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Saturday, November 23, 2013

Asking for a Favor with Humility

That Same Kind of Love
Shirley Connolly

Paul's letter to Philemon is short and to the point; it comes to focus almost immediately.

Why did he feel the need to write to Philemon from Colossae while he was in prison? The main reason is to humbly ask for a favor from a friend for a friend. A favor that would deal with the heart and soul of the believer  -- the acts of forgiveness and reconciliation.

  • Philemon pastored a church in his home and was known as a pastor who refreshed those who were a part of this body God gave to him to minister to.
  • Paul did not plant the church there in Colossae; his evangelist friend Epaphroditis did.
  • Paul had never been to this church physically, nor did he know the body in a personal way, but Paul cared very much about them 
Paul, while in his prison cell, did not turn idle. If he was not praying, worshipping, singing, or witnessing, he was writing letters to the body throughout Asia, to offer them encouragement, warnings, words of faith, messages of hope, and sometimes humble requests. Because he was a man of faithful prayer even for those he had not yet met, God brought a number of churches to his mind and heart to remember.

Philemon (a wealthy Christian man) was presumed to be a minister over a church in his home in the city of Colossae and that his home was probably quite large in order to be able to house an entire body of believers.

Back in Paul's personal letter to the Colossian Christians we might recall how he saw the need to warn them about the Jewish zealots who kept trying to convince the believers they needed to return to the strict inheritance of ceremonial law over grace. (just as he did with the Philippian Christians). Paul, in this particular letter (Philemon), however, pens this letter with his co-writer Timothy specifically for the purpose of bringing out how he wanted Philemon and the Body there to deal with one of Philemon's slaves (Onesimus). His purpose: Receive Onesimus with forgiveness and reconciliation. Onesimus was a slave of Philemon who had run away, but who, through Paul's ministry got saved. In this letter, Paul will be calling for these Christians to be accepting of this man who has become a dear friend to him.

  • Philemon is a letter about forgiveness, reconciliation, and showing joy when we offer it to others
  • Philemon teaches the believer about Equality in Christ. (Although Onesimus was a slave, Paul wants Philemon to consider him the same as him, a brother in Christ.).  
  • Just as we know Grace is a gift from God, it is important for us out of gratitude, to show that same grace to others.
Jesus constantly commanded his disciples to love one another, and that the difference between them and pagans would be how they showed love. Paul requested that same kind of love from Philemon, which runs contrary to our human instinct. He makes request for Onesimus even knowing he could not make excuses for the runaway slave, but maybe in part he wanted to see others take part in making someone who people thought bad, become good and useful instead.

We don’t know much about how Paul met Onesimus. There is a possibility he could have met him while in prison, for it is there we believe he could have served Paul in a small way. It is during this time that Paul brings Onesimus to the Lord. Now Paul has written this short letter and is sending Onesimus back to Colossae to his Master Philemon to be reconciled to his owner, to be forgiven by the body there, and to be made useful to the Body as he was useful to Paul. Though Onesimus was now saved, he had not yet been pardoned by his owner.  

Many commentators found it especially interesting how this short letter would have been chosen to be preserved so it could be added to the scriptures for us today. Obviously there is something that we can learn with regard to our Christian walks. That we can put to practice when it comes to forgiveness and reconciliation with others.

I.                   That Blessing of Grace and Peace

Philemon 1-7
Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow labourer, And to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house: Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. 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. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

  • Paul writes to Philemon specifically (Because he was the owner of the slave)
  • Paul writes to Apphia specifically -- a sister in the church, possibly Philemon's wife. (Because she is the one who deals with the domestic affairs of the church there in Philemon's home.)
  • Paul writes to Archippus -- a fellow laborer in the Lord (Because he is a brother there in the church who is filled with concern about the returning slave)
  • Paul writes to the Body at Colossae (Because Onesimus's return will affect the entire body. Are they going to be accepting or rejecting?)
  • Paul certainly writes to YOU and to ME 
For your reflection: Why is it important for us to be included in Paul's purpose for writing this letter?

  1. At the beginning of the Letter, Paul shows his affection for this Body. "Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ."
Whenever Paul starts his letters to the churches, he is careful to draw the body's attention to God first and always to remind those he writes to of his fondness and concern for them. He continually brings the believer back to that Grace and Peace that God has available to us. One thing that's different about this letter is that he doesn’t begin it with "Paul the apostle" but "Paul the prisoner" making it more personal. He's writing to a friend as we've mentioned earlier. 

  1. Paul emphasizes the importance of being Thankful and Prayerful.
He's never met this body and yet,

  • He thanks God for them
  • He lets them know he remembers them in his prayers,
  • He lets them know he keeps track of them, so that he will know how they are doing  
(Hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints)

  • He thinks to pray to those in the body to remain active in sharing their  faith with others
For your reflection: Discuss some ways we show others in the body of Christ

  1. we are faithful to thank God for them, for their friendship
  2. we are staying faithful to pray for them
  3. that we stay on top of how they are doing in the Lord
 Paul shows how we should continually be refreshed by the Love Others Extend to Us  
He's never met this body personally and yet. He is able to say to them: (Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints).

II.                 That Necessary Act of Acceptance and Forgiveness

Philemon 8-18
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-- I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good-- no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me

We find ourselves to the main point of Paul's letter: His Plea for Onesimus. He has started his letter with words of encouragement, love, faithfulness, grace, and assurance that this particular body has brought him great joy as he has learned of their growth in the Lord and their flourishing as a Body of Believers.

A letter which begins with such great encouragement and love makes it easier to be able to share further in about the burden or concern you might have on your heart about a certain subject. (The important thing of course is whether or not it will be received when the recipient of the letter opens it and reads it) So much matters on what we write, how we write it, and where our heart is at the time we write the letter.

Another aspect of this letter which I think is important is that though Paul could have made a demand to Philemon and the body to be accepting of Onesimus upon his return, with humility Paul appeals instead.

Let's break this portion down.

  • Paul is now ready to petition these believers
  • Paul is concerned for how they will treat someone who has become his friend
  • Paul has come to love this dear man. "I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel."
  • Paul would like to see Philemon and the body there at Colossae willing to take Onesimus back not simply as a slave but as a brother.
  • Paul, in spite of what Onesimus might have done in the past, is willing to take the wrong. 
Onesimus, who may have been considered by many to be useless in the past, now as a believer, can be made beneficial not only to himself but to others. The Lord is so gracious to make people without hope, new creations in Him and able to be used in positive ways for God's glory.

Another thing we can see here in the life of Onesimus the runaway slave who became a Christian is this and it can apply to each of us personally.

As stated by William Barclay, "Christianity is not out to help a man escape his past and run away from it; it is out to enable him to face his past and rise above it."

I love that. We all have something in our past we would like to just forget and hope that someday it will just disappear as if it never happened…but it did.

As Christians we CAN face our pasts, let them go, then move forward with our lives. We have been forgiven for our wrongs, we can become forgiving to others who might have wronged us, and we need to let go and let God take control of our future.

We know God forgives, but for us it is sometimes not easy. When we have made mistakes, or others have made mistakes against us the way back how willing, though, are we to let them back into our lives if this is what is necessary?

For your reflection: Consider a time when you have been in this situation and how you dealt with it, or are dealing with it today.

Philemon, as short of a letter as it is, just as I mentioned before speaks to the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation.  Ephesians 4:31-32 brings it out well, not only in the forgiveness of others, but I believe, in the forgiveness of ourselves…as we let go of that past that just might continue to plague us.

III.              Confidence in Loved Ones

Philemon 18-25
He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back--not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask. And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Starting this section of Philemon with the 18th verse again, I want to emphasize where Paul was willing to even take the wrong of Onesimus's past whatever it entailed. This shows us Paul's example as a similarity in the teachings and actions of our Lord, who took our wrongs of the world upon himself when he died on the cross for our sins, doesn’t it.

For your reflection: Have you ever had a circumstance where you have taken the wrong in a situation between you and someone else?

Paul ends this brief letter in such a human and affectionate way. "How about putting me up, Philemon, my good brother? Got a room ready for me? Did you change the sheets? Are you going to put a chocolate on my pillow?" (my words of course)

It seems to me so personal how Paul would ask for them to kindly make provisions for him (provide him with a place to sleep should he come to see them). There are so many places in Paul's letters where he gets personal with those to whom he writes. He makes his letter so real, so practical. Once again, the emphasis of this letter once again takes us back to forgiveness, reconciliation, and the joy we can have by showing this in our lives toward others.

To think about:

  1. What are ways you can show you are expecting the best of people?
  2. How do you see this letter applying specifically to your life?
  3. There are times we all need to be reconciled to someone. How do we go about bringing a healing to a relationship?

Yes, Jesus constantly commanded his disciples to love one another, and that the difference between them and pagans would be how they showed love. Paul requested that same kind of love from Philemon, which runs contrary to our human instinct. God requests that same kind of love from us toward others.

Just as we learned about living with joy throughout Paul's letter to the Philippians, I believe God fills us with joy when we do show forgiveness to others, love for others, and try to reconcile with others as much as is possible within us.  


Friday, November 8, 2013

The Lord is at Hand; How are we Standing?

Philippians 4
Having a Generous Heart
Shirley Connolly

In Chapter Three we talked about the joy we have in believing - the joy we have in pressing toward that high mark in Christ - the joy we have in remembering that our citizenship is in heaven not here on Earth.

I.                   Standing Fast

Philippians 4:1   Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved.

Paul's endearing statement was to those who meant so much to him…I love it. Here he was in the middle of the Mamartime Prison and chained to a guard and in the lowest dungeon, and yet to the Philippians (and to you and me) he says: Stand Fast in the Lord. Stand fast against what? It is he and Silas who are in the chains. It is he who is suffering. It is he who is bound. But Paul isn’t concentrating on that. How then shall we stand fast?
In the last chapter Paul's continual warnings were about people falling for doctrinal error -- against those who come against the freedom we have when we embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace. This would not stop being important, but he takes it further in this chapter.

Standing Fast here, moves us on from what to look out for with false teachers to our relationships with others in the Lord…not so much in worldly matters but in spiritual matters.
Paul's eyes were not focused on himself. He showed here his care was mostly for the affairs of others.

Are we standing fast?

How else do we persevere in our Lord?
·         By reminding ourselves of our heavenly citizenship (Are we continuing on with what's important?)
·         By remembering that it's the Joy of the Lord that gives us strength because of His love for us and the grace He extended to us (Are we continuing on with what's important)? Paul sang and worshipped. What do we do?
·        We stand fast when we count it a privilege to suffer even humiliation because our love for the Lord is stronger than what others think of us or what is going on around us (Are we continuing on with what's important in this way too?)

The Philippian Christians were Paul's joy and crown. He counted it a privilege to know them and to feel he was a part of them. He counted the fellowship he had with them as something precious.  He counted it as a joy to be called upon to minister to them…even while in jail. For Paul it was a way of giving of himself.

What about us? How do we stand fast in the Lord each day?  What are ways we give of ourselves to others…to God?

1 Thessalonians 2:19-20
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing?  Are not ye even in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming.  For ye are our glory and joy.

our greatest hope, our opportunity for joy, our crown of rejoicing

  • That greatest hope: THAT WE WILL BE IN THE PRESENCE OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST WHEN HE COMES FOR US. (Boy, will we be singing and worshipping them)  
  • Our opportunity for joy: That we will let Him transform us and have control of us (We don’t have to wait until heaven for that; we can let Him have us now)
  • A Crown of Rejoicing? That we remain focused on the Lord and less on ourselves 

Romans 12:1-2 says it perfectly

II.                The Same Mind

Philippians 4:2-7      I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Euodia and Syntache were two Christian women who served the Lord with sincerity but seemed to be at odds with each other. Paul shows his concern about this, and because he truly cares for these sisters, he writes to encourage Euodias and Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Then he asks the same of the rest of the body there. These two women labored faithfully with him in the gospel; they were highly esteemed (enough so to be included in the scriptures). We can see how much he cares by telling the others to be friends to these two women and to help them (encourage them) in the Lord. Paul is asking the Philippian believers to be there not only for them but for the other fellow works in Philippi whose names are included in God's Book of Life.  

It also comes to how we treat others or care for others in the body of Christ today? We are not called to compromise our faith, but we still do what we can to rectify our relationships one with another.

Other ways to be of the same mind with others in the body.

If we put our mind to doing these things God's perfect peace which goes far beyond our understanding which is available to us and will guard our Hearts and Minds in Jesus.   

  • Rejoice in the Lord always (Rejoice together)
  • Be gentle (not only with those we are close to but with all in the body)
  • Don’t be filled with anxiety (and be an encourager to someone who is)
  • Pray for one another (be sincere -- Latin word for sincerus which means without wax…something that holds together even in the heat.  As we pray for one another in sincerity we are also asking God to help others no matter how HOT it might get for them in trials.)
  • Give thanks for one another
  • Lift up needs as they are brought to our attention. Don't put off for another day

We are reminded that Paul is writing this letter from a prison cell, and yet he is able to tell others what he is doing himself:  


  1. Reflection: How do you keep an emphasis on the Joy of Christ rather than the circumstances you are in?
  2. Reflection: How do Paul's words of encouragement here help you when it comes to dealing with faulty relationships?

Nothing should take away our joy in Jesus Christ. Not relationship problems, not anything. This is what Paul's emphasis was on. It went beyond feelings. We also need to remember that Paul is speaking to those IN the church, NOT in the world. God's peace is different from the world's peace.

John 14:27

Look again at verse 5. The last part of that verse says to them and to us: THE LORD IS AT HAND.

The early church sensed that Jesus was coming soon for them, possibly during their lifetime. Just as they were looking for the Lord's coming then, every generation should be living in expectancy for the imminent return of the Lord for His church. I  believe that return will happen soon. Thinking in this way has several beneficial advantages for us and on our lives.  

  • It gives us an urgency to share the gospel -- to get the word out so others can learn the Word as God would have it taught and learned.
  • It helps us keep our lives and our desires in perspective. We receive a healthier outlook on things and on what's important. Material things, worldly values go to the back burner and are more likely to stay there. Spiritual matters go on the front burner.
  • As we have a conscious awareness of the soon return of the Lord for His church it helps us see what matters most. The temporal no longer seems quite as important.
  • As we concentrate on the soon coming of the Lord gives us purity in our walk and with our lives. 
  1. Reflection: If Jesus Christ was coming soon for you, how and where would you want Him to find you?   

Chuck Smith wrote: "I think we are blessed to be in the generation that will witness His coming…my hope is that He will come back soon, and I believe God INTENDED that to be the hope of each generation -- that we would LIVE in this anticipation." 

Yes, the Lord is coming soon. I believe that with all my heart.

III.             A Moment of Meditation

Philippians 4:8-9    Finally brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things. The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace be with you.

The minds of the Philippian Christian determined what was coming through their spoken words and through their actions. It is the same with us today as Christian women. What do we keep in our hearts and minds today?

  • To be true
  • To be noble
  • To be just
  • To be pure
  • To be lovely within
  • To be of good report

Each of these represent our virtue, our hope be worthy of praise, and what brings us God's peace far beyond anything we ever have to go through.

IV.             The Generosity of the Believer.

Philippians 4:10-13    But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me

Paul speaks at first about how the church takes care of their ministers and how he appreciated what the Philippian Christians but by reading this with 1 Corinthians 9:11-18 he points out that he didn’t minister to receive anything from the body. That wasn’t his purpose to make a living off them. He received from the Philippian body because they willingly gave to him because he had a need.This is an important concept for you and for me.

Paul was content in his circumstances for the most part, willing to build tents to get by on and yet, his focus was ministering to the people. But the Christians who were in the right state of mind had the discernment to see his needs, and it was on their hearts to care for this man who they loved. Paul brings out here what is so important and how a person can be content no matter what

Ø  Whether we are abased or whether we are abounding
Ø  Whether we are hungry or whether we are full
Ø  Whether we are needy or whether we are in plenty
Ø  The fact that we can do all things through Christ who DOES give us the strength to do so.  
       John 15:5   I can do all things…without Him we can do nothing

Are you content in the circumstances you face? Paul's secret was drawing on the power of Jesus Christ for that strength.  We can trust God to meet our needs. He WILL supply our needs. But that's the key. It is our needs and not always our wants that God comes through with. If it is our wants we can easily get in God's way and get those things, only to be dissatisfied later because we shouldn’t have them.

1.       Reflection: What was Paul's key to staying so content while he was in that dirty cell?

1 Corinthians 2:13-16  These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.

  1. Reflection: The answer to our contentment lies in our priorities, perspective, and our source of power. What are you committed to doing and being? 
V.                 That Sweet-Smelling Savor for Him

Philippians 4:14-23    Nevertheless you have done well that you shared in my distress. Now you Philippians know also in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account. Indeed I have all and abound. I am full, having received from Epaphroditis the things sent fom you, a sweet smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God. And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Jesus Christ. Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever, amen.  

Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you. All the saints greet you, but especially those, who are of Caesar's household. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

The Philippian body provided Paul, their teacher with financial support especially while he was in prison. To Paul they were a sweet savor. What a lovely compliment. He emphasizes just how blessed what they were doing was to God. It was their SPIRIT OF LOVE and DEVOTION that Paul appreciated most, not the financial support they gave him. You can read more about thank offerings in  Leviticus 7:12-15

One way you and can become a sweet smelling savor for the Lord is when we too see the need of someone else, especially someone who has ministered to us in some way that drew us closer to the Lord, and we benefit from finding out from the Lord what we can do for them. To God that is a sweet smelling savor, a THANK OFFERING, and WELL PLEASING to Him for we are giving a little SOMETHING OF OURSELVES.

Even when I am worshipping and singing from my heart, it is in this small way I  can also give of myself to God.

1.       Reflection: Think about how YOU are becoming a sweet-smelling savor for the Lord right now.

Let's review once more other ways we can be women of the Lord with generous hearts


Consider once more this awesome letter from Paul to the body at Philippi and to us.We really can have the joy of the Lord. In the evening, at noontime, and in the morning, by allowing God to help us rise above adversity not just by surviving but by thriving in that Joy only He can give us.

Are you standing fast in the Lord today?
Am I?