Friday, September 23, 2016

The Spiritual Gift of Love -- Philemon

Becky Porter, a great woman of God, stepped in for me this week. If this blog contribution is any indication, God gave her an awesome Word Wednesday night. Hope it touches you.  (Becky's Mom is pretty special too).

We stepped into the book of Philemon to get a glimpse of Paul’s ministry in action with Philemon and Onesimus.  I truly love this story because it illustrates what we talk about in our Radical class each week; we are being called daily to love God, love people, and advance the Gospel regardless of what we are already doing for the Kingdom.  It is not about the “doing” at all.  It is about Love and that is our purpose.

In Paul’s letter to Philemon he writes (Philemon 1:8-20) that he may have the authority to command Philemon to take Onesimus back and forgive him and receive him as a brother in Christ yet he would “rather appeal …on the basis of love”.  He goes on to ask Philemon to lay down what he has a right to in order to advance the Kingdom, honor Paul and save the life of a new brother in Christ who is also Philemon’s run away servant (slave) that Paul has led to the Lord.

Philemon is a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and he has a church that meets in his home.  He is a man of God.  Paul is calling him to something more in this moment.  Paul is a servant of Christ and he travels to teach, correct, and preach about Jesus Christ.  He has endured beatings and threats all for the cause of Christ and yet he takes a moment from his very worthy ministry to appeal on behalf of Onesimus.  He uses the love and relationship that he has with Philemon to save and change Onesimus’s life.  Could he have said, “Philemon, I need you to take this man back and forgive him or you are a hypocrite and have no business leading a church if you are going to deny my request” or “I am keeping Onesimus- deal with it”? Yes, but he was teaching and demonstrating love. 

When I look back at the entire chapter of Philemon I see a great relationship that Paul built with Philemon.  He loved and trusted him to do the better thing.  Perhaps he actually trusted that Philemon’s relationship with Jesus would lead him to do the better thing.  It was born out of love.

In our daily lives we have the choice to take time to speak love and connect with others in relationship or to deal with issues by fixing them quickly so we can move on to what is important to us.  As a human being in this world, if we are around people at all we can engage in love or not. Pastor Jim Cymbala talks about a time that he was choosing to dis-engage and God touched his heart through a homeless man that wanted to know about Jesus and did not want the money the pastor was handing to him. 

There is another story that came to mind about a busy minister that was redirected by God’s love to help people and it all started with some missing persons’ posters in an airport.  You may know Christine Caine as a Christian speaker and writer.  She was busy in her speaking ministry and traveling to a conference one day when she noticed many posters of missing women (children mostly) in an airport.  The Lord would not let her focus on her one ministry without finding out more about those posters.  God used that love that he had gifted Christine with to start another ministry that effectively rescues people from human trafficking.

I could list more than a few wonderful people that have been using their limited time and resources to help others.  Many people in our church open their wallets, purses, homes, and lives to others because they have the God given gift of love.  Recently we had an older couple in our church need help moving and the job that needed done was enormous.  Our church washed this couple in love through their sweat, tears, and time.  This same couple had poured out so much love at a local organization that when the leader of that organization heard they were in need, he showed up with a bunch of men to help.

What are our Biblical directives?

The word in the Greek is “agape” and is defined as ἀγάπη agápē, ag-ah'-pay; from G25; love, i.e. affection or benevolence; specially (plural) a love-feast:—(feast of) charity(-ably), dear, love. (

Let me first invite you to look this up the way I have.  Simply go to the Bible and look up every time the word “love” is used in the New Testament and see what we are being told.  Here are a few of the 116 times that the word “agape” is used.

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 14:15
If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

1 Corinthians 4:21
What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?

1 Corinthians 8:1
Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

2 Corinthians 2:4
For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.

2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Ephesians 5:2
and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

*Note-You are reading these scripture “out of context” so let me encourage you to go and read the chapters these are extracted from so you see what the full picture is in these scriptural sound bites.

A call to action.

This loving gift that we offer is not always enjoyable.  It will not always feel good in the moment when we do it; it will be sacrificial and inconvenient for sure.  Jesus loved us so much that He paid such an amazing cost.  The Father sent His Son to die for us, that is how much God has shown His love and sacrificed for us.  He asks us to love as He has loved us.

--What does that look like in your life today? 
--Will you take time to sit down with a co-worker after work to help them think through a problem instead of rushing home to do the countless things that still need done in your own life?
--Will you pray for someone and spend time with the Lord on their behalf?
--Will you open the Bible to understand better what this “love” really looks and feels like?
--Will you get your hands and maybe your life a little dirty to help pull someone up?

Interestingly, the Holy Spirit seems to meet us in our need as we love people.  Pastor Cymbala confessed that the terrible smell of the homeless man became a beautiful aroma.  A friend of mine that has a very keen sense of smell went to minister in India in the slums.  She noted that the smell was removed from her noticing.  You may be called to hold hands with someone who has not washed recently, or go into insect infested homes, you may be called to listen to a person who has clearly made bad choices and have mercy for them, more than likely you will have to put your own needs, desires, and priorities aside; it is not in your human ability but it is in the Holy Spirit’s ability and He lives in you.

Look at what is in front of you today.  Sometimes it is hard to see the need and sometimes we tell ourselves reasons we cannot help.  If love is all that is required, and it is, who is God calling you to love today?  It probably will not make you famous.  The person you love and serve may not thank you or they might come to know Jesus in a brand new way and you might, too.

Paul said to Philemon 1:6, “I pray that the faith you share with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Jesus Christ.”

That is my prayer for us today

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