Whenever you read the New Testament, there are so many significant moments, in the New Testament, which were not just significant for that day, the New Testament Day. But moments that have shaped human history ever since. And of course, the birth, the death, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, the coming of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the church. And over the next Sundays when I’m with you this summer, I want us to look at a momentous event that we often miss in the New Testament, simply because it’s tucked away in the shortest letter of the New Testament, the letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon. And it’s there in that passage, there is a momentous event that has shaped human history over the past 2000 years. And we’re going to be exploring it over the next couple of weeks and seeing how that momentous event has shaped our today. In fact, it’s probably shaped everyone in this church tonight and how it continues to shape our world today. And so we’re going to be looking over the next couple of weeks at Paul’s letter to Philemon but this evening, we’re going to be thinking particularly about Philemon himself in verses one to seven. But before we sort of jump straight into that, I want us to think about the three main characters in this letter. Because in this letter we have a prisoner. We have a trader and we have a runaway slave. Three characters in this really short letter, a prisoner, a trader, and a runaway slave. Who’s the prisoner? Who do you think is the prisoner in the letter to Philemon? It’s Paul the Apostle Paul. Paul, who was preaching the good news of Jesus on his way from Jerusalem, making his way, all the way to Rome. And whenever Paul talked about Jesus, two things happened. The Jesus in Paul’s talks, Paul sermons, would come alive to people and their lives would be completely changed. To use the New Testament word, they would be saved. They would become new creations. And so when Paul preached about Jesus, people’s lives were impacted forever. But also when Paul spoke about Jesus, inevitably at some point he would generate conflict and sometimes that conflict was in the form of a riot and Paul would end up in prison. And so here we have Paul writing to Philemon from prison.
Historically, we used to think that Paul was in prison in Rome but more recently we actually now think that Paul’s actually in prison in Ephesus. So if you think Lausanne and Bern so think in those terms. Ephesus where Paul’s in prison ,Colossae where our trader lives, and guess who the trader is? Philemon. Or as our youth and children’s worker calls him Phil. So Phil lives in Bern and Paul’s in prison in Lausanne. Ephesus, Colossae. And Paul is writing to Phil to Philemon who we reckon is a wealthy man. Probably a trader, probably had traveled from Colossae down to Ephesus and had heard Paul preach. And guess what – had come to faith. His life had been completely turned upside down and not just Philemon’s life, but the life of his wife who had become a Christian and his son as well. Hearing Paul preach about Jesus had completely turned Philemon’s life upside down. So we have a prisoner, we’ve a trader, and then we have a runaway slave by the name of Useful. That was his nickname. His nickname was Useful. And the New Testament greek for useful is Onesimus as he’s called in our passage, and Onesimus was a slave who belonged to guess who Philemon. He was Philemon’s slave. Something had gone wrong and Onesimus had made a run for it and he was on the run now and he had gone from Colossae and he traveled all the way down to Ephesus. Now you probably know as well as I do that in Roman days, if you were a runaway slave and you were caught, guess what?
Yeah, you would forfeit your life. And so Onesimus is running for his life, not just from Philemon, but ensuring that he doesn’t get caught. And you can imagine him sort of hanging out in the dodgy end of Ephesus. Trying to stay away from Roman soldiers, trying to stay away from anybody who might recognize him and life must be pretty desperate. And so he ends up going to visit the only person who he has heard of. Who? Paul in prison. And so he meets Paul, he encounters Paul. And guess what? Onesimus becomes a follower of Jesus.
And that’s the context of our story. This is a story and we’re not thinking about this tonight, but this is a story which is quite remarkable because Paul, the prisoner, is going to say to the runaway slave Oneismus you need to go back to Philemon. What a request. What a request. And so Paul writes this letter to Philemon. This is a bit of a spoiler alert this evening. But Paul is going to say to Philemon, I want you to no longer see Onesimus as a slave, but because he’s become a Christian, I want you to now see him as a brother. In Roman days that was just shocking that you would actually consider a slave, a member of your family, a brother. But more about that in the next couple of weeks. So what I’d love us to do this evening is to look at that Bible passage that you have in your service booklet is Philemon verses one to seven.
And I just want us to look at the life of Philemon and, just a couple of things that I think are just worth taking away, from this man’s life. So here’s the first one. I want us just to think a little bit about Philemon’s faith. So have a look at verses four to seven. I’m going to read them for you. And here’s the question. What is it that Paul celebrates about Phil’s faith? What is it that Paul celebrates about Phil’s faith? And to ensure that you’re wide awake? I’m going to ask you that. Okay. So I want a bit of interaction here, a bit of response. So here we go. Verse Four. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus.
I pray that your partnership with us in faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you brother have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. Phil’s faith. What is it that Paul celebrates? Now, I don’t want to pick on anybody, so. Love mentioned a couple of times in verse four and then again in verse seven obviously somebody who clearly loves Jesus and not only loves Jesus but loves people. What else? Faith. Encouragement, partnership. One more begins with R. Understanding, yes. I’m thinking about one more in verse seven. We had encouragement. Refresh. So here’s Paul celebrating Phil’s faith. Phil is a lover of Jesus and a lover of people. He is someone who trusts Jesus with everything. We’ll see that in a minute. He’s somebody that if you meet him, you’re going to walk away encouraged and you’re going to walk away refreshed.
That’s pretty good.
I think that’s pretty good. If someone was to write a letter to you and they were celebrating your faith what words would they use? You don’t need to answer that, by the way, just in case you were worrying., What is it, about your faith that they would celebrate? Probably a slightly uncomfortable question that, but as I read about Philemon’s faith, I was struck by just how much Paul could celebrate. Clearly, coming to faith in Jesus has transformed this guy’s life. He loves Jesus and he loves people. He trusts Jesus. And whenever you meet them, it’s encouraging. You walk away you’re refreshed. What we might call today as a plus two. You know, somebody who just gives, gives of themselves, you feel encouraged. Excuse me, just need to grab some water. And I found myself just turning that into a prayer this week, or for me personally . It was Lord,, would you make me someone that – I’m a lover of Jesus, and I’m a lover of people. That when people rub shoulders with me, they leave encouraged and refreshed. Would you make me somebody who’s faith in Jesus is celebrated I think it’s a pretty good prayer. Probably a great prayer for all of us as well. So Philemon is an encourager. Someone who is such a blessing. Hope you’re still still with me. Have a look at verses one to three. I’m going to read verses one to three for us. And so here’s the question from verses one to three and there’s only, there’s only one answer to this. So this is really easy. In what way is Philemon practically serving Jesus? Okay. So first one, Paul, the prisoner of Christ, Jesus, Timothy, our brother to Philemon, our dear fellow friend and fellow worker also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier and to the Church that meets in your home, grace and peace to you from God, our father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
So what is it that that Philemon’s doing for Jesus? What’s he doing? So he’s opened his home, opened up his home. Really simple thing, isn’t it? That whatever Jesus has done in Philemon’s life, Philemon now thinks of his home as belonging to Jesus. He’s saying to Jesus, my home is yours. You do with my home, whatever you want. And so he’s opened up his home and there’s a church meeting there. And I don’t know, I mean this is not true of St. Peter’s, but you do get a few odd people in churches, don’t you. I mean, maybe, maybe your churches are not like that, but you do get a few sort of difficult people. Can you imagine opening up your home to people you don’t know? Strangers, people you may not like particularly, but you’re saying, Jesus, my home is your home. Do with it whatever you want to do with it. And maybe there were times in Philemon’s home where they sat around his dinner table and they ate and they read the Bible. Well, they read Paul’s letters, probably they worshiped together. They shared communion together. They prayed for each other. He had opened up his home so that Jesus could impact other people.
I don’t know whether this is true or not, but I find that the older I’ve got, the more I cherish my personal space. And guess where my personal space generally is? It’s in my home. It’s a bit of a challenge for me to open up the home because I think, but I need my personal space. And yet here’s a man who’s been touched by Jesus and he’s saying, okay, maybe I do need my personal space, but I want to open up my home for the Lord to use. I am as you know, responsible not just for Vevey our church Vevey but I have sort of little bit of oversight over a church Neuchatel and we have, an Ethiopian refugee in our church called Teblis. All the other meetings outside of, because we don’t have our own church there. All the other meetings outside of our Sunday worship there, it’s in Teblis’ house. Teblis doesn’t have two franks to rub together. But whenever you walk into her house, there’s food and there’s a welcome and she cannot do enough for you. And she has this vision of her apartment. It’s a single bedroom apartment being a place where the members of Neuchatel church can gather and meet. Does the Lord have your§§ home?
Does the Lord have your house? Does the Lord have your apartment? I’m going to tell you a story. This is the same sermon that All Saint’s got this morning. A couple who were visiting the church came up to me afterwards and said that they had been in the process of buying a new property in Switzerland and the reason why they were buying a new property is that they wanted something for themselves. And this passage has re envisioned their understanding of their property now completely. As they read about how Philemon opened up his home and a church, met in that home. And do you know what? He was in tears because he suddenly saw it differently. This possession, this prized possession that he was pouring. Well, you knew what properties like in Switzerland that this was not just for him and his wife. This was for Jesus and for Jesus to use.
One last thought and then we’re finished. And I want us to look at verse six. And the question, it’s a really easy question, is what is it that Paul prays for Philemon? And so Paul has praised Philemon’s faith and he’s highlighted what Philemon’s doing for the kingdom. But then Paul prays for him. He, Paul wants more. Paul wants the Lord to do more in Philemon and through Philemon. And so Paul prays for him. So have a look at verse six. What does Paul pray for for Philemon? I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing – in some translations it says every good gift – every good gift we share for the sake of Christ.
What does Paul Pray for for Philemon? Interesting. Interesting little phrase isn’t it. He prays that Philemon would have understanding. The Christian faith isn’t simply about doing stuff. It’s about deepening our understanding. So what is it that Paul wants Philemon’s understanding? Where does it need to be deepened? He wants to understand that, every good thing, every good gift that Philemon has is for sharing for the sake of Christ.
Philemon who has already shared his house, that’s a good gift. Paul is now praying Philemon, I want you to go beyond that. Now, that might seem slightly innocuous, but think of it in these terms. What possession have we come across already in this letter, and I’m not talking about the house. What else does Philemon own? What? The slave. This is where Paul is going. Philemon, you think of your slave in the same way as you think of your house. It’s your possession. Philemon, here’s, how I want you to think of it. I want you to think of it as a good gift given to you for the sake of Jesus Christ. Now we sit here, the 21st century, and this means very little to us it sort of just flows over us. Put yourself in first century shoes. Slaves were possessions.
Paul wants Philemon’s understanding of his slaves to deepen and he is to understand them as good gifts given to him by Jesus. That is revolutionary. That is utterly and totally revolutionary. No first century person would have thought like that. To take a slave and to do this was anathema and Paul is praying that that’s exactly the understanding that Philemon’s going to come to that in the Kingdom of God because as Jesus looks at Philemon, as Jesus looks at this slave, he doesn’t see this. What does he see? He sees this and so Philemon’s understanding of Oneisimus is going to be transformed and Paul’s praying for that.
This stuff is dynamite. Absolute dynamite. In fact I read this week that the letter to Philemon was described as a ticking time bomb to blow open the whole understanding of slavery in the Roman world. See, that’s Jesus. That’s Jesus. That’s the gospel. The Gospel completely transforms our understanding, not just of our possessions but how we see people. I wonder, is there someone in your life that you need to see differently? Is there someone in your life that you need to see differently? Is Jesus calling you to see someone differently? Maybe it’s your boss who is a really bad piece of work. Maybe it’s your neighbour who is just a complete pain. Maybe it’s an estranged son or daughter. Maybe it’s an estranged father or mother. And Jesus is wanting to transform the way you see them. As Paul is calling, and praying that Philemon would see his slave Onesimus in a radically different way. Isn’t it exciting to be a follower of Jesus? Isn’t it challenging to be a follower of Jesus? Let’s pray.