Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus (Philemon 1:8-9)
We are still in the letter to Philemon. And if you remember our previous series so far, we spoke about Philemon as a Letter of Reconciliation in our first in the series. We identified reconciliation as vertical—that is, reconciliation between God and humanity. And horizontal, between humanity and humanity. We also saw how when reconciled to God, he places us in a community of believers–the church.
This community we identified are a Praying community. We pray for one another. Paul prays for Philemon:
I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers ( Philemon 1:4)
We inferred also that Philemon prayed for Paul: “At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you ( Philemon 1:22)
Again, we considered this community as a Loving Community. First, we love Christ. Don’t you love Christ? He saved you! He ransomed you! He healed you! He restored you! He forgave you! Friends, we love Christ because he first loved us.
How Sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
Dear brothers and sisters, we need our love for Christ to be kindled every day (Song of Solomon 2:16). We also noted that our love for Christ must reflect in our relationship with one another. We must love one another: Paul bears witness of Philemon that he loves Christ and loves the saints: Philemon 1:5.
Now as a community of believers, in our interactions, there’s bound to be conflict amongst us. How will we resolve those conflicts or live with them? Though redeemed, we still live in this fallen body in a fallen world and do sin against one another which may lead to tensions. How will we address such? Let me share a quote from something I was reading during the week which I believe will be useful in today’s message. It is from the editorial of March’s edition of the Table Talk Magazine.
Every Christian deals with conflict, and we do whatever we can to avoid it. Conflict is miserable. It is heart-wrenching. It burdens us and can sometimes overwhelm us. Thus, when we find ourselves in the midst of conflict, we need to cast ourselves and all our burdens on the Lord, because he cares for us. One of the ways He cares for us is through the church, even when the conflict we are facing is in the church. God made us for community, and the only way to bring about genuine resolve and reconciliation is through the community of God’s family, following the principles God has set forth in His Word to seek authentic peace.
The last phrase simply tells us the way to peace is set forth in God’s word. Clearly, the verses we read sets a certain pattern we can consider in our relationship with one and our conflict resolutions. So today, for a title, I want to say this community of believers must be A Peace Seeking Community. And there are three things we will consider in seeking peace and reconciliation in conflict:
- Mediatory Role
- Manner of Mediation
- Modelling Christ’s Example
We already know that Paul wrote to Philemon to seek reconciliation for Onesimus, who has run away from his Master Philemon. And in the course of his escape, he encountered Paul, became born again under Paul’s ministry, and Paul writes to send Onesimus back. So in this letter, Paul seeks to bring peace between the two brothers. “I appeal to you” Look specifically at verse 10: I appeal to you for my child Onesimus whose Father I became in my imprisonment.
Paul here is playing a mediatory role and goes forward to say all he has to say towards this goal of reconciliation. Brothers and sister, when there is conflict, we don’t sweep it under the carpet; we deal with it. And indeed the Scriptures at many places speaks of believers pursuing peace with one another or promoting peace among one another. In the popular sermon on the mount, Jesus pronounced a blessing on peacemakers saying: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9). From this text, we can say that one characteristic of those called children of God is that they pursue peace. Remember one of the fruit of the Spirit is peace: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,” (Galatians 5:22).
Jesus again said, in the Scriptures we read in our first reading that if a brother sins against you, you must attempt reconciliation and exhaust all avenues of reconciliation. It could be possible Onesimus has sought Paul’s mediation bearing in mind or knowing this text.
Pursuing peace is not an alternative for the believer. We must be agents and instruments of peace. Seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14). Paul said in Romans that “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19). Again, Paul said “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). Simply make sure you are living in peace with everyone. So far as it depends on you. Attempt to be a peaceful fellow.
Finally, the most important aspect of peacebuilding is bringing the gospel to others. You want people to have peace? You want this world to see peace? Offer the gospel. Preach reconciliation to God. Point people to Christ. Bring them to Christ
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7).
Manner of Mediation
What do we see in the text? Humility and not arrogance. Self-denial and not self-serving. The text opens a window for us to see into Paul’s life. We see in these words Paul living out what he preaches. Friends our lives should be marked by what we profess. Our doctrine must lead to right conduct. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16 that “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them…”
If you are familiar with Paul’s writings, this text will ring a bell. In his writings to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of certain characteristics of love which we see fully displayed here. Paul says here “For the sake of love” What Paul is telling Philemon is that I have authority in Christ to make this request by insisting, but I don’t want to. I will not abuse my authority, I am not going to coerce you. I won’t insist on my way. I want you to act out of your own consent ( Philemon 1:14). This is Paul living out 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful
Paul has apostolic authority to command Philemon, but no, rather he appeals:
“I appeal to you” Paul is begging. Paul is pleading. He is an apostle. He is an old man—commentators have put him in his 60s then. Perhaps he is older than Philemon, yet he pleaded. He didn’t throw his weight around. This is humility.
Look at this also, “I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart”.(Philemon 1:12) Do you sense the emotions in these words? Paul has established a bond with Onesimus. Parting with him is already proving difficult. I am sending my very heart. A study bible note on this verse says: Not the common word for heart, but literally “internal organs” (especially the stomach and intestines). The word shows affection, intimacy, and deep love. Yet Paul will have to let Onesimus go. Paul indicates in verse 13, how he will have loved to keep Onesimus for the cause of the gospel, but will not impose it.
Another comparison with 1 Corinthians: “It does not insist on its own way”. Paul is careful in his appeal not to insist on his own. This here tells us sometimes in conflict resolutions, we must not always seek our right, but seek the right of others. That’s also biblical.
Modelling Christ’s Example
In everything said so far, the example of Christ is the greatest. Christ is that mediator who mediates peace between God and sinful humankind. We are sinners. Separated from God. Enemies of God. But Christ comes onto the scene to reconcile us to the Father and forgive us our sins. How did he do this? He died on the cross to bring peace to everyone who will believe in him: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14). Christ is the only mediator between God and man who mediates peace on our behalf. Not Mary, not a dead saint. Not any man of God: For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
What’s the Manner of Christ’s mediation. It is humility. He laid down his divinity and took upon himself the nature of a servant. Paul lays Christ for us as our perfect example (Philippians 2:4-8).
Christ willingly laid down his authority and took upon himself human flesh. A servant. Lets arm ourselves with this in all of our dealings. And of course we can only follow this if we have come to faith in Christ.