Intro: Today across America there will probably be many sermons based around the theme of love. How appropriate that Paul in this personal letter to Philemon commends him for his love having feet and hands. If you remember from last week that Paul was calling Philemon to forgive his run away slave Onesimus. It was not based on Philemon’s ability but the reality of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus within Philemon.
Also remember that Paul in Galatians 2.20 says that the life he now lives is Christ living in Him. The Christ life was incarnated in the physical life of Paul. Now we see a prayer of thanksgiving where Paul is thanking God for the outworking of the life of Christ in Philemon. His prayer gives us insight into what happens when we surrender to the indwelling Holy Spirit and live as an agent of forgiveness.
I. Agents of forgiveness express love and forgiveness toward others (Phi 1.5)
Simply put an agent of forgiveness is one who has been forgiven by Christ and had the love of Christ poured into their heart. Romans 5.1-5 “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that's not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
3-5There's more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we're hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue(character) , keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we're never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can't round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Paul had heard of Philemon’s love for all God’s holy people. Paul had probably heard about Philemon’s practical faith from Epahrus. Paul was constantly getting reports from the churches that he planted or started by way of others such as Philemon. Epahrus reported of Philemons faith relationship to Jesus Christ that resulted in love for Christ and His fellow Christians.
The word used here is agape. This is not emotional love. In fact the literal translation is what God prefers. God prefers us. God prefers us to be close to him instead of separated from Him. This is willful love. As you travel through the Bible you see Jesus say I chose you, you are a chosen generation, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world.
This was expressed in Philemon’s life and is expected to be expressed in the life of God’s forgiven.
A) In love we follow faith and not feelings
Faith is the process of bending our wills to the will of God. Philemon was allowing the Holy Spirit to make faith real in his relationships with all the saints. It was based on the reality of his relationships with Christ. Paul was reminding Philemon and us that forgiveness is a defining mark of the Christian life. When we like Philemon follow the direction and command of Jesus we follow our faith instead of our feelings. Remember grace is undeserved favor. U didn’t and don’t deserve God’s grace but He pours it on you every day. When we give an enemy food, drink, a hand of friendship, we do not excuse their sin, wrongdoing etc. We instead operate our faith to recognize, and forgive him or her loving them in spite of their actions against us just as Jesus did and does for us at salvation and every day.
B) In forgiveness we follow faith and not feelings
We all have at times feelings of anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness which come from a desire to get revenge against those who have harmed us. What you will find in life and scripture when we surrender to these explosive passionate feelings they often lead to destruction. The feelings are real and legitimate. We must realize that we are responsible for the choices we make we can choose to act on anger, resentment or bitterness or do as Paul says and incarnate forgiveness. Remember forgiveness is not an emotional response but a willful choice.
Remember that forgiveness doesn’t make the other person right it makes you free!
Forgiveness is contrary to the world’s pattern. The world teaches us to give into the primal passions and make others pay. The world says give them what they deserve Jesus says give them what they don’t forgiveness and love. This decision of the will has the Holy Spirit’s power behind it to result in the follow.
1) Forgiveness can break the cycle of retaliation and lead to mutual reconciliation
2) It can make the one who hurt you feel shame and repent of those misdeeds.
3) It can free you of a heavy load of bitterness and resentment. Whether the one who harmed you ever repents and relents offering forgiveness will free you.
So Paul is calling us to express the great love the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts so that from the overflow of God’s grace we too can offer grace. We express love and forgiveness by choosing to follow Jesus and forgive.
II. Agents of forgiveness invest in the body of Christ (Phi 1.6)
Part of Paul’s prayer is that Philemon’s fellowship in faith with the believer’s at Colosse would become or that it may become. This is in the aorist tense in the Greek which means a continual process of effective fellowship. Paul wants Philemon and us to create an atmosphere of forgiveness.
Philemon 1.2 Paul says the ecclesia, the church that meets in your house. The word ecclesia means the called out body of believers. Not only did this letter apply to the body of Christ at Colosse but it would also apply to the other churches in Asia Minor that it was circulated to. So it also applies to us and our fellowship of faith at Immanuel.
What is one of the greatest ways we can invest in the lives of the people of this body of believers? We can through the leadership of the Holy Spirit create an atmosphere of forgiveness and love.
Miraculous things happen when we allow God to create this attitude in our lives and atmosphere in the fellowship of believers.
Chuck Swindoll reports that a seminary student in Chicago faced a forgiveness test. Although he preferred to work in some kind of ministry, the only job he could find was driving a bus on Chicago's south side. One day a gang of tough teens got on board and refused to pay the fare. After a few days of this, the seminarian spotted a policeman on the corner, stopped the bus, and reported them. The officer made them pay, but then he got off. When the bus rounded a corner, the gang robbed the seminarian and beat him severely. He pressed charges and the gang was rounded up. They were found guilty. But as soon as the jail sentence was given, the young Christian saw their spiritual need and felt pity for them. So he asked the judge if he could serve their sentences for them. The gang members and the judge were dumbfounded. "It's because I forgive you," he explained. His request was denied, but he visited the young men in jail and led several of them to faith in Christ.
We hear these stories all the time outside the church. Why is the attitude and atmosphere in the body of Christ not the same? I want to share with you what I believe the hindrance to a fellowship of forgiveness.
A) Pride – Philemon has an opportunity to respond to Onesimus in pride about his rights and how he was wronged on by faith and obedience he can offer forgiveness.
Pride will not allow us to see our own faults but will allow us to exaggerate the faults and failures of others.
B) Fear – We fear that we will be hurt more if we forgive. The opposite is true
Don’t allow the false idea that forgiveness gives control to others.
How can the atmosphere change in the fellowship of this body? Phil 1.6 “by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”
This statement carries the idea of understanding and experiencing the facts or truth of what Jesus has placed in us. So to truly experience forgiveness then you forgive. The Holy Spirit is in us to create this attitude and atmosphere and the only thing that keeps it from happening is our forgetting the fact we are forgiven. Whatever we are and have as a child of God Christ put there.
Paul wanted in the church at Colosse and all the churches for there to be no gaps in the fellowship.
Don’t you want to see God’s miraculous power work through this fellowship?
III. Agents of forgiveness enrich and refresh the body of Christ (Phi 1.6b -1.7)
Paul knew that each person in the body of Christ was important to the health and the ministry of the gospel. He rejoiced for the reports he was hearing about the exceptional love of Philemon. This type of attitude leads to encouragement. Whose life in the church can you enrich with love and forgiveness? Each of us has something placed in us by Christ to enrich, enlarge, and encourage the faith relationship of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
A) Enrich the body of Christ
1) Remind them of who they are in Christ
2) Rejoice with every victory others have
3) Restore relationships if within you power
B) Refresh the body of Christ
“because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed.”
Do you remember last time Eúsplagxnos yoo'-splangkh-nos is the Greek word translated be kind and compassionate it literally means having strong bowels. Philemon wasn’t only living with guts and forgiving. He was refreshing the believers at the Colossian church and discipling them to do the same.
Paul uses a military term that pictures an army at rest after a long march or a field that was allowed to lay out for one year.
Conclusion: We say that we are forgiven in Christ. So why sometimes do we see more forgiveness outside the fellowship of the forgiven?
What happens when this attitude and atmosphere become a reality in the koinonia or fellowship of the saints?
1) We grow in our experience of Christ!
2) We give people a place to come and experience the reality of forgiveness
3) We give the Holy Spirit freedom to work in people’s lives