This is Part 1 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 Beauty 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.
Relationships with others are hard and we need all the help we can get. The gospel provides the grace we need to know the beauty of human relationships the way God intended them to be. The gospel does far more than give us a ‘ticket to heaven’. Gospel grace, when embraced, transforms human hearts, which in turn transforms relationships, which in turn transforms societies.
The importance of the short letter of Philemon lies not in how it addresses the social issue of slavery, but in the revelation of the power of gospel grace to transform relationships. God’s grace has the power to restore the most broken relationships. It elevates them to God’s intended place of unity, peace, and joy through the reconciliation of Christ.
In the greeting of this letter (vv.1-3), Paul reveals five gospel realities that are foundational to experience the richness, beauty, and blessing of grace-filled relationships.
We Are Christ’s Captives – “Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus”
The Apostle Paul writes a personal appeal to a dear brother named Philemon based on their common union with the Lord. His description of himself as a “prisoner of the Lord” reveals that he did not see his current imprisonment as the result of Rome’s authority. Paul was first and foremost a captive of Christ. It is of such importance that he mentions it four times in this short letter (vv. 1, 9, 13, 23). He sees that the circumstances of His life are all the result of Christ’s sovereign choosing. He interprets his literal imprisonment as an act of worship. Treasuring Christ more than life itself, he willingly obeyed Him regardless of what his obedience cost him – even literal imprisonment.
Are you a captive to Christ? How do your choices show that you are a captive of Christ? You may be free from sin, but are you a slave to Christ? For God’s grace to flow through you to others, you must die to self-will and yield yourselves to the will of our Lord and Master. Grace relationships are built on the common foundation of submission and surrender to Jesus, not upon our personalities or common social status, or even common interests.
We Are Christ’s Family – “Timothy our brother, Philemon our beloved brother…. Apphia our sister”
Paul identifies “Timothy, Philemon, and Apphia” in familial terms of brother and sister. He is revealing that our spiritual relationships in Christ are far more important than our natural relationships. Why is this true? Because in Christ we are joined by a blood covenant relationship to our heavenly Father. Jesus himself said of His disciples: “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:34b–35). Jesus saw his relationships with those who were obedient to God as close or closer than regular family ties. In fact, Paul instructed Timothy to treat people in the church as family members in 1 Timothy 5:1–2. He said, “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
How do you see other believers? Are they more than acquaintances or friends? Do you think of them as brothers and sisters whom you love and are bound together with? The mindset of grace-filled relationships is that fellow Christians are closer than friendships. They are to be considered as family relationships, and we are to care for one another as if we belong in the same family.
We Are Christ’s Fellow Workers – “Philemon…fellow worker”
Paul uses this designation 12 times in his letters, and even at the end of this letter he calls Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke his fellow workers. This descriptive phrase paints the picture of a team of people who are out in the field working together to bring in the harvest. Farmers and businessmen know the importance of having a team of fellow workers to achieve a goal.
In the same way, the church grows to maturity in Christ through those who faithfully serve together for a common goal. In this letter, Paul commends Philemon for his love for the church (v.5). He had opened his home for them to meet there (v.2). He had modeled a genuine faith in Jesus (v.5), and he had motivated the saints to fellowship, even refreshing others (v.7). Philemon saw the necessity to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. He was allowing the Lord to work through him, causing the growth of the body for the building of itself in love (Eph. 4:16).
Grace relationships grow by serving Christ, not in isolation but as a team, sowing and reaping a harvest of righteousness. It is only as we see ourselves working together that your problems are seen as my problems and my problems are seen as your problems. This mindset will drive us to pray for one another, support one another, and share with each other the goodness of the Lord.
Do you see yourself as a worker for Christ? If so, can you identify the work He has called you to do? Beyond this who would identify you as a fellow worker? Do you see yourself serving alongside others in the ministry of the gospel?
We Are Christ’s Soldiers – “Archippus our fellow soldier”
Archippus was a soldier of Christ, upholding the truth and expressing God’s grace in a world of lies and legalism. The designation “fellow soldier” has a strong connotation of selflessness and sacrifice for the cause of Christ.
The metaphor of the church being an army of soldiers under the command of General Jesus is a picture Paul uses in other places. He wrote to Timothy and exhorted him to “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:3). He also called him to “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim. 6:12). Of his own life, Paul described it as a life-long battle. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). This is not a man who lives his life at ease. He doesn’t have a ‘take it or leave it’ approach to life and relationships. He is motivated to please his commanding officer.
Like Paul, Timothy, and Archippus, ours is also truth war. It is a battle of gospel truth against doctrines of demons and false ideologies, and it requires a sacrifice on our part. Truth is worth fighting for. Its eternal. It is the basis to being set free. The church is to be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
Do you defend gospel truth even if you are persecuted for it? Are you able to define the terms of the gospel, such as regeneration, justification, reconciliation, propitiation, sanctification, faith, and grace? May we “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
We Are Dependent on Christ – “Grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Without grace (God’s unmerited favor) there would be no salvation (redemption and justification before God). Without salvation there could be no peace between God and man. As Romans 5 reminds us, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2).
No one comes to God but by His grace through faith. God’s free unmerited favor in sending Jesus to die for sinners like us should cause us to be in awe of such grace and love. We should repent and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We should live every day on earth dependent on the grace and peace that is ours through Jesus Christ.
It is a dependence on the person, name, and work of Jesus that produces grace relationships. Paul declares, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:12–13).
It doesn’t matter what your station or heritage in life is; when you are in Christ, you are now essential to the proper working of the body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”, or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you”. In God we are all essential to the church. The conclusion Paul comes to is that, because of this, we can now truly love each other.
Paul will call the disobedient slave Onesimus to return humbly to his master Philemon, and the master he will appeal to forgive and receive his runaway slave Onesimus, and the basis will be the grace of God and their common union in Christ.
How do you show that you are depending on the grace and peace of God? Do you love others as you have been loved? What do you need to do to grow in grace? Remembering that:
- You Are Christ’s Captive
- You Are Christ’s Family
- You Are Christ’s Fellow Worker
- You Are Christ’s Soldier
- You Are Dependent on Christ
Through this fivefold gospel renewal of our minds, we can grow to experience the richness, blessing, and beauty of grace relationships. We can know the fullness of becoming friends who love and serve others out of the bounty of grace for the glory of God. This grace of the gospel delivers us from selfishness, demanding, and manipulation, and it brings an eternal purpose to our lives – something money cannot buy.