Summary: 2nd of 3 in Philemon series. A look at how God wants to change the way we look at the world. Emphasis on how complaining comes from not recognizing God’s sovereignty
How would you feel if you were kidnapped, bound and held hostage by a mass murderer on the run? That’s exactly what happened to Ashley Smith in March of last year, when she was abducted by Brian Nichols after he had killed four people escaping the Atlanta courthouse where he was on trial for rape. Perhaps you remember her story making headlines. What did she think about it? She told reporters “I think God led him to my door.” She reportedly read to Nichols from “The Purpose Driven Life” and told him perhaps God’s Destiny for him was that he go to prison and share the Gospel with other inmates.
How’s that for a changed perspective? In the story we’re looking at today Paul calls on a man named Philemon to change his perspective about a runaway slave named Onesimus.
I believe that as Christians we all need to have a transformed perspective.
If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace. Romans 8:6 NLT
So how can we have a change in the way we look at things?
1. See God’s Hand in Circumstances
15Perhaps you could think of it this way: Onesimus ran away for a little while so you could have him back forever.
Paul asks Philemon to look at things in a different way, in a God centered way. To not see Onesimus’ departure as the result of a disobedient slave’s decision, but as the providence of God—Perhaps God let him run away so that He could come back as a Christians and not only a slave but a brother.
Paul is calling here for a sort of Godly optimism that recognizes that in all things God is working out his sovereign plan. Romans 8:28 tells us that in all things God is working for the good of those who love Him.
In spite of the fact that most of us here can quote that verse, all to often we approach the world with a sort of ungodly pessimism. You don’t think so? How often do you complain? I don’t mean about Gas prices or that they put onions on your burger at McDonalds. How often do you complain about substantive things? The circumstances of your life, the way things are going at work, about things in your church even? I don’t think you can complain about things if you have a healthy sense of providential optimism—a sense that God’s working out a plan.
Beyond that Phillipians 2:13-15 states it plainly: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. 14Do everything without complaining or arguing, 15so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe”
I have a theory that this is the most widely ignored passage in the Bible. Either that or we have simply all conviced ourselves that the complaining and arguing we do must not be the kind that the verse is talking about. But notice that the whole idea of recognizing that God is working out His purposes is directly linked to the command not to complain or argue—if we recognize God is in control in my life, God is in control in my home God is in control in my church, than we realize that ultimately the only one we’re arguing with and complaining about is God Himself—“God you’re doing a lousy job here.”
But if we get this command right, notice what it says about us—we are blameless and pure—this is the same thought James puts forth—if we could keep a leash on our tongues we’d be perfect. And if we could face the world without arguing and complaining we would shine like stars in a crooked and perverse world where everyone else is what? They’re arguing and complaining—if we would do what God asks and stop that we’d stick out like stars in the night sky.
How do we manage that? Only with a changed perspective, a perspective that looks for God’s hand in the circumstances of our lives.
2. See God’s Work in People
16a He is no longer just a slave; he is a beloved brother, especially to me.
For a people who have received so much mercy, we can be a pretty graceless bunch. We find it so much easier to criticize than to give the benefit of the doubt.
It always amazes me to hear of churches where Christians are critical when the church begins to bring in the lost—the very thing the church exists to do. I spoke not long ago with a pastor who when he was a youth pastor had found success in reaching out to the lost teens of his community and the good church people began to complain that they didn’t want that element in the youth group with their good Christian young people, so when the youth pastor was on vacation they sold the church bus so that he couldn’t bring them in anymore.