Do you enjoy watching TV shows about restoring things? I do. There is Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, or Good Bones. One of the shows that I like is American Restoration where, Rick Dale, restores old cars, gas pumps, collectables or Americana. What is fascinating about shows like these is how people take rusted, deteriorated or rundown things and make them beautiful again—restoring them to what they once were or even better than they were.
How many of you have renovations going on around your home? How many of you have had renovations going on at your home for more than a year, three-years, or ten-years? Sometimes the longer we postpone projects the harder it is to get back to them. It can be the same when it comes to restoring relationships, which can be much harder than restoring things.
Do you know two people who are not in a right relationship with one another, but you are in a right relationship with both of them? Can you think of a situation like that? This message is for you. This is a message about how to bring restoration to relationships around you.
Today we will complete our journey through the letter to Philemon. It is one of the most personal and powerful letters in the Bible. In the letter, Paul, is mediating a rift between two believers—Philemon, a wealthy man who Paul led to Christ while visiting Ephesus, and Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave who Paul had recently led to Christ in prison in Rome. Paul had just sent Onesimus back to Philemon to make things right with this letter in hand.
So far we have learned together how to be people or a church refreshed by Christ and by one another (vs.1-7). Refreshed people are refreshed by Christ and you are refreshed to refresh others. Paul expressed immense gratitude and gentleness, which set the tone for the entire letter. Then Paul asked Philemon to forgive Onesimus. Paul didn’t focus on the sin or offense, rather he focused on the big picture of what God was using for good, particularly when people are forgiven much in Christ they can forgive others (vs.8-16). Today, we will learn what it means to be restored and how to make things right in our relationships as Paul moves these men from forgiveness to restoration (vs.17-25).
You might ask, is there a difference between forgiveness and restoration? Yes, there is. Do you know people who “forgave” but the relationship remains unchanged? This where restoration comes in.
I have four children. Trying to get them to forgive and restore is difficult. After they have a tiff I get them together, “Say sorry to your sister.” It’s not uncommon for them to glance at each other and say rapidly, “Sorry.” To which I respond, “No. Stop. Really, say you are sorry.” They say, “Soooorryyyyyy!” “Now give your sister a hug.” And they become as stiff as a board as if to say, “Nope. No way. Saying sorry was enough. This has gone too far.” Restoration can’t be forced!
Restoring relationships is difficult. Period. Paul models how it can happen. Today we will discover how to know if you are an emissary (aka: representative or model) of restoration.
Put Yourself In-between
Paul put himself in-between two people in conflict. He cared for both. He took his theology from his head to the streets and walked it out. He approached it from two angles:
First, Paul approached it from the angle of his relationship with Philemon. Paul said, “So if you consider me your partner,” (v.17) The word for “partner” here is from the word koinwnos which in Greek is translated “sharing one faith” or “fellowship” (cf. v.6). It would be as if Paul said, “The one thing we share above all is Christ.” They were truly partners and teammates that shared one faith in Christ and one mission to spread the name and fame of Christ.
Second, Paul approached it from Onesimus’ new relationship to Philemon. He said, “receive [Onesimus] as you would me.” This is the first thing Paul tells Philemon to do. I can hear Paul saying, “I know it may be a surprise to see that Onesimus is back, but think of him as me. I can’t come because I’m in chains. Welcome him with open arms as if I was there instead.”
Does this remind you of another story in the Bible? It certainly reminds me of Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. When the prodigal son returned, the father ran with open arms to meet him and welcome him home. This is the image Paul gives here, “Philemon, welcome your prodigal slave.” Think for a moment how God receives you through Christ. As a Christian you are so identified with Jesus that God receives you as he receives his Son! You are “accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6) and clothed in his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). One day, God will welcome you into eternity and throw a banquet honoring your partnership with his Son!
Paul gets involved. He stands in the middle. He puts his arms around Onesimus. He puts his arms around Philemon. He brings them together. Paul becomes an in-betweener. Have you ever had to be an in-betweener? May this letter encourage you.
It isn’t natural for us to put ourselves in-between two people in conflict. It puts our relationship with both people at risk. Therefore, we can remain uninvolved and ignore the conflict. We wash our hands of the mess. We stay comfortable. We justify it by saying, “It’s not my problem,” “Someone else will deal with it,” “I’m not qualified,” “Who am I to judge?” “It will take too much time and I’m busy,” or “It’s not that big of a deal.”
Truly, if you have knowledge of two people in conflict with each other, then you are already involved. You may be the only one who knows. Unlike Cain, you are your brothers keeper. You may think that avoiding or dodging conflict is a strength, but it is a huge weakness for Christians and bypasses being a restorer of relationships in Christ’s church.
If there are two people, two believers in your family or church, do you think God’s heart is grieved that those two people are not in a right relationship with one another? Yes! He is grieved when two people say they love God, but hate each other. Do you think that God cares that you would care about their relationship as much as he does? Yes!
God is a restorer. God’s heart is restoration. All throughout the Bible God models restoration. From Adam and Eve to King David to the Apostle Peter, God takes the initiative to restore people to himself. In the Law, God gave rules that encouraged offenders to payback what they stole and make things right (Deut. 30:3-14 Num. 5:5-10). Later God sent prophets to encourage his people to turn back to him and promised to restore them to former glory (Joel 2:25). And Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Jesus, the Prince of peace, was the ultimate restorer.
Are there people you need to allow back into your space, and open up your heart again to trust, love, and even serve? God will help you, as he cares about restoration and health in God’s family like nobody else! As I said last week, you are most like God when you forgive. It is also true to say you are most like God when you restore—when you put yourself in-between.
Questions for Reflection:
Have you ever stood up for someone or stepped into a situation to try to make things right? What happened and what did you learn from it?
What potential barrier or roadblock does Paul attempt to alleviate in the restoration of Philemon and Onesimus?
What is the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation? How did Paul help achieve both in this letter?
How might the respectful treatment of individuals, reparation of harm done, and intentional face-to-face connection have contributed to healing in the meeting between Onesimus, Philemon, and then their church?