted.”

He doesn't say that at all. He says, “I'm a prisoner of Christ Jesus.”

His view — this is maybe a blind spot that we can take a moment here and talk about. His views of suffering and of difficulties in life are shaped dramatically differently than probably how you and I see the world. When he goes to prison, he goes, “God must have me here.”

He tells the Philippian church, “I'm here for the furtherance of the Gospel. I'm here to make sure the Gospel goes wild throughout the whole Praetorian Guard. He doesn't complain. He doesn't throw a fit. He says, “Man, there's got to be a reason that I'm here. I'm a prisoner of Christ Jesus. Don't dare think that Rome has the power to put me in prison because I wouldn't be in prison if the Lord did not allow me to be in prison.”

That's a powerful place to be, and it's something that maybe, just maybe, we should think about in the way that we view the world. Because let me tell you something: Jesus is in control. Whether you think He is or not, He is in control. Nothing is going on that He’s unaware of. Okay?

“Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother,

“To Philemon our dear friend and coworker…”

He's a coworker. They’ve done stuff together in the Gospel.

He then says, “…and [to] Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home…”

This is really neat. For there to be restoration between Onesimus and Philemon, it’s not just between those two. It also has to happen within the house church. Oftentimes — and you've probably seen this. Maybe you have something against somebody, they have something against you, you've told four or five people the situation, you’ve told them your side of the story, and they think they're terrible. Then the other person told five or six people their side of the story, and they think you're terrible. Then, one day, you and him, he and she, or whoever it is, you get together and work it out, but those other people have not worked it out. Paul says, “Hey, for there to be restoration, it's got to include everybody. So, although I'm writing it to you, Philemon, I'm also including Apphia, Archippus, and everybody who meets in the house church because there needs to be restoration.”

“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Then he says, “I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers,”

When Paul prays, he either has a list or he just sort of feels prompted to call out people's names. We're not quite sure. He doesn't say he prays for Philemon every time, but he says, “When I do mention you by name in my prayers, I thank God.”

He says, “…because I hear of your love for all the saints and the faith that you have in the Lord Jesus.”

“Philemon, I know one thing about you. I know that you love the people of God. In fact, you love the people of God, and that demonstrates your faith that have such a love for people. I thank God for that.”

Let me just pause for a minute because this is a blind spot for most American Christians. I want you to hear me here. In today's world, it's become very common for Christians to trash, say bad things, expose, or write against the Church. They do it, saying, “Hey, we want the people in the world to know that we see some of the things that they see because we love the world so much.”

Can I tell you something? That’s backwards. Christianity is based on loving the people of God first, and then loving the people outside of the Church. So, this is important that you hear this. That is not maturity when you rail against the Church to get the world to understand whatever it is that you want them to understand. True Christianity loves the Church so much. When the Church is loving the Church so much, and when the Church functions as the Church, the world then wants to know what's going on inside of here, and they want what we have. That's maturity. It’s almost like a badge of maturity, today, if you can rail against the Church. Jesus did not pray, in John 17, for the world. He prayed for the Church for all who will believe. He said, “Father, let them be one as we are one so that the world may know.”

In case you missed it in John 17:21, he says it again in John 17:23.

“Do good to everybody,” Paul says to the Galatians, “but especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

So, it’s this idea of loving one another. Jesus said, “How will they know you're my disciples? By the love that you have for one another.”

If we could ever get this right. We need to lay down, wash feet, and do whatever when there's been a problem in the Church. The last thing that we should be doing is storming out, walking out to the places of business, the people that we know, and ripping our own brothers and sisters in the name of whatever it is we're doing, acting like we're so righteous or whatever. Get a towel, wash feet, and do whatever it takes because when the Church lives in restoration, the power of God is present, and the world sees that Jesus is at work in the local church. Do you hear me?

He says, “I thank God that you love the saints, and I pray that your participation in the faith…”

This is the Greek word “koinōnia.”

“Your participation is more than you, Philemon. There's more going on than you.”

He says, “…and I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that's in us for the glory of Christ.”

In other words, “I hope that you really understand what God has done so that you can live fully effectively within the participation of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.”

“For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.”

“Finally, what I know about you is you love the people of God, and I'm going to give you a really big opportunity right now to love the people of God. It's going to be a big one. It’s going to be a big ask.”

He says, “For this reason, because I know how much you love the people of God, and I know that you believe in that, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what's right — I can do that. I'm an apostle. I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. You love the saints, Philemon. You’re part of something larger than you. I appeal to you on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man, and now, also, as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I became his father while I was in chains. He's a believer now, Philemon. He’s one of the saints. He's one of the people of God, and we're to be known by the way that we love our brothers and sisters. I can tell you to do what's right, but I'm going to appeal to you on the basis of love.”

He says, “Once he was useless to you, even though his name means useful. Once you saw him as this guy that had ripped you off and run away, and you had every right under Roman law to punish him, but now he's useful both to you and me. Something's changed. He's met Jesus. I'm sending him back to you, and I'm sending my very own heart. I wanted to keep him with me so that in my imprisonment for the gospel, he might serve me in your place. Because, Philemon, you know if you were here with me in prison, you'd be doing anything that you could to help me because you love the saints. Well, I'm sending him back, my very heart, and I would've been happy to have kept him because he's been such a blessing, but I didn't want to do anything without your consent so that your good deeded might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. I want you, Philemon, to understand what it means to be transformed by the power of God when you have every right, as a Roman citizen, to punish this man. Can you love him?”

He says, “For this perhaps is why he was separated from you for a brief time, that you might get him back permanently,”

I love this. He says, “I can't say for sure, but perhaps…”

Have you ever met those Christians that just know that God said? You’re like, “Man, are you sure? Because if God said it, then it's the way it is.”

Paul doesn't say, “I know,” but he says, “Perhaps the reason all this happened — not that it was good, not that what's gone on is necessarily good, but maybe, just maybe, God, in a way that's beyond you and me, had a plan. Perhaps the reason he left for a brief time was so that you might get him back permanently.”


“…no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a dearly loved brother.”

See, Paul didn't think that the job of the Church was to fight culture wars. Paul thought the job of the Church was to change people's hearts, and by changing people's hearts, society would be changed. We would do so much better, as Christians in America, to actually give our lives in service to preaching the Gospel, discipling one person at a time, discipling another person at a time, and watching how that changes things more than yelling and screaming at things that will never change anything. Some of y'all are mad, but I'm in suit and look good. Bond.

He says, “Especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

This is powerful. This is the changing of Roman culture, the changing of slavery, not done with a picket line, but done with the transformational power of the Gospel. Can you imagine if every Christian in America, every single day, shared the Gospel? Can you imagine if every single Christian, every day, shared the Gospel, and the person who accepted it they spent time with, read the Bible with them, trained them, and poured into them? Can you imagine what would happen in a society? It’s just a lot easier, though, to yell at the TV, and yell at everybody else, isn’t it?

“So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would me.”

“If I showed up to your house, Philemon, how would you greet me? Greet him the same way.”

“If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge it to my account.”

This is a man that understands what Jesus did for him. Paul knows what Jesus did. He took all of his wrongs and took it on his account. Paul says, “Do you know what? Whatever he's done, put it on my account. I'll pay you back. I'll make it right.”

Can you imagine if the Church, when somebody did somebody wrong in the Church — rather than gossiping, rather than tearing everybody up, rather than having a huddle, telling everybody what's wrong and everything else, can you imagine if the saints of God stepped up and said, “Hey, whatever they did, put it on my account. Let's get back to business. Let's get back to being the people of God. We can't afford to have this thing continue to unwind in the Church because we have a mission, and this is only a distraction to the mission because there are people out there who need to know about Jesus, and we need to be living it in here.”

Can you imagine what that would look like? This is powerful stuff. I mean, that's why I said there's a perspective shift, there’s a participation, and there’s a transformational power. See, I'm doing so good that I even went back to the old school preaching with the three P’s. Did you see that? Power, Perspective, and Participation? See? I'm telling you, I was excited about preaching this weekend. I'm old school here. I can do it. I just want you to know I can do it, if you've wondered.

He says, “I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it.”

“I’ve got it.”

“Not to mention that you owe me even your own very self.”

“Not to mention, Philemon, that your eternal life that you have was because I shared the Gospel with you.”

“Yes, brother, may I benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. Since I'm confident of your obedience,”

I love that.

“I'm confident. I know you're a believer, so I know when you have to stare down what is the right thing to do, you're going to do it. I’m confident in you.”

“Since I’m confident of your obedience, I write to you knowing that you will do even more than I say. Meanwhile, prepare a guest room for me, since I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.”

Not only will Onesimus come back, but I'm hoping that I can come visit, and you’ll have a guest room for me. He says, “Through your prayers…”

Paul believes that prayers work. Obviously, it's got to be God's will, but he says, “Pray. Pray that I get released, and I can actually come and hang out.”

He says, “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

It's powerful. It's powerful. That's why we read the Word of God aloud. When I taught more, I would tell my homiletics classes — that's a fancy word for preaching. I would tell them all the time that there are two people in the room, and there will always be two people in the room when it comes to preaching. You'll either believe that you need to take the text of God's Word and you need to read it, and then you need to have some really good illustrations, some really good stories, and some really good things to sort of reinforce. And there's nothing wrong with that at all, but you'll either believe that's the way you preach, or you'll passionately believe that you could get up, just read out of this book, sit down, and God's word is more effective than any words that you, as a preacher, could ever say. I would tell this to my students: I hope that you convince yourself of the latter rather than the former.

I want you to know, as your pastor, I'm in the latter group. I believe that just sitting here and reading this — people say, all the time, “How did you know what was going on in my life?”

I'm like, “I don't know what's going on. I don’t have cameras at your house. I'm not the NSA. That's not what I do.”

But it's interesting. If I read Scripture, it just reads everybody's mail. When I read scripture, it reads my mail because the Word of God's powerful. I just want you to sit for a moment and think about what we've just read. What would it look like to be like Paul? What would it look like to be like Philemon and have to make those decisions? What would it be like to be Onesimus, walking back knowing that some bad things could happen to you? These are stories and situations that really make us think. They make us question how we are living out our Christianity. How are we doing this? I'm just at the place in my life where I really believe that the world needs to see the Church be the Church, not faction off, divide, and be mad at one another, but find ways to come together, love each other, and to be one as we're supposed to be one. And then to authentically go out and not get a convoluted message that we're sharing, but the authentic Gospel, that Jesus Christ came to save sinners of whom I am chief, that Jesus came and died on a cross for our sins so that we could be forgiven, and He rose again on the third day so that we could have eternal life, and that transforms people's lives. It transforms our lives.

I don't want to be just the Christian that shows up, checks off the box, shows up, does what we do, and comes to a small group or whatever else. I want to live a life where I feel like the power of God is being used in my life, the life of the Church, and the life of the people of the Church. I want to see miracles. I want to see God do incredible things. I want to see God melt people's hearts who have every right to be mad at someone, but instead they lay it down because they knew Jesus laid it down for them. Those are the beautiful stories that we have. The very words of God to you and me are powerful. I just want you to maybe allow that to sink in because I really believe that God just wants to do such incredible things through all of us. I really do believe the best is yet to come. I really do believe that God has plans and purposes for all of our lives that are far greater than we could ever imagine, but sometimes it just takes us to really sit back and think about what Jesus has done. He has forgiven me of many, many, many sins. How can I live a life where I absorb His grace, but am unwilling, so often, to extend it towards others? Let’s not be that way.

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