Philemon Day 13 Abundant Expectation
Pack your bags, Philemon! Paul is taking you on a guilt trip.
That’s how I used to view this compact Bible book. On the surface, Paul begins with a bold appeal to Philemon to do what is right (verse 8) and ends with confidence Philemon will exceed his expectations (verse 21).
Even though Paul assures Philemon he doesn’t want him to act out of obligation (verse 14), my readings left me thinking Paul had backed Philemon into a corner, pressuring him to obey (verse 16).
Yet even as we focus ONLY on verses 21-22 today, we can appreciate the DEPTH and richness of Scripture.
If we scratch past the surface,
we see Paul’s words speak to the beauty of the united body of Christ,
the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through believers surrendered to His will,
the corporate maturity that follows as individuals submit to Jesus,
and the confidence with which Christians can pray.
Instead of a guilt trip, we travel with Philemon on an incredible journey as Paul unpacks remarkable truths about our amazing God.
If we circle back to Paul’s introductory commendation of Philemon’s “love for all the saints” and his “faith [. . .] in the Lord Jesus” (verse 5), we can better understand why Paul is so confident Philemon will exceed his expectations in welcoming back Onesimus, his fugitive slave-turned-disciple. (verse 20).
Furthermore, we realize Paul was not simply counting on Philemon’s acquiescence (verse 8), but was trusting Philemon to submit to the work of the Spirit within him. The Holy Spirit would be accomplishing the work of reconciliation when Philemon accepted Onesimus as a brother in the Lord, strengthening the believers as the UNITED body of Christ.
We, too, have been given this work of reconciliation. We have ALL been slaves to sin, deserving death, facing eternal separation from God. But then, God sent His one and only Son to the world to die in our place and pay the penalty for OUR sin. (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, whoever believes in Him and accepts His FREE gift of salvation will be forgiven of their sin, restored to relationship with God, and begins a NEW, eternal life in Christ. THIS is the good news we have been commissioned to share!
Paul writes of how Jesus brings ALL people TOGETHER to form the united body of Christ. Indeed, people from all tongues, tribes, and nations will join as one in heaven, singing and praising God forever and ever. (Revelation 7:9-17) Paul expects rich and poor, Jew and Greek, slave and free to come together as equals to worship the Savior Who died for them all.
I am sure if Paul were to write a letter to believers in ANY church today, he would have the SAME expectations as he did for those in Colossae:
“Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another [. . .] Just as the Lord has forgiven you, you are also to forgive. Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts.” (Colossians 3:12-15, emphasis mine)
Like Philemon, we ARE called to love our neighbor, even the one with the annoying dog who barks at 3 am, the reckless driver who cuts us off, the coach who doesn’t give our children equal playing time, and fill in the blank. The same Holy Spirit who helped Philemon greet Onesimus as a “dearly loved brother” (verse 16) will work in and through us to continue the work of unifying and strengthening the body of Christ.
Philemon wasn’t able to control or change his circumstances.
Nor can we.
However, like Philemon, we CAN CHOOSE to surrender to God, who is constantly willing to re-shape our hearts. When our focus is on Jesus, what’s happening AROUND us fades in comparison to what God is doing IN us. Our trust grows as we look to our Sovereign Shepherd who works all things for our good and His glory, in His time, and in His way. (Romans 8:1-17)
This confidence becomes evident as we live in earnest and eager expectation of answered prayer. Consider Paul, who was so positive Philemon’s prayers would be answered for Paul’s release that he instructed Philemon to prepare his guest room! (verse 22) Paul was relying on the Spirit to work in Philemon to accomplish reconciliation with Onesimus AND for Paul’s own restoration to freedom.
We can have the same confident expectation as we pray TODAY. The same Spirit is guiding and teaching us, leading us in Truth. (John 16:13-25) The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us, empowering and equipping us to carry out the divine ministry God has given us. (Romans 6:1-11; Romans 8:1-11)
So we end our journey through Philemon with Paul’s prayer for unity in the body of Christ, the growth and maturity of believers, and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. I pray that you, being firmly rooted and established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love, and to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us– to Him be the glory[.]”
Philemon Day 14
Paul asked for prayer and prayed constantly himself because he believed that when God’s people prayed, God worked in them and through them to perform His will and His Word.
Like Paul, let's pray for our friends and ask them to pray for us, inviting God to work in every situation we face.
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