- Sermon Notes
Becoming Useful to the Lord
This letter to Philemon is one of the shortest of the New Testament books and certainly one of the shortest letters Paul wrote to any of the churches.
Paul wrote this letter while he was a prisoner in Rome during his first imprisonment. Though he was a prisoner he was allowed considerable freedom.
He was allowed to rent his own quarters, and, although he was under constant Roman guard, he was also allowed to receive visitors.
Many came to hear the gospel and, in fact, a revival was breaking out in Rome as Paul received so many people. The cause of Christ even became well
known throughout the whole praetorian guard.
One day, a slave who was running away from his master was brought to Paul. His name was Onesimus. He had apparently also stolen something from his
master, Philemon, and was running away.
Paul led Onesimus to faith in Christ. He had such authentic faith and zeal for the Lord that he became very useful to Paul; ministering to his needs
in his imprisonment and assisting in whatever he could do.
But Paul knew that Onesimus had to make things right with Philemon. He had wronged Philemon by stealing from him and running away. He must go back;
he must make it right. So Paul writes this letter to appeal to Philemon in behalf of Onesimus who had become so useful to Paul. He appeals to Philemon
to forgive Onesimus and to receive him back as a brother in Christ and no longer as a slave.
Paul offers to pay back the value of whatever Onesimus took, offering to pay from his own account. And he asks that not only would Philemon forgive
Onesimus, but that he would also send him back to Paul to continue helping him in his imprisonment in Rome. He had become so useful, that Paul
wanted Philemon to willingly send him.
- Paul writes this letter to Philemon – and the church that was in his house. Therefore, Onesimus had already heard the gospel, but he wasn’t responding.
- Something was holding him back. Something was keeping him from receiving the gospel. There was something wrong in his heart.
- Whatever that something was that was keeping Onesimus from the gospel, it certainly became evident when he wronged Philemon by stealing from him
and running away.
- On the run, Onesimus headed for Rome and whom should he meet? None other than Paul the apostle, the one God used to ignite a revival in Rome itself.
- Onesimus wasn’t just running from Philemon, he was running from God.
- A lot of people run from God even today. You could be here in church and something is holding you back, something is keeping you from having a
right relationship with God.
- Maybe there’s something wrong and you don’t want to deal with it, you don’t want to own it or take responsibility for it and so you run.
- But what you’ll find is that God will outrun you.
Illus – Someone once said that God is ‘the hound of Heaven,’ but He is more than just on your trail, He goes before you. He’s making appointments, He’s making arrangements so that you finally come to the end of yourself and meet God on His terms.
- In other words, God knows right where you are.
- When Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God in the garden, but can you really hide from God? He knows right where you are.
Illus – Our grandson, Ethan, loves to hide from us, but he’s not exactly good at hiding. His giggling gives him away every time.
Psalm 139:7-8, Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
- Probably the most famous biblical example of someone running from God would be Jonah. God called him to witness to the people of Nineveh, but he despised
them, so he went down to the port of Joppa, and booked passage on a ship going in the exact opposite direction.
- But God cannot be outrun. By God’s sovereign hand, the ship ran straight into a storm. Realizing that he was wrestling with God, he was thrown into
the sea only to be swallowed by a whale and three days later summarily belched up onto the beach. Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second
time, saying, “Get up and go to Nineveh.”
- God allows you to get to that ‘crux point’ in your life. Sometimes you have to get to the end of yourself before you finally call out to God.
Jonah 2:1-2, Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God, and said, “I called out from my distress to the Lord, and He answered me. I cried for help from the depth of Sheol and You heard my voice.”
- Another biblical example of running from God would have to be the prodigal son in Luke 15. After squandering his inheritance on worldly living, a famine
hit the land and the only job he could find was feeding swine… Then it says, “When he came to his senses, he said,
‘I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be
called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’”
- How encouraging it is to know that even if you’re running from God, He will never give up on you.
B. It’s much better to run with God
- Run the race God has set before you. Be in agreement with God, knowing that God runs with you to accomplish what He desires.
- For Onesimus this meant that he had to make things right with Philemon. He had to go back and take responsibility for what he had done. But God was helping him, God was advocating for him through Paul, God was working in his behalf.
- He was growing in faith, but now he must put action to that faith. Taking responsibility for what you’ve done may be difficult, but God blesses faithfulness,
God blesses the heart that trusts in Him.
- This is the process of God maturing your faith.
Philippians 1:6-7, I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
- Verse 11 – Onesimus was formerly useless to you, Paul wrote, but now is useful both to you and to me.
- God is fulfilling the meaning of his name, God is making him useful by maturing his faith. Now, Onesimus is running in the right direction.
Illus – The story of Roy Riegels, also known as ‘Wrong Way, Roy,’ is an inspiring story of running the right way. On January 1, 1929 the Golden Bears of the University of California faced the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at the Rose Bowl.
Roy picked up a fumble and pivoting and spinning away from tacklers he lost his bearing and ran 69 yards in the wrong direction and had to be tackled by his own quarterback.
After the play, Riegels was so distraught that he said to his coach at halftime, “I can’t go back in there. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined myself, I’ve ruined the University of California. I couldn’t face that crowd to save my life.” Coach Nibs Price responded by saying, “Roy, get up and go back out there – the game is only half over.”
Riegels did play the second half and turned in one of the most inspiring performances of his football career.
- When the prodigal son came to the end of himself, he came to his senses and returned to his father. He turned around and went in the right direction.
- Onesimus turned his life around, and we have every reason to believe that Philemon blessed him and set him free to return to Rome to minister with
II. Willingly Let Go of Offenses
- We can also learn from looking at Philemon, he’s certainly an important part of the story as well.
- Philemon had been wronged. Paul sends this letter in the hands of Onesimus himself and appeals to him to forgive, to receive him as a brother, and
to send him back blessed and free.
- But Paul wants him to do this willingly, not under compulsion. Paul has the spiritual authority to command Philemon in this, but he won’t do it, he
wants him to respond willingly.
- Maybe someone has wronged you. Is God asking you to forgive? Is God asking you to let go of the offense? God certainly has the authority to command
you, but He wants you to respond willingly also.
A. Have compassion as a fellow sinner
- We can have compassion on others when we recognize that we are sinners ourselves. God graciously forgave us; can we not extend forgiveness to others?
- That’s one of the main points we just studied in Titus chapter 3…
Titus 3:1-3, Remind them… to be ready for every good deed… showing every consideration for all men. For we were once foolish ourselves…
- In Matthew 18 Jesus gives a parable that makes this point absolutely clear…
- The story is about a king who wish to settle accounts with his servants. One owed him 10,000 talents and was unable to repay. The servant fell to the
ground and pleaded, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
- That king felt compassion and released him and forgave the entire debt. But then that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed
him only 100 denarii. He seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
- So his fellow servant fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and
went and threw him into debtors prison until he should pay back what was owed.
Matthew 18:32, Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked servant, I forgive you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow servant, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
2 Peter 1:8-10, If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or shortsighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins.
B. Forgiveness should come from a willing heart
- Verse 8 – Paul wrote that he had enough confidence in the authority of God in him to command Philemon, but he wouldn’t do it.
- He wanted Philemon to do the right thing from a willing heart…
Philemon 14, Your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will.
- In a similar way, God is asking you to forgive those who have wronged you. He most certainly has the authority to command you to forgive, but forgiveness
should come from a willing heart.
Ephesians 4:2, Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
- God is wanting to bless our lives and we are the ones who are blessed when we forgive… and we are the ones who pay the price of bitterness if
we do not forgive.
Hebrews 12:14-15, Pursue peace with all men… See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled.
- This is the key to being useful to the Lord. Be willing, of your own free will, to do what God is asking you to do; stop resisting God and run with
Him instead of against Him; forgive those who have wronged you, and extend grace.
Philemon 1-14 NASB
1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, 2 and to Apphia our sister,
and to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house: 3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
all the saints; 6 and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s
sake. 7 For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. 8 Therefore,
though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love’s sake I rather appeal to you-since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus-
to me. 12 I have sent him back to you in person, that is,sending my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, so that on your behalf he might minister
to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect,
by compulsion but of your own free will. 15 For perhaps he was for this reason separatedfrom you for a while, that you would have him back forever,
16 no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand, I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well). 20 Yes, brother,
let me benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.
lodging, for I hope that through your prayers I will be given to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, 24 as do Mark, Aristarchus,
Demas, Luke, my fellow workers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.