A sermon on Philemon 8-22 delivered at Vesta Baptist Church in Carlton, GA on August 2, 2015.
I’ll be honest with you: Philemon has never been my favorite book of the Bible. I knew the story: Paul encouraged Philemon to welcome back his runaway slave Onesimus. Simple enough. But the letter was brief, seemingly hard to apply, and dealt with the thorny topics.
But as I wrote a lesson for Treasuring Christ Curriculum, I was forced to wrestle with Philemon, study it, and deal with its complexities. And I was blown away. Philemon taught me how the gospel restores tattered relationships. It challenged my generosity.
Most of all, Philemon taught me that the gospel brings radical equality.
Remember: Onesimus was a slave. While first-century slavery was different than the slavery we know from American history, it was still unjust and unfair. As a result, Onesimus was considered socially and economically inferior.
But when Onesimus encountered the gospel, everything changed.
- Onesimus had been an outcast, but Paul called him a “child” (Philemon 10).
- Onesimus had been Philemon’s “bondservant,” but now he was a “beloved brother ” (Philemon 16).
- Onesimus had been treated as sub-human, but now he was to be greeted like an apostle (Philemon 17)
With the gospel, the man who penned a third of the New Testament was no better than a runaway slave. The gospel brought a radical, Christ-centered equality.
At this point, most of us are nodding our heads in agreement. We think that inequality is bad and equality is good.
Yet practicing this truth is much harder than it seems.
Because we are experts at manufacturing inequality. We seek to frame our lives in such a way that we come out better than others. So we identify one of our perceived strengths — such as skin color, education, career success, theological knowledge, physical fitness, politics, or heritage — and we make it the standard by which we judge others.
We declare ourselves the kings of our own kingdoms, and we render others inferior.
It happens to all of us. Ask yourself:
- Honors student, do you really believe you’re no better than high school dropout?
- Wealthy executive, do you really believe you’re no better than cleaning crew that takes out your trash?
- Political activist, do you really believe you’re no better than the party you oppose?
- Stay-at-home mom, do you really believe you’re no better than the mother who leaves her kids with a baby-sitter while she goes to her 9-to-5?
- Personal trainer, do you really believe you’re no better than your overweight neighbor?
- Proud American, do you really believe you’re no better than an Iranian?
- Pastor, do you really believe you’re no better than the untrained deacon?
- Straight man, do you really believe you’re no better than the person who struggles with same-sex attraction?
Inequality is insidious. It creeps into our lives without our knowing.
Yet the gospel shatters inequality. The gospel tells us that we were all equally sinful before God. It reminds us that we all deserved God’s holy wrath. Yet it also points us to Jesus — who suffered and died so that we all could be forgiven.
You see, the gospel makes all our manufactured inequality seem petty. We are all the same at the cross: Black and white, blue-collar and white-collar, fat and thin, smart and dumb, even slave and apostle.
That’s why Paul could call a runaway slave his “son” and “brother.” That’s why Jesus taught us to love social outcasts like tax collectors, women, Gentiles, and the poor. And that’s why you’re no better than anyone else.
The gospel gave Onesimus dignity, spurred him to reconcile with Philemon, and it may have even encouraged Philemon to free Onesimus (Philemon 12, 17-18, 21). So the gospel changed everything for Onesimus. And it can change everything for us.
I used to hate waiting at red lights. As I approached each intersection on my hour-long commute, I would strategically examine the multiple lanes of traffic, identify which lanes had the highest ratio of slow cars or trucks, and pick the lane that I thought would move the fastest. I wanted to expedite my journey with as little waiting as possible.
I wonder if the disciples felt this way at the start of Acts. I mean, they had sat at Jesus’ feet for three years. They had experienced remarkable, life-changing things—miracles, healings, cast out demons, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and their Messiah being brutally crucified and rising from the grave. I would have been itching to share these things with the world. I would have been sizing up the different lanes to pick the quickest one in spreading the good news.
Yet Jesus gave them a most curious command: Continue reading
[Please enjoy this guest post from my wife Katie.]
We know the feeling of being “on fire” for God.
Much like the burning passion that new lovers feel in the peak of a relationship. Or the deep longing a mother feels to meet the long-awaited-for child in her womb.
But then time passes by. Life happens. The relationship turns to coordinating schedules, making weighty decisions about bills/children/in-laws, and taking care of the mundane responsibilities of life that fail to ignite that deep joy we had once known. New babies — with the added kisses, hugs, and smiles — lead to lots of cleaning, laundry, bills, and carpooling and little to no rest. There may be no set routine (as much as new moms and dads try to establish one), but you find that the element of unpredictable sleep patterns leave little room for a person to experience even a minute amount of joy.
Over time, you find yourself getting frustrated with that individual that you waited for, prayed for, and felt so much stirring passion for. The passion fades.
This can also happen in our relationship with Christ. Continue reading
As graduation approaches, I’m dusting off my resume, giving it some much-needed updates, and wrestling with the age-old questions of how to best present myself on paper.
Yet as I have been studying 2 Corinthians, I have determined one thing: Paul would give some terrible resume advice. Continue reading
Jeff Gordon is retiring. Whether you love him or hate him, odds are he comes to mind when you think about NASCAR. He was the face of the sport for more than 20 years, and many little race fans wanted to be like him.
You probably remember Gordon as the guy who drove the rainbow-colored DuPont car. And for good reason. DuPont shelled out tens of millions of dollars to his team every year.
But Gordon didn’t pocket the money and run. He never said, “I got my paycheck, so I’m going to hit the lake this weekend. You guys can take care of the race, right?” Continue reading
Years before David Platt became the President of the International Mission Board, he was an ordinary pastor. Then he wrote Radical (2010) — the short yet piercing book that took the evangelical world by storm.
In it, Platt reacts to an American church that has embraced unbiblical values, fallen prey to materialism, and valued comfort above all else. He calls Christians to believe and obey all of Jesus’ teachings — even the parts that are most difficult to stomach. He takes the reader on a journey to rediscover the truth and urgency of God’s gospel, learn how to fulfill God’s global purpose in his divine power, overcome significant blind spots, and live a life of radical abandonment to Jesus.
Radical by David Platt is a small and concise book, but each page pops with challenging issues. In light of his recent appointment to serve as President of the International Mission Board, I revisited this book to discover the top four issues that stood out to me: Continue reading
A sermon on Romans 12:1-2 delivered at Vesta Baptist Church in Carlton, GA on Apr. 27, 2014
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”