Refreshed by One Another

You are Refreshed to Refresh Others

“and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.” Philemon 6-7

In return for being refreshed by Christ and Philemon, Paul asks God to refresh Philemon. Specifically, that God would refresh Philemon by making his knowledge of all the good things he has in Christ, full. Paul is asking God to give Philemon more of Christ. What a prayer! It is a powerful prayer for Philemon who will be asked to show partnership not just with his friend Paul, but with his runaway slave who betrayed him.

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You will only refresh others with the capacity you’ve been refreshed by Christ yourself. Christ refreshes you so that you can refresh others and so that others when refreshed will want more of Christ. Only Christ can bring this level of fullness to your relationships, especially hard, fractured, and strenuous relationships, even in the church, especially in the church. Here there are two implications for you—the church:

First, you cannot truly love Christ if you do not love His church. Christ and his church are two separate things and they are the same thing. They are separate things in that love for Christ and love for his church are different loves. They are the same thing in that love for Christ leads to a deeper love for his church. The more you seek to love Christ the more you’ll find your heart growing to love the very things that Christ loves.

What does Christ love the most? His glory! What is the way Christ displays his glory among the nations? His church. Therefore the more you grow a love for Christ, the more you will naturally grow a love for his church.

More so, Christ and his church are intimately connected so that if you turn away from one you inevitably turn away from the other. God placed this twofold love in the heart of Philemon and Paul loved it, and thanked God for it.

What do you love about the church? Do you feel a love, respect, yearning to be in it and used by God so it grows? Do you want to see its influence spread?

Second, love for the church equates to a love for those in the church. Philemon was not a spectator or attender of the church, rather he was an active and effective member of it. He touched lives. He inspired faith. He refreshed others. He comforted people with his love. Where does that love come from? It comes from Christ. Paul saw the gospel of Christ pouring into him and flowing from him to others. As wise king Solomon said, “Those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” (Proverbs 11:25)

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What if I am not feeling refreshed? What if I feel discouraged, bruised, hurt, drained? First, acknowledge the source of refreshment—Christ himself. He is a river that never stops flowing, a powerful waterfall of refreshment that is never ending, always giving. Refreshment begins with Christ. Sit at his feet. Listen to his words. Let them wash over you.

Second, allow gratitude to remove the plug in the dam of agony (fear, anger, etc.). Paul purposefully began this letter by giving thanks. Gratitude opens the floodgates of refreshment (Colossians 3:12-17; 4:2). Likely, the Spirit of God has brought someone to your mind—a relationship that needs building up. Maybe you should write a letter to them this week. Tell them how you have been refreshed by God through them. Then send mail it (or deliver it).

Third, be an active member of the church family. When it comes to the church we are all bricks. The Bible says we are from dirt or clay. We are messy. No brick exalts itself above another because each brick knows it came from the pit and it’s only by God’s grace he builds those bricks into a something wonderful—the church. Relationships are a messy, but they are a mess worth making. Let’s look at the church as Jesus does—a beautiful bride!

This love that Paul is celebrating in the life of Philemon isn’t an abstract love. It’s not vanishing and changing with our culture. No, quite opposite. Love in the church stands out in contrast. It’s a love that’s demonstrated and lived out by people like you. People who do what Christ commands them to do—to love others the way that Christ has loved you. The greatest sign of this love is the fact that Jesus gave up his life on behalf of others. This is love. It is a messy sacrificial love. It is love that caused Jesus to take on flesh and die in our place. Love was bleeding, broken, rejected, and crucified.

The gospel gets real in relationships. Paul knows the gospel of Christ will impact the world, the church at Colossae, and his little brother Onesimus. Paul says, “Philemon, you’ve got all these great characteristics that remind me of Jesus. Now, act on the gospel with your new brother, Onesimus.” More on this next week!

 

Questions for Reflection:

Who is able to speak into your life in various areas, both small and great? Who points out things? Who challenges you? And these people are present in your life, are you offended when they do or do you listen, and consider what they say?

How does Paul’s letter to Philemon display the gospel in relationships? Why is this helpful and powerful for your church?

How is church about “we” more than “me”?

Have you ever considered how a short note, a little letter, a text message or an email could have lasting impact on those that receive it? Write a letter of thanks to the Philemon in your life. You may consider mailing it to them this week or holding onto it until next week if you have something difficult to say.

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Refreshed by Christ

Where is the most refreshing place you’ve been?  You know, a place where you see full, free and fully alive.

From the opening part of the Paul’s letter to Philemon we learn a lot about Paul, Philemon and the church. The opening is really a prayer. In the prayer we learn of God’s concern for healthy relationships within the church family and how the church is called to do life together as we take the gospel into the world we live in. For Paul the gospel is not just something to think about, it is to be acted upon. For us—the church—there is a lot of great application here.

Refreshed People are Refreshed by Christ

“I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints” Philemon 4-5

Paul is refreshed by Philemon. Why? From what Paul knows about Philemon, from the first time they met until now, from what he hears (present tense) others say about him, Paul sees the visible characteristics of Christ are literally “spilling over” from Philemon, like a waterfall into a deep pond. He sees Philemon’s faith in Jesus and his love for others. Isn’t that a great compliment? Think of the alternative.

Some might argue that Paul is just buttering up Philemon in preparation for the hard thing he’s about to ask him. No. He’s not buttering up, he’s building him up. There’s a difference. Buttering up manipulates, but building up matures. Paul gives genuine reasons for building up his brother: he gives thanks to God and he prays over his brother. The word that Paul uses later in verse 7 is exactly the right word—“refreshed.”

Do you know anyone like this? I hope you do! Are you someone like this? I know that some of you are. You are a Philemon, one who brings joy, comfort, love and refreshment to others around you because of your willingness to encourage people and be there to ease their burdens. It brings you joy, and brings joy to the ones you help. You show us the heart of Christ, often when we need to see it the most. You point us to Jesus not problems. You renew our faith in God and revive our weary souls. And we smile when we think about you. Through you we are “refreshed.”

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Do you know anyone like this? I do.

The past three Springs, our family has traveled from the desert of North Africa to green England.  Each time we have visited our friends the Franklin family. They have refreshed us from a tall glass of milk to ordering our favorite Indian takeout to walks in London’s green space. Their church has refreshed us through prayer, encouragement, and warm clothes for our children who literally got off the plane in flip flops.  Just after Christmas Megan got sick with a debilitating brain disease.  She was eight months pregnant with their seventh baby.  The baby was taken by C-section and a healthy boy was born.  Within days Megan passed into glory.  Our hearts grieve for Brad and the Franklin family, but we were refreshed even through Megan’s death and the way she committed to give generously so that the nations may know Jesus Christ.

What would a person close to you say are the visible characteristics of Christ pouring out of you? Can you imagine the encouragement it would be to have them tell you that? That would be a wonderful application of today’s text.

There are two types of people in the church that Paul most often addresses in his letters. The first type are people who build up. This is Philemon. They are the kind of person who encourage, see the good, speak truth in love, and have a knack of pointing you back to Christ. Paul’s letter to Philemon helps us to see what building up one another looks like. Building up in the church never stops because until Christ returns the church is a relational construction zone.

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The second type are people who tear down. They are the kind of people who look for ways to cut others down. They are quick to complain. They find faults and failures in others. They are the kind of person you will avoid if you need encouragement, but you will seek out if you need empathy for your own critical spirit. Tearing others down is not a strength or a spiritual gift. It is hurtful, divisive, and from Satan. You can’t punch a hole in the bricks of God’s house without hurting yourself too. How many people have been hurt trying to damage the building they are part of themselves?

Paul spent a lot of breath in his letters airing out about bad theology in the church, conflict among members, and wolves among the sheep. Paul’s letter to Philemon is not about being aware of wolves, but encouraging the sheep. Martin Luther, a man acquainted with both wolves and sheep said, “Fight vigorously against the wolves, but on behalf of the sheep, not against the sheep.” In other words, don’t be a flock of sheep fighting sheep. Sheep don’t fight. Sheep are gregarious, which means sheep band together and protect one another.

Oh, how the church needs Philemon’s—people who are known for their love and faith towards Jesus and others. And the church also needs Paul’s who see the way people reflect Jesus.

You may recognize the name William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Christian politician who made it his lifework to abolish slavery in Great Britain. It was an impossible task. He was young and at the beginning of his career. On the other side of the pond in America, John Wesley, was nearing the end of his career. Wesley heard of Wilberforce’s story and wrote him a letter (6-days before his death),

“Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it… That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir, Your affectionate servant, John Wesley”

Wesley had the right words at the right time to help his brother continue on the right path.

Paul also had the right words at the right time to help Philemon on the right path. He focused on Christ’s refreshing work in Philemon, which will be the very character needed as he reunites with Onesimus.

 

Questions for Reflection:

How have you been refreshed by a Philemon in your life?

When you look at your life, do you see the same qualities alive in your heart like they were in Philemon’s?

Are there areas in your life where Christ’s love hasn’t taken on action towards Him and others? If so, what are they?

Why is thankfulness so powerful, especially when you have to say something difficult to someone you love?

Let’s Meet Philemon and Onesimus

Have you ever considered how a short note, a little letter, an email, or a text message could have lasting impact on those that receive it? That’s Philemon. It’s like a text message from Paul.

Of Paul’s letters, Philemon was the shortest he wrote (only 25 verses; 335 words). Philemon sits at the end of Paul’s 13 letters that are organized from longest to shortest. The longer letters were written to churches (Rome, Corinth, etc.) and the shorter ones were more pastoral and personal and written to specific people (e.g. Timothy, Titus, & Philemon).

I think it’s fair to say that in Paul’s greeting to Philemon we see things we are used to seeing in Paul’s greetings (vs.1-3).  We are used to seeing Paul’s name at the beginning of his letters. We usually sign our letters at the end, but this is how one wrote letters in the first century. We are used to seeing Paul include Timothy. Paul & Timothy were BFF’s. They likely met Philemon in Ephesus 10-years earlier when he came to faith under Paul’s ministry.  We are used to seeing Paul write from prison. Likely he is in Rome (or Ephesus). It’s where he also wrote the letters to the churches in Ephesus, Philippi and Colossae.  We are used to seeing a network of names to whom the letter is addressed. And we’re used to seeing Paul’s trademark greeting, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”.

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Paul addressed the letter to Philemon who lived in Colossae (modern-day Turkey). We don’t know a lot about him, but with a little detective work it is likely that he had sizable wealth (from a black wool business?). His wealth was seen in his home—it was big enough to host a small church and he had at least one house servant. Philemon likely funded part of Paul’s missionary journeys. And Paul refers to his generosity, hospitality, and good reputation. Philemon is just a good guy who shares his wealth and shares his faith. But their relationship went deeper than money as Paul considers Philemon a good friend, “a beloved fellow worker,” and a spiritual son (v.19). Paul gushes over Philemon like a sappy daddy (spiritual daddy).

Paul also mentions “Apphia our sister” (Philemon’s wife?) and “Archippus our fellow soldier” (Philemon’s son? and teacher). Paul seemed to know all of them both well (cf. Colossians 4:17). Philemon has a ‘family church’ thing going, but Paul doesn’t seem to have any concerns about that. He’s all smiles. What’s not to like when a family is following Jesus?

Although the letter was addressed to Philemon the bulk of the letter is about Onesimus. We do not know much about Onesimus either. We do know that he was Philemon’s slave, he committed some kind of crime, and ran away. Either he miraculous ended up in the same prison as Paul or it is more likely he found where Paul was being held (for preaching about Jesus) to ask for help. Paul not stifled by his circumstances continued preaching to his ‘captive audience’. Onesimus came to faith and Paul discipled him. As Paul learned Onesimus’ story he encouraged him go back and reconcile with his master, Philemon. So Paul sent him to Colossae with at least two letters in hand—a letter to the church in Colossae, in Philemon’s house, and another letter to Philemon himself. It was risky. Paul knew he may have sent Onesimus to his death sentence, but he also knew the kind of man Philemon was.

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Can you imagine being Onesimus on that long trip from prison to Colossae? (The fear, guilt, and shame?) Could you imagine being Philemon as he answers the door and sees Onesimus standing there with two letters in hand? (The anger, betrayal, and confusion?)

This is not just a letter or story. It’s a visual of how the gospel affects relationships. The beauty is that this letter is true. It wasn’t burned or shred, but framed for all the church to read for all time. It was preserved for you read. It may be the shortest of Paul’s letters but it is one of the most personal, gentle, simple, purposeful, and powerful you’ll ever read. As one commentator said, “It is infinitely precious.”

Stay tuned for more…