Today’s selected reading is found in the New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon. More specifically today’s passage is found in verses one through twenty-five of the only chapter found within this New Testament book. “Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow laborer, and to our beloved Apphia, and Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in thy house: grace to you, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Titus 1-3).
“I thank my God, making mention of thee always in my prayers, hearing of thy love and faith, which thou hast toward the Lord Jesus, and toward all saints; that the communication of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus. For we have great joy and consolation in thy love, because the bowels of the saints are refreshed by thee, brother. Wherefore, though I might be much bold in Christ to enjoin thee that which is convenient, yet for love’s sake I rather beseech thee, being such an one as Paul the aged, and now also a prisoner of Jesus Christ. I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds: which in time past was to thee unprofitable, but now profitable to thee and to me: whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is, mine own bowels: whom I would have retained with me, that in thy stead he might have minister unto me in the bonds of the gospel: but without thy mind would I do nothing; that thy benefit should not be as it were of necessity, but willingly. For perhaps he therefore departed for a season, that thou shouldest receive him for ever; not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord? If thou count me therefore a partner, receive him as myself. If he hath wronged thee, or owneth thee ought, put that on mine account; I Paul have written it with mine own hand, I will repay it: albeit I do not say to thee how thou o west unto me even thine own self besides. Yea, brother, let me have joy of thee in the Lord: refresh my bowels in the Lord. Having confidence in thy obedience I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say. But withal prepare me also a loding: For I trust that through your prayers I shall be given unto you. There salute thee Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus; Marcus, Aristarchus, Delmas, Lucas, my fellow laborers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen” (Philemon 4-25).
When you come to the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon you will find the shortest of the epistle the apostle Paul wrote which are presented for us in the New Testament. If you take the time to read and consider the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon you will find that this was now the fourth epistle which was written by him unto a specific individual. Of the thirteen epistles which were written by the apostle Paul nine were written to churches while four were written unto specific individuals. Of the nine epistles which were written unto specific churches two such churches would receive two epistles each—namely, the church which was at Corinth and the church which was at Thessalonica. Of the four epistles which were written unto individuals two were written unto the same individual which were the epistles written unto Timothy. Three of the four epistles written by the apostle Paul unto individuals were considered “the pastoral epistles” which there is this fourth and final epistle which doesn’t really pertain to a specific leader within any church. The epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon is one we must needs recognize and understand for it calls and draws our attention to something incredibly unique and astounding when you truly take the time to think about it. It is when beginning this epistle written unto Philemon we find the apostle Paul not only providing his name as the author of the epistle but also describing himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. In all reality this would be one of multiple epistles written by the apostle Paul while he was in prison. We know that the epistles written unto the Ephesian congregation, the Colossian congregation and the Philippian congregations were written while the apostle Paul was in prison. We also know the epistles written by the apostle Paul unto Timothy and now the epistle written unto Philemon was written while he was in prison.
It is actually quite interesting when you take the time to consider the fact that the apostle Paul was in prison at the time this epistle was written for it is the context of prison that is central to the whole epistle. This epistle doesn’t seem to suggest where the apostle Paul was in prison—whether he was in prison in the city of Rome or whether he was in a different prison. We know that when he wrote the epistles written unto Timothy he was in prison in the city of Rome. The epistles written unto the churches which were in Philippi, Ephesus and Colossae do not suggest where the apostle Paul was imprisoned and we are left to speculate as to whether or not he was indeed in prison in the city of Rome. We can undoubtedly deduce that the epistles written unto Timothy were indeed written while the apostle Paul was in prison in Rome for in the second epistle he knew that the time of his departure from this world was quickly approaching. The apostle Paul acknowledged that he had fought the good fight of faith, that he had run the race and that there was a crown of righteousness laid up for him in the kingdom of the Father. The epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon is actually quite remarkable when you take the time to think about it for we know and understand the apostle Paul was in prison at the time of writing it. This concept of the apostle Paul being in prison is actually what is at the very heart of this epistle for although the epistle was written unto an individual by the name of Philemon it was written unto Philemon concerning someone else. If you take the time to read this epistle you will find the apostle Paul writing unto Philemon but writing unto him concerning one by the name of Onesimus. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the ultimate purpose of this epistle and why it was indeed written by the apostle Paul in the first place.
As you take the time to read the words which are found in this epistle you will find the apostle Paul opening it with his signature name and then going on to describe how he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I have to admit the more I read and consider this phrase “prisoner of Christ Jesus” the more I am drawn into the incredible reality of how the apostle Paul viewed himself in that particular situation. For the apostle Paul to write that he was a prisoner of Christ Jesus suggests that it was not man who had put him in prison but rather the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul viewed his chains, his bonds and his afflictions as that which the Lord Jesus Christ had indeed permitted him to experience within his life. This is something we dare not miss and lose sight of for when you read each of the prison epistles written by the apostle Paul you will find that he neither complained, nor grumbled, nor murmured about his chains, his bonds or even his being in prison. In all reality I would dare say the apostle Paul recognized and understood that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who permitted him to be put in chains in the first place. It was the Lord Jesus Christ who allowed the apostle Paul to be taken into custody and it was the Lord Jesus Christ who had allowed the apostle Paul to remain in prison. If the apostle Paul was indeed in prison in the city of Rome when this epistle was written then it would have been written towards the end of his life as he was preparing to depart from this earth and enter into the realm of eternity. Upon approaching the end of his life the apostle Paul would indeed recognize that which needed to be addressed within the lives of certain individuals whom he had personally known and perhaps even brought to the Lord Jesus in the first place.
In the beginning and opening of this epistle we find the apostle Paul speaking of himself as a prisoner of Christ Jesus and also including Timothy their brother as well. It is unclear whether or not Timothy was present in prison with the apostle Paul or whether Timothy was indeed visiting him while he was there in prison. The epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon was indeed written by the apostle together with Timothy and was written unto one whom he referred to as a beloved friend and fellow laborer. This is something which is truly captivating when you take the time to think about it for when referring to Philemon the apostle Paul would use similar language to what he had previously used—namely, fellow laborer—however he would also refer to Philemon using language that is entirely and altogether different from any other epistle he had written. The apostle Paul was indeed writing unto one whom he personally regarded as not just a friend but as a beloved friend. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely incredible truth surrounding how the apostle Paul viewed this one to whom the epistle was written. The apostle Paul did in fact refer to him as a fellow laborer and this was language which was used in other places within the writings of the apostle Paul—particularly and especially in the epistle written unto the saints which were at Rome. It is in the final chapter of the epistle written unto the saints which were at Rome the apostle Paul would call attention to those who were partners together in the work of the ministry of the kingdom within the earth. When writing unto Philemon the apostle Paul would indeed refer to him as a fellow laborer but would also refer to him as a beloved friend.
I am sitting here today thinking about the words which are found within this epistle and I can’t help but think about how the apostle Paul addressed Timothy in the second epistle written unto him. It would be at the beginning of the second epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Timothy he would indeed refer to him as a beloved son and we now have in this epistle the apostle Paul writing unto Philemon and referring to him as a beloved friend. Pause for a moment and consider the tremendous significance of what is found within the opening verses of this epistle. When writing unto Philemon the apostle Paul did in fact acknowledge the fact that he was indeed a partner together in the work of the ministry of the kingdom, however, the apostle Paul would also refer to him as a beloved friend—something with whom he was affectionately inclined toward. I can’t help but wonder what type of relationship exists between two individuals to indeed be considered a friend—and not only a friend but a beloved friend. There is something truly special about using the word “beloved” and it is something we first see in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew. It is within the Synoptic Gospels found at the beginning of the New Testament we see the Father breaking the silence of the moment of the baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River and making an emphatic and beautiful declaration. It would be there at the Jordan River the Father would speak through open heavens and declare concerning the Lord Jesus Christ that He was His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased. This is something we dare not miss and lose sight of for the word “Son” of course speaks to the relationship which existed between the Father and Jesus. By referring to Jesus as Son the Father was indeed describing the relationship which existed between the two and how He was God the Father and this was God the Son. The use of the word “beloved” speaks of the affection and love the Father had toward the Son while the phrase “in whom I am well pleased” speaks of the delight and pleasure the Father had in the Son.
There is something truly special about the use of the word “beloved” in connection to another word that speaks of the existence of relationship between two individuals. When the apostle Paul wrote this epistle unto Philemon he was doing more than simply writing an epistle unto a friend for he was writing an epistle written unto one whom he referred to as a beloved friend. There is something truly captivating and special about this when you take the time to think about it for it brings us face to face with the special bond which undoubtedly existed between the apostle Paul and Philemon—and not only between the apostle Paul and Philemon but also between Timothy and Philemon. When writing this epistle unto Philemon the apostle Paul would indeed write unto one whom he referred to as a beloved friend—one with whom he was greatly and kindly affectionate toward. This is something truly special when you consider it for there is something truly powerful between brothers in Christ who are beloved friends one to another. There is something powerful about sisters in Christ who are beloved friends one to another and who are kindly affectionate one towards another. How absolutely incredible and powerful the words are which are found in this epistle for they not only speak of relationship but they also speak of ministry as well.
When you read the words presented in this epistle you will not only find the apostle Paul speaking of ministry but he also wrote and spoke of relationship as well. There is something truly special about men and women who are able to work in unity and harmony in the ministry of the kingdom. There is something truly captivating and special about brothers and sisters who are able to work side by side in the work of the ministry of the kingdom . What’s more is there is something special when brothers and sisters are able to work in complete harmony and unity with each other—not merely as laborers in the work of the kingdom but also as friends. Permit me to take a moment right now and ask you whether or not you truly have one within the body of Christ whom you could refer to as a “friend.” If you were to take a good, long, hard and honest look at your life right now is there anyone within the body of Christ whom you truly view as a friend—someone with whom you share a special bond, connection and relationship with? I can’t help but be reminded of the bond which existed in the friendship and relationship David and Jonathan had for Scripture reveals how their souls were knit together. Scripture makes it perfectly and abundantly clear that there was indeed a special relationship and bond which existed between David and Jonathan—one that would be sustained even while David was being hunted and pursued by Jonathan’s father who was the king of Israel at the time. Scripture is very clear concerning the relationships which existed between David and Jonathan and theirs is perhaps one of the greatest—if not the greatest examples of friendship that exists within the totality of Scripture. We know that Jesus declared unto His disciples that He no longer called them servants but called them friends and this is truly the ultimate manifestation of friendship that could ever be found—friendship between disciples and Christ.
I am sitting here today thinking about this concept of friendship and I can’t help but think about three specific examples of friendship that are found within the Scripture. If you take the time to read Scripture from Genesis to Revelation you will find that Abraham was the first one to be called and considered “the friend of God.” Scripture makes it very clear that Abraham was indeed a friend of God and this is something we must needs recognize and acknowledge if we wish to have a conversation about friendship in this life. If you take the time to read Scripture you will find that Abraham was considered a friend of God as well as one who believed what God had spoken and it was credited unto him as righteousness. Abraham was a man who obeyed the voice and word of the living God and would go where He instructed to go. We know that it was written about Moses that he was a man with whom God spoke face to face thus indicating that Moses too was a man who was and could be considered a friend of the living and eternal God. We know that when Jesus spoke unto His disciples as it was recorded for us in the New Testament gospel written by the apostle John He emphatically declared that He no longer called them servants but called them friends. Jesus would declare that a servant does not know what their master does but He would make plain and clear to them what He was about to do. What’s more is that when you read the words which are found in the Old Testament book of First Samuel you will find a friendship and bond which existed between David and Jonathan. I am convinced that the friendship and bond which existed between David and Jonathan was one that was rooted and grounded in something much deeper than simply an earthly connection.
The more I think about the words which are found in these passages of Scripture the more I am confronted with the tremendous truth that the type of friendship which I am writing and speaking of—that friendship which is found in the beloved—is something that has its foundation in friendship with the living and eternal God. I am absolutely convinced that at the very heart of any earthly friendship that exists between brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ must have at the very core and foundation of it a friendship with the living God. I am convinced that all true friendship which can exist and does in fact exist within the spiritual body of Christ has at the very root and foundation of it friendship with the living God. With this being said I am reminded of the words which the apostle John wrote in the first epistle for it would be in this epistle when he would speak of loving our brother. The apostle John would write and emphatically declare that we could not say that we love the Father whom we do not see if we cannot love our brother whom we do see. The apostle John was clearly making the case and argument that one of the greatest demonstrations of our love for the living and eternal God was our love one for one another—a commandment which was given by the Lord Jesus unto His disciples as He was preparing to depart from this earth and return to His Father which was in heaven. Perhaps the single greatest commandment Jesus gave unto His disciples and unto the multitudes was not “Go” but “Love.” There are those who would think the greatest commandment Jesus would and could give unto His disciples and followers would be the commandment to “Go,” however, I am absolutely convinced that if “Love” is not at the very heart and center of “Go” then our going will be in vain and might accomplish more destruction than anything. Consider if you will the following words which are found in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John beginning with the twelfth verse of the fifteenth chapter:
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are my friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name He may give you. These things I command you, that you love one another” (John 15:12-17).
“If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you. A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my father also. If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin; but now they have seen and also hated both Me and My Father. But this happened that the word might be fulfilled which is written in their law, They hated me without a cause” (John 15:18-25).
It is clear from these words and passages of Scripture that when Jesus was preparing to depart from this earth and return unto His Father which was in heaven He would give His disciples a command—and not merely a command but a command that in my opinion is not always easy to carry out. When Jesus departed from this world and returned unto His Father who was in heaven He left them with a commandment to love one another. If there is something we must needs recognize concerning this love it’s that we weren’t merely called to love our brother(s) or our neighbor(s) alone but we were also called to love our enemies. What’s more is we were instructed to love our neighbor(s), love our brother(s) and even love our enemies while being hated by all men for His name’s sake. Jesus never promised we would be welcomed, embraced, received and even loved and yet He sent us forth with the tremendous command to love one another and to even love our enemies. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful reality that we have indeed been called to love in this world—and not only are we called to love but love is the first and second greatest commandments. It is within Scripture where we not only understand and recognize that the single greatest commandment is to love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our strength and with all our mind but we are also to love our neighbor as ourselves. Having said this I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the following words which are found within the New Testament gospel narratives written by Matthew, Mark and Luke as well as the words which are found in the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle John. What’s more is I am convinced there is a great need for us to recognize and understand the words which are found in the first epistle written by the apostle John unto the saints which were at Ephesus:
“But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said to him, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:34-40).
“Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, Which is the first commandment of all? Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. So the scribe said to Him, Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. But after that no one dared question him” (Mark 12:28-34).
“And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, What is written in the law? What is your reading of it? So he answered and said, You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And he said to him, You have answered rightly; do this and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28).
These words bring us face to face with the incredible truth that we as the disciples of Christ have indeed been called to be those who not only love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength but we are also to love our neighbor as ourself. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it calls and draws our attention to the very foundation of our existence and why we were placed within and upon the earth. We must needs recognize and understand that we exist to love the LORD our God and to love people—nothing more and nothing less. Far too often we make this more complicated than it needs to be and we end up either not loving the LORD our God the way we ought to or we neglect to love our neighbor as ourself. With this being said there is a great need for us to recognize that if we want to love our neighbor as ourselves we must first love the LORD our God—and not only love the LORD our God but love the LORD our God with all our whole being. Those who love their neighbors well and even those who love their enemies well are those who first and foremost love the LORD their God well. Those who love the LORD their God much can and will love their neighbors—and even their enemies well. It is having said this I find it absolutely necessary and imperative to call and draw your attention to the words which are found in the fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew, the words which are found in the seventh chapter of the same gospel and the words which the apostle John wrote in the first epistle:
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
Consider the following words which are found in the first New Testament epistle written by the apostle John unto the saints which were at Ephesus:
“Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, I know Him, and does not keep His commandments, is a lair, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:3-11).
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it: but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has the hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:1-3).
“In this the children of God and the children of the devil are manifest: Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother. For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another, not as Cain who was of the wicked one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his works were evil and his brothers’ righteous. Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:10-15).
“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment” (1 John 3:16-23).
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. Now one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His. Love has been perfect in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:7-19).
“If someone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a lair; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this is the commandment we have from Him: that He who loves God must love his brother also” (1 John 4:20-21).
“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves Him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1-5).
It is quite clear from the first epistle written by the apostle John that we have not only been called to love the LORD our God but we have also been called to love our neighbor. Undoubtedly John was drawing from the words which He personally heard Jesus speak and declare unto Himself and the other disciples concerning loving God and loving people. What’s more is that when we read the words found in this epistle we encounter what is perhaps the very foundation of our loving God as well as our loving our neighbor as ourselves. If you read the words which are found within this passage of Scripture you will find the apostle John emphatically declaring that God first loved us and that we are beloved of God in Christ Jesus. It is because of the love which the Father has towards us which has been shed upon us through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ we are able to truly love the LORD our God as well as our neighbor. There is a great need for us as the disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ to recognize that we have indeed been called to live in love as we our loved by the Father as well as to live out love toward our neighbor, toward our enemies and even toward God Himself. LIVING IN LOVE, LIVING OUT LOVE! Having said this I find it in absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the following words which are found in the New Testament epistle written by James concerning our relationship to and with the world as well as our relationship to those who would be our neighbor. I would also call and draw your attention to the words which are found in the twenty-fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew:
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bride his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself in spotted from the world” (James 1:21-27).
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, You sit here in a good place, and say to the poor man, You stand there, or, Sit here at my footstool, have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thought? Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called? If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, You shall love your neighbor as yourself, you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, Do not commit adultery, also said, Do not murder. Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:1-13).
“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, Depart in peace, be warmed and filled, but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, You have faith, and I have works. Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know. O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was accounted for him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:14-26).
“Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealousy? But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?” (James 4:1-12).
Now consider if you will the following words which are found in the twenty-fifth chapter of the New Testament gospel narrative written by the apostle Matthew and the parable Jesus spoke concerning the sheep and the goats:
“When the Son of man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry and freed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and take you in, or naked and clothe you? OR when did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you? And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:31-40).
“Then He will also say to those on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. Then they also will answer him, saying, Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you? Then He will answer them, saying, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me. And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41-46).
It is at this juncture I find it absolutely necessary to return to the New Testament epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon for within it we find specific instruction and exhortation given unto Philemon. I have long been captivated with the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon for it was written unto one who would have been an owner of servants within his house. When you read the words found in the epistle written by the apostle Paul unto Philemon you will find the apostle Paul writing unto him concerning a servant of his who perhaps undoubtedly ran away and fled from his master’s house. Of course we know the instruction that was given by the apostle Paul to servants in the epistle written unto the saints which were at Rome as well as the words which are found in the epistles written unto the Ephesian and Colossian saints. We know the apostle Paul instructed servants to be subject to their masters recognizing that their true Master was in heaven. Their serving their earthly master was but an extension of their service to their heavenly Master who was very much aware of how they worked and how they were in relationship to their masters. That which we find within this epistle is centered upon a servant of Philemon who had fled from his master’s house and had come unto the apostle Paul. Scripture is entirely and altogether unclear whether or not Onesimus deliberately fled from his master’s house that he might seek out the apostle Paul or whether he happened to come upon the apostle Paul during his journey. Is it possible that Onesimus left the house of Philemon because he was deliberately seeking the apostle Paul or did he depart from his master’s house because he was seeking and searching for something?
I sit here today thinking about how many men and women within our generation are in the same position as Onesimus. These men and women are searching and seeking for something deeper, something greater than they have been experiencing. Perhaps Onesimus heard Philemon speak of his encounters with the apostle Paul as well as his relationship with him and desired to seek him out for himself. Perhaps Onesimus had heard and listened to the words which his master spoke unto others concerning the Lord Jesus Christ and experienced a stirring within his heart and soul. Perhaps Onesimus heard the words which were spoken concerning the kingdom of heaven and earnestly desired to seek out the apostle Paul that he might hear directly from him the truth about the gospel and concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. I find myself reading the words which are found in this epistle and wondering if Onesimus fled and departed from the house of his master because he was seeking after and searching for something deeper. Is it possible that Onesimus departed from his master’s house because he wanted something more than what he was experiencing within this house of Philemon? I would love to know what it was like in the house of Philemon for the apostle Paul would write concerning his love and faith which he had toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints. The apostle Paul would also go on to describe and speak of the sharing of his faith and it becoming effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which was in him in Christ Jesus. Not only this but the apostle Paul would also write unto Philemon concerning the hearts of the saints which had been refreshed by him. This is something we must needs recognize and understand for it calls and draws our attention to the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth surrounding Philemon and how the apostle Paul acknowledged him as a solid Christian brother.
When writing concerning Philemon the apostle Paul would indeed encourage him concerning his always making mention of him in his prayers having heard of his love and faith which he had toward the Lord Jesus. Not only this but the apostle Paul would also write unto Philemon of the love and faith he had toward all the saints—something we must needs recognize and acknowledge. We dare not and must not miss and lose sight of this and how absolutely incredible it is for it brings us face to face with the absolutely wonderful and powerful truth surrounding this dear brother and friend in Christ and how he was one who had a love for the saints. What’s more is not only did this brother have a love for all the saints but the apostle Paul also spoke unto him concerning the hearts of the saints being refreshed by him. What makes this truly unique when you take the time to think about it is what would cause Onesimus to depart from this house. If Philemon was as the apostle Paul mentioned—one who had a deep love and faith toward the Lord and toward all the saints and one who refreshed the hearts of the saints—then what would have caused Onesimus to flee from his house? Is it possible Onesimus witnessed the love and faith of Philemon and desired to search out the apostle Paul because of his influence in Philemon’s life? The apostle Paul declared of Philemon that he owed him even his own life which might very well suggest the apostle Paul was instrumental in bringing Philemon to the Lord.
The more I think about the words which are found in this passage of Scripture the more I am brought face to face with the tremendous truth surrounding the witness and testimony of love and faith toward the Lord and toward His saints. Perhaps one of the greatest questions we must needs ask ourselves is whether or not we are indeed men and women who truly have a love toward the Lord and toward His saints. I have presented a vast amount of scripture in this writing concerning the love we are to have toward our neighbors, toward our brothers and toward our enemies and the greatest question we must needs ask ourselves is whether or not we are indeed those who truly love the saints and love the Lord Jesus Christ? Are we truly those of whom it can be said that we love the saints and love the brethren? Are we truly those who can be acknowledged as ones who love the LORD our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength? There is not a doubt in my mind that we as the saints of God have indeed and have in fact been called to be such who love God and love people knowing that we love because we were first loved. We know that we have indeed been loved and that the love of God was shed abroad in our hearts. What’s more is we must needs ask ourselves whether or not we are indeed those who truly recognize the love of God within our hearts and within our lives? Are we such who truly understand and acknowledge the love of the living God within our hearts and lives and recognize the great depth, measure, height, breadth and extent of His love toward us? While we were yet sinners God sent His Son into the world to die for us and to be a propitiation and sacrifice for our atonement, forgiveness and redemption. This is something we must needs acknowledge with everything in us for our love for others must needs have at the very heart and center of it the understanding that the Lord Jesus Christ did in fact love us and His love is the very basis and foundation of our love for others.
As I bring this writing to a close I find it absolutely necessary to call and draw your attention to the words which are found within this epistle written unto Philemon. I can’t help but wonder how and why Onesimus would have departed from Philemon’s house if there was such a witness and testimony of love and faith within it. The apostle Paul made it perfectly clear that he had clearly heard of his love and faith which he had toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints. The apostle Paul would write and speak of how the sharing of his faith would become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which was in him in Christ Jesus. Not only this but the apostle Paul would also declare unto Philemon how he, Timothy and perhaps others had great joy and consolation in his love because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by him. Despite this, however, the apostle Paul sought to appeal to him for love’s sake on behalf of Onesimus. That which we find within this epistle is the apostle Paul essentially interceding—if you would like to view it in such a light—on behalf of Onesimus before Philemon. The apostle Paul would write unto Philemon how he begot Onesimus as a disciple and brother in Christ in his chains and how he who was once unprofitable to Philemon but was now profitable for both the apostle Paul and him. This is something we dare not and must not miss and lose sight of for it would be the change and transformation that would take place within the heart and life of Onesimus that would transform him into something so much greater and bigger than he had previously been. Scripture does not give the back story and does not reveal that which caused Onesimus to make his way unto the apostle Paul. OH I have to admit I would absolutely love to know what caused Onesimus to depart from the house of Philemon and what would bring him unto the apostle Paul. I would love to know what those conversations between the apostle Paul and Onesimus were like as the apostle Paul would be a prisoner in chains and Onesimus being one who had departed from his master’s house.
If you continue reading this epistle you will find the apostle Paul—after he begot Onesimus in his chains—sending him back to Philemon. What’s more is I can’t help but think about the fact that the apostle Paul might very well have sent Onesimus back to Philemon with this very epistle in his hand that he might deliver it to him personally. The apostle Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon—despite the fact that he desired to keep him with him that on the behalf of Philemon he might minister to him in the chains for the gospel. The apostle Paul declared unto Philemon that it’s possible that Onesimus departed for a season for this purpose—that he might be received by Philemon—not as a slave but as more than a slave. Pause and consider the language that was found in this particular epistle for the apostle Paul was sending Onesimus back to his master—not as a slave but as something more than a slave. The apostle Paul was sending Onesimus back to Philemon as a beloved brother unto the apostle Paul and hopefully as a beloved brother in Christ. FROM SLAVE TO BROTHER! FROM SLAVE TO FRIEND! Oh what a beautiful picture of the words of Jesus who declared that He no longer called us servants but called us friends for friends enjoyed relationship and revelation with Him in His presence and through the person of the Holy Spirit. Oh that we would read the words which are found within this epistle and would recognize the call to live as those who love God and as those who love people. What’s more is there is within this epistle the call and plea to Philemon to not only forgive Onesimus for any wrong he might have committed against him but also to receive him as a brother in the Lord. OH it is with this in mind I leave you with the following words which are found in the New Testament gospel narratives written by the apostle Matthew and Luke concerning forgiveness:
“Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of befofre you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray: Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:8-15).
“Then Peter came to Him and said, Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all. Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant wen tout and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me what you owe! So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay you all. And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you? And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So my Heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you from his heart does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:21-35).
“But I say to you who hear: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from. Him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, thou also do to them likewise. But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners to the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:27-38).