Yesterday our senior pastor John Loftness delivered a sermon based on Paul's epistle to Philemon. It's a short but powerful letter that contains a blueprint the church can follow for reconciling sin-strained relationships within the church.
Loftness noted that Paul's grace-centered approach to the rift between Philemon and his runaway slave* avoided the pitfalls of harsh legalism or overly-liberal license. In my notes I charted these three approaches as "Legalism," "License," and "Love."
Were Paul to come down on Philemon's side completely, he could have sent Onesimus back, in chains under Roman guard, to Philemon. Needless to say, it was what a runaway like Onesimus deserved under Roman law and given Philemon's grievances. Yet Paul chose not to act in such a merciless way.
Conversely, Paul could have told Philemon to suck it up and write off his financial losses and embrace Onesimus as a brother from a distance. Paul could have said, "look man, forgive and forget, besides, I could use him to help me and the church in Rome, which he's doing already now anyway." That would have been license, it would have been an unrealistic and spiritually harmful writing off of all consequences for Onesimus's sins against Philemon.
What Paul did instead, was to model Christ-like love. Loftness quoted a Martin Luther commentary that says something to the effect that Paul modeled Christ-like sacrifice by pledging to repay Onesimus's debt to Philemon. Paul essentially gave an oath in his letter to that effect, fully prepared to be bound to his word by Philemon. In return, Philemon was called to forgive Onesimus, and Onesimus to repent to Philemon and return to serve Philemon and the church that met in his house, not as a servant or slave, but as a brother in Christ and fellow laborer in Christ with Philemon.
In closing, Loftness noted eight principles or "Gospel implications" of Christian behavior that is informed by the Gospe.
They are that that Gospel-driven Christians can:
- Admit faults
- Forgive one another
- Have high expectations of one another
- Lead by grace, not by leveraging personal power or manipulation
- Sacrifice to serve others
- Help one another work out Spirit-led, bliblically-faithful solutions to problems
- Relate to and have deep friendships with people from diverse backgrounds and/or with those who have wronged us in the past.
- Move from being useless to being useful for spreading the Gospel