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July 19 2020 - New Beginnings 4 - How to Restore a Broken Relationship

Thank You, Lord, that You love us. You are working Your ways in our lives through all of this. Help me, as I share, to share Your word clearly, that You might speak – and not me – that we might hear from You.

I am looking at Philemon this morning – how to restore broken relationships – Beginning again in a relationship that has been broken.

There is so much here. So much to learn from.

There are three characters in this book.

Philemon is the main character – and is a leader in the church in Colossae – a person of high status and standing in the city. He is a wealthy man. The church meets in his house. Or a complex – like today, a family lives in a house – in those days – Parents, kids, grandparents, cousins…. – Large upper room to fit more people – large courtyard. Also, he has slaves – so to have slaves, you had to be wealthy. He was also a person of importance in the community.

Onesimus – was a slave – and had somehow wronged Philemon. Onesimus had become a Christian – and was ministering to Paul in prison.

Paul is the writer of the letter, and the mediator of the relationship

How to mend broken relationships.

The time they lived in was an honor and shame culture.

We have some aspects of that – but not so much as in their world.

Probably the most important thing in their culture is to receive honor from others. This is the foundation of the culture – that certain individuals were to receive honor – family/position/who they were. Philemon was one of those.

The other thing with honor and shame – the honor you were seeking was honor from others because of position. Your value in that culture was the value others gave you. For us, we have internal value. To them, it would be ridiculous! The only value you have would have had would be what you gain from others.

Paul has to navigate this very delicately – and then throws a huge curveball into the story!

Philemon 1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved brother and fellow worker, and to Apphia our sister… and to the church in your house:

Paul uses family language – brother and sister – Timothy as a brother. The church is a family. It is the new family – and for those who come to Christ – it becomes your first family. Like the church is a nation and the church is your first nation – so it is with family here.

6. 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

Fellowship – Koinonia – Partnership

Relational peace is critical for the church family setting. This is something we must make a significant priority in maintaining and accomplishing relational peace.

7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord's people.

Second – he praises and affirms Philemon. He talks about him as one with great love and leadership. He is very much genuine in his praise – a lot of praise and affirmation. And this is critical – when a conflict happens, oftentimes the first thing we need to do is to affirm. Genuine and sincere praise. We need to be careful of ‘how to win friends and influence people’ mentality – “here is a trick that works every time!” – Not like that – but genuine praise.

8 Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do,

All of his life, Philemon has dealt with people as one of authority – it would have been all he had ever learned. Paul understands the thinking that is going on in his world, and he knows that needs to change. He will use Philemon’s language and understanding to help him know how to change. Philemon – a man of standing and status! But in the spiritual realm, I am your authority! He says it graciously – but Philemon knows exactly what Paul is saying. Oh that’s right – this is my higher-up – speaking to me!

I could order you – but I prefer …

9 yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul--an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—

So he takes the whole way of dealing with relational conflict and flips it on its head. I won’t order you – but will appeal to you on the basis of love, as a friend!

This conflict he is about to address is a very sensitive and tricky issue, dealing with slavery in the Greco-Roman world. In the context, this could bring out emotional responses. Conflicts produce emotional responses in us. Just the ways family handles conflict – conflict can trigger negative emotional feelings in us. Our tendency is to respond first with these feelings. Paul understands that and diffuses the negative emotional possibility of responses. He does this with HUMILITY. Humility is the medicine – and Pride is the virus.

Whenever there is conflict in a relationship – we must humble ourselves in relationship with the other person to express things with great humility. He reaffirms his love for Philemon.

He says – Look! We are on the same side! We are in this together! That is so important in conflict in relationships.

As parents – there might be differences of opinion in how children should be raised – and we have all experienced that conflict. There are times we need to stop and say – Look! We are on the same side here! We are both concerned for these kids! That just helps to remember that in a conflict.

What he is also doing – talking to Philemon – I am this apostle, but we can be equals on this one! Let’s just be equals!

What he does now – He turns this conflict into a gospel story – introducing a new way of dealing with things.

We use the term equality a lot – but a better term might be mutuality – we are not only equals, but we are partners as well. Like in marriage – two equal people come together to be one new entity.

This would have been unheard of in their context.

10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you.

Onesimus – The word means USEFUL – it was probably not even his name – it might have been what he was called as a slave – USEFUL! He also calls him his son. Somehow Onesimus has wronged Philemon – he may have run away – or stolen things and run away or wronged him… So Paul calls him his son. And when a son grows up – he gains the stature of the father. He is my son – You are my brother – He is your nephew. He is changing the context of who Onesimus is – and he is bringing him up to the level of Philemon. This could be a really difficult thing for him to listen to what is being said.

Reconciliation of relationship in the church is not only about the two in conflict – but it affects others. When people can be reconciled – that has a positive, useful influence on the body. It is beneficial to others – not just those two.

13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary.

So Paul turns this into a gospel issue – he is not heavy-handed in it – He chooses his words sensitively and carefully. The key is Paul’s genuine humility. It is a Philippians 2 thing – considering the others as more important than himself. He, like Jesus, did not hold to his privilege or status as an apostle, but laid that aside – for a greater authority – and that authority is love. The greatest standing a person can have is to love others. That is what gives them honor and status to live for others – to consider others as more important than themselves.

Paul turns this relationship story into a metaphor for the gospel.

15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever-- 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.

This is someone who wants a relationship restored.

Onesimus owes a great debt.

We all owe a great debt – sin

Paul steps in to pay the debt.

Jesus laid aside his position, advantage, authority – and considered us more important than ourselves – and paid our debt.

In doing this – Onesimus’s identity is radically changed. He is no longer a slave. His identity is dear to Paul – a beloved son in whom the father is well-pleased. Like when we come to Christ – we become a child whose father is well-pleased.

When God sees us – He sees Jesus – Christ’s offering is acceptable to God – and now so are we. When Jesus returned to heaven, God welcomed Him to the throne – and He will welcome us.

This story shows the power of the gospel to transform social and personal relationships. This is about the transformation of society and how this happens. The core of this relationship – Philemon and Onesimus – in order for this to happen – there must be a heart we must have

First – see others as beloved children of God. Humans. People made in the image of God. Our tendency in conflict is to see the person as some kind of monster. We live in a world where each group looks at the others as monsters.

There are some unsafe people – BUT – most people are probably people of good-will – and this looking at others as monsters has a long-term impact on social, national, and racial relationships.

Hitler – in turning Jews into some form of monsters… Think of the colonization of some of the world and they called the natives savages – and as a result, you can do whatever you want to them! If they are the problem – you can treat them however you want to treat them! Even in our own relationships, and our relationships within the church, we need to see people as beloved children of God.

Then we need to address relationships with an attitude of mutuality – equal and on the same team.

Let’s pray: Lord, teach us, help us! Our relationships are so important. Help us to make them top priority and to address them as You addressed our broken relationship with You. That is the perfect example of how to address broken relationships.


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