Love Your Friends

September 4, 2022

Pastor John Hering

Philemon 7-21

Philemon 7-21

For I have received great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. For that reason, even though I have plenty of boldness in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I am appealing to you, instead, on the basis of love, just as I, Paul, am an old man and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. 10 I am appealing to you on behalf of my child Onesimus. I became his father while I was in chains. 11 There was a time when he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me. 12 I have sent him (who is my very heart) back to you. Welcome him. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might serve me in your place while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your kindness would not be the result of compulsion, but of willingness. 15 Perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a while: so that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave, as a dear brother. He certainly is dear to me, but he is even more of a dear brother to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 And if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, have written this with my own hand: I will repay it—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 Yes, brother, I am asking for a favor from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

The reason you have friends is…… (and I’m thinking you could come up with a long list of good reasons to have friends).  You all have friends and they are important to you.  But, I would also imagine there may be one or two people here who would say, “What’s the point of having friends? I don’t need friends and I don’t really want any friends.”  But, what would God say about that?  You remember what God said all the way back in Genesis?

“It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is a suitable partner for him.”  

Genesis 2:18

God then made Eve to correspond to Adam (equal but different) and after that God made marriage.  But, that doesn’t mean everyone has to be married.  But, what God said still stands. It is not good for the man to be alone.

We would all agree that the most important relationship we can have is the vertical one with God.  However, God did not create humans to be little islands all alone.  We are designed by God to have connections with other people.  I could quote you lots of passages that use the word, “one another” as an encouragement to be connected to other people. Here’s one:

“Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:25

The Word of God before us today is a very short Book of the Bible of 1 chapter and 25 verses.  St Paul is writing to a friend named Philemon where we learn another Hard Truth in our series.  Today we learn that sometimes we have to put aside what we love, and pick up what we loathe.  What did Philemon loathe?  That his slave, Onesimus, had run away.  And what did he love? That he was going to get him back and let him have it!  However, Paul wrote this letter to teach Philemon and us to

Love Your Friends

Proclaim to Them  

We’re not told exactly why Onesimus ran away, but I can picture a cold, stormy night when Onesimus (which means “Beneficial”) wasn’t living up to his name.  Maybe he was in trouble with his boss or he just couldn’t stand his job.  Whatever the reason he ran away.  And once he started running away, he ran for a long distance.  He even found himself on a ship heading away from Colossae to find a place where he could get lost in the crowd—running all the way to Rome!  Then something unusual happened there.  Can you picture Onesimus walking down the streets, using up his last coins, watching young and old going in and out of a house.  He checked it out and found inside an elderly gentlemen he recognized—a preacher by the name of Paul.  He wasn’t selling food or clothes, but of all things, his ankle was chained to a post!  There was a Roman soldier there keeping an eye on Paul.  It was only a few years earlier when Paul was in Colossae sharing Jesus’ gospel with the people that included his master, Philemon!  And now Onesimus thought he was free, but he also knew his soul was chained to the post of his sins.  Perhaps he remembered Paul talking about Jesus who set us free and just had to hear more. He kept coming back to Paul’s house and after a time they became friends and Onesimus came to trust in Jesus.  Perhaps Onesimus said something like this to Paul, “I’m free to run away again and go wherever I want, but I want to stay and help you.  I’ll run errands and deliver messages for you.” And that’s what he did for Paul.

Then the day came when Paul leaned over and said, “Onesimus.  Let’s talk.  You certainly have lived up to your name and you’ve been Mr. Beneficial to me. But, you really don’t belong here. What do you think is the right thing to do?”  Onesimus knew exactly what Paul meant.  “I need to go home.  Back to Philemon, my master.  But, will he accept me?  Will he beat me?  Will he do what so many other master do to run-away slaves and crucify me?”  Paul said, “I’ll write a letter to Philemon and tell him what has happened.”  So Paul wrote a personal, tactful and touching letter inspired by the Holy Spirit so that it is a Book in the Bible so we can learn something about Loving Your Friends by Proclaiming To Them.

For I have received great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother. For that reason, even though I have plenty of boldness in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I am appealing to you, instead, on the basis of love, just as I, Paul, am an old man and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. 10 I am appealing to you on behalf of my child Onesimus. I became his father while I was in chains. 11 There was a time when he was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me.” 

Philemon 7-11

Paul had a friendship with Philemon and with Onesimus.  He didn’t want misuse his friendship and had no hidden agenda.  He spoke the truth in love.  Paul had no greater gift to give his friends, no greater love to show them, no greater way to demonstrate his friendship than to Proclaim God’s Love to Them by pointing them to the friend of sinners—Jesus Christ.  It was Jesus who died on the cross to pay the penalty of all their sins so Paul could say, “Everything is going to be ok.”

I would not be right for us to try and make friends with a hidden agenda, or twisting their arms, or even manipulate them into church.  But, because God wants us to really care for our friends he has brought into our lives, to show love and concern for them, what better way to love them than to Proclaim to our Friends the bad news about their sins and the good news about Jesus’ forgiveness?  There is no better gift to give to our class-mates, co-workers, spouse, children and friends than the assurance that through faith in Jesus Christ we have a relationship with God and with each other!  God has given us friends so we can Proclaim God’s Love to Them and

To Provide For Them

So, Paul wrote this letter to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus:

12 I have sent him (who is my very heart) back to you. Welcome him. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might serve me in your place while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that your kindness would not be the result of compulsion, but of willingness. 15 Perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a while: so that you would have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave, but as more than a slave, as a dear brother. He certainly is dear to me, but he is even more of a dear brother to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.” 

Philemon 12-17

This inspired letter is dripping with genuine tactfulness and care. Paul wasn’t using his authority to get Philemon to accept Onesimus back.  Paul simply wrote about his concern with a focus on what counted the most—the shared relationship they had based on the unity of faith. Paul was even willing to Provide For His Friend.

18 And if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, have written this with my own hand: I will repay it—not to mention that you owe me your very self.”

Philemon 18-19

Onesimus would return and be a worker for Philemon, but the gospel in his heart would provide so much more!  Onesimus would truly be “Mr. Beneficial” for Philemon now that they shared repentance, forgiveness and a common trust in Jesus.

All too often we can boil down the unrest and anger that exists between people to selfishness.  Being selfish is part of our sin-nature.  We were born with it.  If you want to see it unbridled just put two little children in a room with one toy.  Their selfishness will fight for that toy. But, Jesus turns this all around.  God provides us with so many blessings and so many friends to create avenues for us to be giving, selfless and caring. St John said, Dear friends, if God loved us so much, we also should love one another” (1 John 4:11).  When we provide for our class-mates, co-workers, spouse, children and friends they will benefit.  And others will notice how God’s people generously Provide for Others.  Listen to Jesus:

“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also you are to love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Someone once compared friendships to a bridge.  When a bridge collapses people get hurt or even killed.  But, when there is a strong bridge of friendship build between people in the Lord Jesus Christ then it is so much easier to transport valuable and personal feelings and messages.  This is also one reason Divine Peace has Bible Class, Bible on Tap, Southern Junction night, 2nd Sunday of the month out to eat after church day and most recently, Young Adults Life Group.  We do these fellowship activities so God’s people can connect with each other, to strengthen the bridges of friendship and make Providing for Each Other easy.   So, God Wants Us To Love Our Friends by Proclaiming God’s Word to Them and Providing for them, but there’s another reason.  We can Provide For Our Friends by Praying For Them.

I would imagine Paul was a little nervous about sending Onesimus back to Colossae with that letter tucked into his pocket.  Paul wrote the letter, but what else could he do?  There was one more thing, and it wasn’t a little thing.  It’s a powerful thing and, sadly, all too often a neglected and forgotten thing.  Paul could pray!  Paul wrote: 20 Yes, brother, I am asking for a favor from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.  Paul could pray for safe travels for Onesimus, pray that Philemon would receive him back not only as a hard worker, but also as a brother in the faith.  He could pray that they would both remain faithful and fruitful in the Lord Jesus.  As Jesus always prays to our heavenly Father on our behalf, so Paul Prayed For His Friends.

Paul also hints in these last remarks that his friends would also pray for him.  As his friends Onesimus and Philemon and his other friends in Colossae would pray for Paul, just think of the blessing it would be as Christians a 1,000 miles away were flooding the throne of God’s grace on his behalf.  Our prayers for others simply reflects the love that God has for us. You know how much it means to you when a friends says, “I’m praying for you.” So, don’t be afraid to Provide For Your Friends by saying, “I’m praying for you.”  And then do it!

God has given us Friend To Love by Proclaiming God’s Word to Them and Providing For them. I would imagine that you all have friends and they are important to you.  I would also imagine we all to often treat our friends like good health.  You don’t realize what a great gift you have in your friends until you lose them! Just ask people who move away into a new community, or have to work from home, or reach an age when they are homebound.  Don’t take the friends God has given to your for granted.  And above all, don’t take for granted the best friend God has given to you—our Savior Jesus.  Love Your Friends.  Make new friends. Treasure old friends. And thank God for Proclaiming His Word to You and Providing the best friendship for you in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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