Summary: Discover how to accept people who are hard to live with in a way that is pleasing God.
At some time in our lives we all need to deal with difficult people or people who have done the wrong thing by us. In this letter that Paul has written to Philemon, we discover how we can accept people who are hard to live with, in a way that is pleasing God.
Quite simply some people are just plain harder to love than others. And at the core of this letter, Paul says the way to love difficult people is to have a heart with margin - a heart with room.
A heart with margin has faith in Jesus ...
1. HAS FAITH IN JESUS (v4-5a)
One of the hit films of the late 1990’s was Notting Hill, starring Julia Roberts and High Grant. In the movie Julia Roberts plays a Hollywood superstar who meets an ordinary everyday fella played by Hugh Grant. The movie shows how their romance unfolds against seemingly impossible odds. In many ways Notting Hill is a remake of the 1950’s movie Roman Holiday, which starred Gregory peck and Audrey Hepburn. In Roman Holiday Audrey Hepburn plays the role of a princess who mingles with common-folk during a holiday period and in the process develops a romance with a commoner. There is however one stark contrast between Notting Hill and Roman Holiday. In Roman Holiday the princess realises that her responsibilities to her people and position mean she must give up her romance with a commoner and return to her throne. In Notting Hill love must win out. This reflects a dramatic shift in values in our society, our belief that in the end nothing is more important than the fulfilment of the individual. Community needs and expectations are always secondary.
A heart with a big margin has a faith that places unity in the community above their individual rights.
And Paul calls Philemon to grasp the value of the community above the individual.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus (Phm 1:4-5)
Paul appeals to Philemons faith in Jesus as a reason for him to reconcile with Onesemus. You see, Onesemus was a Believer too. By virtue of their faith in Jesus they were brothers. They worshipped the same Lord, which is all the more reason they were to be reconciled. They were “one in Christ.” To borrow a description from the Bible Philemon and Onesemus were
….…..being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Ephesians 2:22).
So the question for us here is, “What kind of dwelling place are we building for the Holy Spirit to dwell in?”
The Believers motivation to love difficult people and forgive others stems from the treatment they have received from Jesus. The bible instructs Believers to
… “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph 4:32).
Believers of all people should be eager to have hearts with a big margin – ready to forgive in an instant because they themselves know what it is to be forgiven.
If Philemon was going to accept Onesemus back he would need a heart with a big margin. And this generosity of heart comes from the big hearted God who had forgiven Philemon all his wrong doing through Jesus. How could he not forgive Onesemus considering all that he himself had been forgiven by his Lord – Jesus?
What all this means for us is this …..
If we don’t know Jesus our ability to get on with difficult people and forgive others is limited to our own strength. We will never reach our full potential in our relationships with others because we have not reached our spiritual potential through a relationship with Jesus.
It’s the same if we do know Jesus but ignore him and what he has done for us. If we fail to live by his standards, we live a substandard life – and our relationships will be mediocre – we will become a dilapidated dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.
And as a group of believers, if we as a church fail to adopt a big heartedness towards difficult and uncaring people – we will be a second-rate church. And the people around us will see that our faith in Jesus really means nothing to us – that we are no different to anyone else.
Unity among those who share the Christian faith is such an important issue that Jesus included it in one of his final prayers before being crucified.
…. May they be brought to complete unity [and here’s why…] to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:23).