Pentecost 16
September 20, 1998
Philemon 1:7-17
"What Can You Expect of a Christian?"

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Introduction:  If you claim to be somebody or something, society can expect certain things of you.  For example, we expect a judge o be just and impartial.  We expect students to go to school to learn, teachers to teach, a policeman to enforce the laws, and a citizen to vote.  A question, which could be asked, of each of us is this; what can you expect of a Christian?  

Philemon, the man to whom a personal letter which bears the name of our Epistle lesson for this morning was a Christian. St. Paul expected him to respond in a certain way regarding a runaway slave, Onesimus.  Using their real life situation as a backdrop let's consider what you can expect of a Christian.

What can you expect of a Christian?

[1]   First you can expect him to do what is required. Listen to verse 8 of our text for this morning.

"I feel sure that I could tell you what your Christian duty is and order you to do it"

In the body of this letter St. Paul outlines what it is that Philemon is to do. And by inference Paul is instructing us on what it is that we are to do as Christians.

(A)  Philemon is to forgive.  Now on the surface that sounds so simple and yet we as humans have such a difficult time in doing precisely that very thing that we are to do. Forgiveness becomes difficult when we are offended or hurt.  We feel real and genuine pain when someone wrongs us and often our first inclination is to keep hold of that misery and pain. We hold on to it because it's a way of keeping that other person in check. Often refusing to forgive gives us the power over that person that we might not necessarily have.

But by refusing to forgive that pain which we initially felt begins to fester and grow until it can consume us and overpower us.  When we fail or refuse to forgive we soon become vicious and spiteful and that poison inside of us will continue to grow until it depletes us of strength and devours us completely.  Many a person has become ruined because they could not find it within themselves to forgive.

"But..." you might ask, "...how do I know when I have forgiven?"  Forgiveness happens in our lives when

(B)  We accept the offender.  Onesimus had run away from his master. There is strong suspicion that he might have stolen from Philemon as well.  To forgive him was certainly not easy. 

         How was Philemon to know that he had forgiven Onesimus? He would know that he had freely forgiven when he accepted him back.

        Again, this is easier said then done.  To accept the offender is not to necessarily embrace what they have done. We do not accept their behavior but in forgiveness we accept them as a person. We do not allow the actions of the past to influence our approval of them in the present. 

How well do we do at keeping the past in the past?  When an argument occurs, and I'm loosing the case what am I tempted to do? I'm tempted to reach back into my memory of the past and lob a hand grenade into the present. "Remember the time you did thus and so...?"  Have I forgiven that action of the past? When I bring it to the present I not yet come to the point of forgiveness. I begin to forgive when I accept the offender and not allow the past to influence the present.

How do we keep the past from running into the present?  We must rebuild trust. When I trust I accept the offender.

(C)  We are also to consider him as a brother in Christ.  Yes, Onesimus had run away. Yes, Onesimus probably had stolen money, with the hopes of buying his freedom. But Onesimus, by the grace of God had also become a Christian. In forgiving the man Philemon is encouraged by Paul to accept him as a fellow believer, a brother, a redeemed child of God.

Transition:  What can you expect of a Christian? Not only can we expect him to do what is required but also there is a specific motivation involved in the process.

[2] You can expect a Christian do forgive with love.  Listen to verse 9 of our text:

"I'm asking you to do this because of your Christian love"

Love. What kind of love is Paul referring to? (agaphn) The love, which Paul refers to, is the kind of love, which God has demonstrated to us. God's love is purely unselfish and holy. It is interested always in the other person's true welfare. We as Christians use this phrase "Christian love" to describe the love a Christian should have for both God and other people.  It is a purely unselfish love, which is not just emotion.  This love, this "Christian love" takes a true interest in the person's best interests and welfare.  Therefore, when you and I forgive we do not grudgingly or reluctantly but freely.

[3]   How am I to forgive? You can expect a Christian to forgive willingly.  Listen to v. 14

"But I didn't want to do anything without knowing that it would be all right with you.  That is, I don't want you to be doing me this favor because you're being forced to do it, but of your own free will"

Philemon owed Paul his life. Paul had worked with him and was his pastor. He had shared the gospel with Philemon and Philemon had converted to the Christian faith.  Whatever Paul wanted Philemon was obligated to help him.  Yet, Paul urges Philemon to forgive Onesimus of his own free will.

Conclusion:  Forgiveness and letting go, and not letting the past come back to haunt us are often times hard to do.  The more painful the hurt the longer and the more difficult it will be to forgive.  It's sometimes hard for us to forgive as it has been for many people.  That is why this letter was included into he text of the Bible to show us a practical and God-pleasing manner in which we can conduct our lives and how to handle forgiveness. May the Lord so lead us by His grace and show us how to live, how to love, and how to forgive.  In Jesus' Name we Pray.  Amen.

           +  Soli Deo Gloria  +