This is Part 2 in a series about relationships by Pastor Andy. Catch the full series at these links:
Part 1: 5 ESSENTIAL MINDSETS FOR GRACE RELATIONSHIPS
Part 2: 4 ESSENTIAL ATTITUDES FOR GRACE RELATIONSHIPS
The Heart of Grace Relationships
Philemon is a letter about the power of God’s grace through the gospel to bring about an uncommon forgiveness and reconciliation.
Broken and strained relationships are part of life and can take place in any arena of life, whether family, church, or nation. The potential for broken relationships is real even in a good family or church. Why? Because of sin, which is ever present with us. There is a well-known saying often quoted in the church, “To live above with saints we love – oh, that will be glory; but to live with saints below – well, that’s another story”. However, God has not left us to trial and error in relationships. In the letter to Philemon, we discover rich wisdom and help to know what is essential, and how to build relationships that are centered around God and His glory rather than around man.
The Apostle Paul writes to his dear friend, Philemon, of the church in Colossae, and lets him know about one of his slaves named Onesimus. Onesimus had stolen from Philemon and run away to Rome. He providentially ran into Paul who shared the gospel with him and led this young man to the Lord. In coming to saving faith he repented of his sin, surrendered his life to the Lord Jesus, and no longer sought his own will and way but God’s will and way for his life. God’s grace powerfully changes this runaway slave’s heart. He wants to restore to his Master and serve him even if it cost him his life. Why? Because this is how Jesus his new Master lived. Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many. However, Onesimus returning to Philemon would have its challenges. Under Roman law this offense was worthy of public shaming, beating, and even death.
Paul’s purpose for writing this letter was to call Philemon to address the incredibly challenging situation of dealing rightly with Onesimus. He calls him to risk his reputation and forgive his slave of the serious wrongs he had done. He calls him to receive him back not just as a slave but now much more – as a brother in Christ. This is a weighty matter to consider.
In verse 4-7 we discover four attitudes that are essential to experiencing grace-filled relationships.
Thankfulness to God for Others (v.4) – “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers”
Paul was always and intentionally giving thanks to God for Philemon. This is the reality of grace relationships as we recognize others as God’s gifts to us and visa-versa. We thank God because it is “God who is at work to will and to do according to His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). God is the source and origin of that which Paul is thankful for.
Do you have a prayer list of others at church? Do you find yourself thanking God for others as a result of your supplication and intercession for them? Do you, like Paul, let them know that you thank God for them? This kind of thanksgiving will stimulate even greater demonstrations of love and faith. The attitude of thankfulness to God for others is essential for grace relationships to flourish.
Thankfulness for Grace in Others (v. 5) – “…because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints.”
It is because he kept on hearing about Philemon’s love and faith that He was thankful. We know from other Scriptures that love and faith are gifts of grace from God that are produced in us as a result of the transforming work of the gospel. It is God’s gracious, redemptive Spirit powerfully working through others. In Paul’s case, God’s grace working through Philemon was personally experienced by him, so much so that Paul mentions nothing negative about Philemon.
The love he is referring to is that love that arises from divine love. “We love because He first loved us” 1 John 4:19). Is the love of God evident in your relationships with others? Do you sacrificially give of yourself to serve others? What do you think gets in the way of this most effective means to building grace relationships? It is self. Self will not want you to have an other’s focus. Self will want you to think on and act upon and for yourself. However, this is not love at all, but the sin of covetousness and lust. To love others as Christ loved us is to give yourself completely for their highest good.
The faith he is referring to is not just faith as a quality but the faith. That is, the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). It is the teachings and beliefs associated with Jesus; a body of truth that has been revealed. This is “the faith” embraced in explicit, personal trust and then shared together by all believers.
The practical side of the faith is the expression of that faith in our obedience and good deeds. Faith is both propositional and practical. Faith manifests itself in our deeds. To say you have faith but there is no evidence of that faith in what you do is to be deceived (Jam. 2).
So, we can see that Christian relationships are grace relationships because they are grounded in the faith we have in Jesus, and they are enriched through the love of Christ. Can you see any correlation between your faith in the Lord Jesus and the body of truth about Him, and your love for other believers? This is a vital question because true grace relationships will reveal both faith and love.
Supplicating for Effectiveness in Others (v.6) – “…and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.”
Paul defines the substance of his prayers with three key phrases…
- “fellowship of your faith” – Fellowship is the Greek word koinonia and broadly means partnership; that is, association by shared experience and shared life. We share in our union with Christ through the gospel and a common eternal life. We share by faith in a common atonement, forgiveness, reconciliation, and a life encompassed by God’s never-ending love and sure hope. We were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9). So, Paul is praying for the full participation of all the things that believers share in Christ and the new life that is now theirs in Christ, and he prays that they may become effective…
- “become effective” – Paul is praying that Philemon’s faith will become even more effectual as a natural consequence of its use.
- “knowledge of every good thing” – This speaks of practical and intimate experiential knowledge. Paul is praying that Philemon will grow in the fellowship of his faith by experiencing even more of God’s grace. The context of Paul’s appeal is forgiveness and reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. This is a relational experience of the grace of God he is calling for. This was not something Philemon had ever experienced before, or Onesimus for that matter. Paul wants these men to experience every good thing. When we don’t forgive those who sin against us, and we don’t truly reconcile with them, we miss out on the GOOD that is ours to experience in Christ.
So, does your sharing in a common Savior and your knowledge of God’s great love and forgiveness motivate you to forgive and reconcile with those who have hurt you, lied to you, gossiped about you, let you down and broken their promises? Or are you harboring the enslaving fruits of bitterness and resentment and so bringing dishonor to the Lord?
Rejoicing in the Love of Others (v. 7) – “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.”
Paul elaborates on the reason for His gratitude and prayers of thanksgiving. He points out to Philemon the grace that his obedience to Christ had brought to his heart. I love this! Paul is saying that Philemon has brought him much joy and much comfort. Who does not need these gifts to the heart? These represent more blessings enjoyed in grace relationships. Like a parent who sees his or her child acting according to their instruction, Paul’s heart is full. Paul is experiencing a state of joy and comfort.
The impetus for this joy and comfort is Philemon’s love. His love is manifested in the saints whose hearts have been refreshed through him. On a hot summers day when you are working outside, and someone brings you an ice-cold drink and sits down with you for a moment, you are refreshed. Refreshing the heart speaks to the emotions signifying that these saints had been refreshed to the deepest level. Practically Paul’s gratitude supplication and rejoicing are all ways that God will use to motivate Philemon to do what is right. Yet we can see that, rather than this being a tool to use to achieve something, it is an expression of what grace relationships look like.
So, in application of these four attitudes to our own lives we must ask, “Am I thanking God for other believers?” “Am I thankful for the evidences of grace in other’s lives?” “Do I long for and pray for others to experience the full blessing of Christ in their lives?” and “Do I encourage others by expressing the joy their faithful love of people brings to my heart?”
May each of us examine ourselves and choose to change the attitudes of our lives that don’t glorify God. May we be willing to go and put things right with those who have offended us or whom we have offended. May we seek to be a people known for the attitude of thanksgiving to God and thanksgiving for the evidences of grace. Let us never forget that all of this is ours because of the cross and Jesus’ victory over sin and death on our behalf.