Wednesday, November 7, 2012

the right, your rights, and His righteousness‏

Today I read the book of Philemon. If you are not a regular Bible reader, don't be too impressed that I read an entire book of the Bible today. It is a letter from Paul to Philemon and it consists of only 25 verses.

Paul is making a request of Philemon. He is asking him to be demonstrate fruit in keeping with the Gospel of God that Philemon professes. Paul does not hesitate to qualify what the correct and proper response is to his request. Paul does not "leave up" to Philemon the interpretation of right or wrong, but he does submit his request to Philemon's right to disobey.

"14 But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will."

Paul has leverage as an Apostle hand-picked by God to preach the Gospel to the gentiles. Paul has pull as Philemon's friend. Paul has authority in that he likely led Philemon to Christ and is his spiritual father of sorts. Paul does not let this fact go undocumented.

"18 And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self."

Paul eagerly desires to see his friend, son, and brother Philemon respond in step with the Gospel by extending grace where it has been already extended to him in and by Jesus. Notice that Paul intentionally uses Gospel imagery in making his petition to Philemon.

Onesimus has wronged Philemon and owes him money, honor, respect, and service which he forsook in fleeing. Onesimus in indebted to Philemon for things he left undone and things he did which were wrong. Onesimus needs Philemon's forgiveness.

Paul's plea is that Philemon would see in this depiction a vision of himself before God.

Philemon was a sinner saved by grace. He owed God service he had passively left undone. He also actively broke God's rules. Philemon was indebted to God for everything and had not acknowledged His authority over him. BUT, God rescued him in Christ. God sent Paul to preach the Good News of reconciliation and redemption in Christ. By grace God granted faith to Philemon to repent, receive and believe in Jesus. How can he who had been forgiven so much and been reconciled so great a debt now turn around and hold a grudge against another? Particularly when the debt is not as great as that which he himself had been forgiven. Specifically now that this one, Onesimus, had also repented, received and believed on Jesus for his forgiveness. Jesus had forgiven Onesimus for his sin against Philemon. Paul is urging and encouraging Philemon now to forgive Onesimus' debts as he also was forgiven his own.

"21 Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say."

Paul here is very clear about what he desires (the right thing) and the expectation he has of Philemon (righteousness). He also confirms that he cannot by force make Philemon ultimately to do that which he desires most. Paul wants Philemon to want to do the right thing for the right reasons. He wants Philemon to believe and trust in God enough to extend grace to others.  Not by bullying, but by regeneration.  In order to do so, Philemon must be instructed as to what is (right), but also given the opportunity to respond (his right) according to his own heart's conviction (righteousness if in concert with the right).

May we study and delight in that which God has called us to do and despise that which He has called us to abandon. May we respond to His authority with deference and His kindness with devotion. May we, like Paul, urge and spur our brothers and sisters to do the right thing, the neighborly thing, the loving thing, the tough and godly thing. May we like Philemon, be expected and anticipated to do right.

As a church we should affirm both of these:   
  1. We will speak truth and encourage faithfulness in our brothers and sisters according to God's Word.
  2. We will listen to the truth and welcome rebuke and/or encouragement from our brothers and sisters if they see in us thoughts, attitudes, or actions in conflict or contradiction to God's Word. 
Can we as a church make this covenant?

Can we determine to be accountable BOTH to calling each other out AND to receiving rebuke if we are in error?

May it be so to the glory of God and Christ being formed more and more daily within us.

1 comment:

  1. i had never really considered that paul was setting up the situation as an illustration of the gospel philemon had already benefitted from. that makes it all the more powerful that paul is urging him to do the right thing IN LIGHT of the exact same thing having been done for him.