Jump Start # 2632
Philemon 11 “who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.”
The story of Philemon is about a run-a-way slave. The slave, Onesimus, found his way to Rome and to Paul. He was taught the Gospel and became a Christian. He became helpful to Paul. Now before them stands the huge issue of what to do. Slavery wasn’t against the law. This slave ran, which was wrong. He belonged back to Philemon, who was a Christian. Paul needed Onesimus. And our verse shows a change. He once was useless but now is useful.
Some thoughts for us:
First, Paul did not believe in finders keepers, loser weepers. Chances of Philemon ever finding Onesimus were slim. Paul could have kept him hidden and safe for the rest of his life. But Paul didn’t. He wrote this letter, revealing the truth and was sending the letter, in the hands of Onesimus himself, back to Philemon where he belonged.
Second, Paul never tells Philemon to grant Onesimus his freedom. He doesn’t guilt trip him. He doesn’t pressure him. He doesn’t threaten him. He doesn’t use the golden rule. He doesn’t say we are of one blood and all created in the image of God. No. He sends the run-a-way back with the hopes that Philemon will treat the slave as a brother in Christ. Fellowship is a new relationship that they will have. Worshipping together is something new.
Third, the Gospel changes a person. It’s more than simply adding “church” to an already busy schedule. Paul recognized that this slave has gone from being useless to being useful. What made the difference? Getting caught? No. The difference came from Jesus. He was different on the inside out. He belonged to a much better master, the Lord. He became a slave of righteousness. Character, service, dedication, faithfulness would now be within the heart of this slave. Seeing the example of Paul who was in prison and wore the marks of suffering for Christ would open his eyes. How could he be a Christian and keep running? If indeed he changed, then he needed to be useful. He first proved this to Paul. The apostle wasn’t his master. Onesimus could have kept running. The rest of his life he could have ran. But he stopped. He changed. His running days were over. He saw that he could help and serve others out of a generous heart.
This one fact is something that many of us need to give a lot of thought to. Are we being useful? Not at work where it’s done for a paycheck. In service of others. In helping the kingdom. What value are we to the congregation? What good are we doing? Useless to useful…that was the change. Have we made that?
Forth, there was a lot of pressure on Onesimus if he returned home to Philemon. Many run-a-ways were killed or crippled. This sent a message to other slaves. Don’t try it or look what might happen to you. The slave had no way of knowing what would happen. But doing the right thing often comes with fear, pressure and uncertainty. You borrowed something from a friend and you broke it. The right thing to do is to tell and replace it. You spoke out of turn and hurt someone’s feelings. The right thing to do is to go and face them and apologize.
Going home for the prodigal wasn’t easy. He didn’t know how his father would treat him. At the best, he was hoping to be a slave to his own family. That would still be better than spending time with pigs. Would his father even speak to him? Would his father disown him? Would his father beat him? Would his father tell him to get off the property and never come back? He didn’t know. But he knew he had to do the right thing.
It’s hard tying to guess how people will respond. Sometimes we get it right and many times we don’t. But fearing how others may treat us cannot keep us from doing what is right. It may mean apologizing before the whole congregation for sins you have committed. It may mean offering to step down as a leader or preacher. The right thing to do often is the hardest thing to do. It takes faith, courage and real conviction to go through with it, knowing that it may not be received well by others. Things may come to pieces. People may turn on you. Still, the right thing needs to be done.
Family and brethren, those who are dearest to us, can also be the hardest to face when we have done wrong. Some do not manifest the spirit of grace and forgiveness. It may be that they throw the book at you. It may be a one sided lecture that is about your failures. It may be shouting, finger pointing and accusations.
Doing the right thing is not about getting people to like you and welcome you and throw a celebration party for you. It is about doing what is right. There are often consequences that follow hurting others. And, that pain may keep us from ever doing what is right. We may delay an apology, going home, making things right, because we fear the reaction. We are more worried about how we will be treated than doing what is right.
Take your lumps. Breathe deeply. Say a prayer. And, do what is right. The consequences that follow doing something wrong often keeps us around the pigs. We know we ought to do right. We want to do what is right. But we are afraid. And, that fear, keeps us right where we are.
Paul sent the run-a-way home. Paul was hoping for the best. It was the right thing to do.
Useless to useful…that makes a huge difference.