Restored (Part 1)

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 (v.17)

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,” 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? Can you think of two people not in a right relationship with each other, but you are in a right relationship with both? 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.

Questions for Reflection:

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.

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?

What was Paul’s IOU? What significant point is he making when he says “charge it to my account”? How should that effect how we deal with conflicts within our church?

Do you think you have played a pivotal role in certain relationships in your life? How can God use you to bring a godly influence on the people and relationships around you?

is true love possible?

From a young age, boys and girls grow up with the stories of true love like Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, and countless romantic classics that depict men as chivalrous rescuers and woman as radiant beauties. As we grow older we love still stories like The Notebook and Braveheart because women want to be pursued and men want to sweep their beauty off their feet. We are wired to want life long love.

The Bible has a lot to say about love and relationships. Thus far we have discussed four of God’s standards for relationships. First, both partners must be faithful followers committed to Jesus Christ. Second, marriage is a picture of a divine and permanent relationship. Third, sexual intimacy is for the marriage bed only. Fourth, every relationship with the opposite sex must be viewed as sacred. And today we will see that you cannot get a refund your relationships.

You live a world where you can return anything. Even dumping your lover or signing divorce papers are easy as taking back a pair of shoes to Payless. So what’s the use of marriage vows? A vow is not “I hope so” or “I will try my best”; rather it is “I will!”  When I gazed into the eyes of my wife on the altar during our wedding ceremony I repeated to her, “I Justin, take you Sarah, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death takes us apart. And this day pledge to you my faithfulness.” In that moment, I was sobered by the serious this vow. I was committing myself to another human being. When it comes to relationships—particularly marriage—there is no return policy. No divorce or dumping can erase one-flesh.

Is true love possible?

Have you ever heard of the love story of Hosea and Gomer? With a name like Gomer it must be one amazing love story!? Gomer might not sound beautiful, but the story of Hosea and Gomer is one of the most endearing true love stories of the Bible. Hosea the prophet married Gomer the prostitute. Now most romances usually do not begin like this, but God arranged this marriage. However, through their relationship you will see a husband’s unconditional love for his wife.

Hosea knew about Gomer’s promiscuous past and probably knew that being married to a woman with this kind of baggage would not be easy. He was right. After they had three children together [1:2-9], Gomer ran away from her home and went back to work selling herself on the street. In our day, she would be arrested and removed of all custody to be near her children. In her day, she could have been killed or sold into slavery. She was running from more than her husband and children, she was running from God.

God let Gomer run for a little while through the thorns, but He did not let her run for long [2:6-10]. All the while He was right besides her, pursuing her heart, blocking her path, and whispering in her ear, “Where are you running to, my dear child.” God is a pursuer-lover. He does not let go of those He loves, even if they shamelessly spit in His face.

The story of Hosea and Gomer has such similarity to story of the father and his prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32]. The son asked for an early installment on his dad’s inheritance. The dad graciously gave it up to his son only to have him bolt immediately to blow it all in a Vegas night. The night ends with the son wrestling pigs for their slop. The father freely let his son run, but when the son came back begging for mercy the father embraced his son and threw him a welcome home celebration. God gives you freedom to run with boundaries. Your God-given freedom does not give you the right to break God’s guidelines for life for this will make you a slave to your own sinful passions.

Gomer came to the place where she had nothing.  She was stripped of everything. I suppose she reaped what she sowed; she got what she deserved. In her mind, the only solution was to sell herself as a slave. The story does not end on here; Hosea buys Gomer from the slave market [3:1-3]. Can you picture the moment? Can you see Hosea leaving his home, looking in his wallet at the money he would use to purchase back his promiscuous wife and mommy of three children? Can you hear the auctioneer bidding with Hosea responding, “15 pieces of silver”? I can imagine Gomer’s eyes filling with tears as she sees her husband pursuing her to restore her as his wife.

The love story of Hosea and Gomer mirrors Gods love towards Israel. God in a sense wed Himself to an unfaithful people. God made a covenant relationship with Israel. This covenant came with blessings and curses depending on Israel’s fidelity and loyalty. Since, Israel was unfaithful the curses were being activated [cf. blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 28; R.C Sproul, Curse Motif].

What are the relationship lessons learned from Hosea and Gomer?

First, God is angered by unfaithfulness. God is particularly outraged by unfaithfulness towards Him. When you rebel against God there must be a consequence. God is like a jealous husband who desires His wife solely and for her not to share her love with another.

Second, God is a loyal lover. God’s faithful love is unfathomable. Although the people He loves are unfaithful He bends over backwards to buy back His promiscuous bride. He runs with an eager pursuit to express His unconditional love to His people.

Third, idolatry can creep into any relationship. Israel’s unfaithfulness had to do with their love for another god. Moreover their religious practices became an idol that clouded them from seeing their One True Love. Idolatry is sharing your love with something other than God. People can be idols, but God never meant for marriage to be-all.

Fourth, God’s anger and love must lead to our repentance. This is the gospelman is responsible to God, man rebels against God, Jesus redeems man, and man responds to God’s love. Instead of Gomer being on the auction block it is you. Your sin put you on the slave market, but Jesus stepped in to purchase you as His own. He raised His nail pierced hands claiming you as His child. The gavel falls, “Sold!” The price for your soul was the Son of Man shedding His blood on the cross. The love story of Hosea and Gomer is most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

True love is possible. Obedience to Christ is the starting point towards knowing what true love is all about. Without a relationship with Jesus Christ you will not know what true love is or how to share it with another person. The sacrificial and unconditional love of Jesus Christ is our model for true love. I am certainly glad that God did not return me when I failed Him.

quick Q&A concerning difficult relationship situations:

Since Hosea married someone who is immoral is this okay for me to do too? This question must be answered carefully. First, it is true you are both sinners and you both marry with sinful baggage. Still you must careful consider whom you marrying. It is good to ask the question: Am I willing to partner with them know what I know about them?

What if my spouse leaves me? Forgiveness and restoration are always the goal, but you cannot control the responses or actions of other people. Your faithfulness [1 Peter 3:1-6] and sacrificial love [Ephesians 5:25ff] will speak more than your words will ever utter. Marriage will be tough at times. God designed marriage to you holy, not just happy.

What if my spouse my relationship is abusive and unsafe? Get help. Call your pastor, but if you are in immediate danger call the police. Separation from your spouse for a time is appropriate they can submit to self-control. I found this message, Living with an Angry Spouse, by Ed Welch very helpful.

Additional Resources to Prepare for the Marriage Relationship:

Should We Get Married? [William Smith]

Questions to ask before you Get Engaged [Sojourn Counseling]

The Mystery of Marriage [James Hamilton Jr.]