walk in the word
Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—10I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11(Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. —Philemon 1:8-12
Paul was not just the greatest theologian the church has ever known, he was actually a relational genius. By the end of his life, he seems to have mastered the concept that so often gets us sideways: It is not enough to believe the right things. The challenge is consistently putting those things we believe into practice in the ways we relate to the people around us. Paul helped Philemon with that challenge.
If we look at our lives for a moment we would acknowledge that if we’re sideways, more often than not, it’s relational rather than theological. We can believe the right things but really be struggling to put them into practice in our families and our friendships.
So this month, we’re going to look at some specific lessons from the life of Paul because I don’t just want us to be truth people. I don’t just want all of us to have sound doctrine—though I do want that. Everybody knows that someone who knows everything that the Bible teaches, but can’t forgive their son. We not only want to be truth people, but also to see that truth actually lived out in the way we relate to one another. Paul was exemplary in that.
So why is it so difficult to put into practice the theology we know to be true? Because we’re selfish. We tend to think about what will benefit us most of the time. And, when we are selfish, Romans 2:8 warns, “But for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” Not good. God wants us to put others first by doing what benefits them over what benefits us. And, if all this selfishness is translating into relational strife, God wants to see people reconciled.
The heart of the Gospel is reconciliation. God doesn’t want anybody at odds with anyone. God wants everyone humbling themselves and getting along. Sometimes communication can break down: She’s not listening to him anymore and he doesn’t trust her anymore and so on. Somebody who has the confidence of both of the people may have to stick themselves in the middle and bring that together. I want you to do that. It’s what Paul is doing here in this passage of Philemon.
Prayer – Father, I want to have Your heart about reconciliation. You sent Your Son to reconcile me to Yourself, help me to get over my own need for relational comfort and help bring reconciliation to those around me. More than that, give me Your wisdom to know when and how to work for reconciliation. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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