We continue our series through Philemon and today, we will focus on verse 21:
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
This verse is straightforward and self explanatory. It doesn’t need much explanation. Here is Paul calling Philemon to obedience. You may ask, obedience to what? Obedience to all what Paul has been saying from Philemon 1:8-20. So today’s sermon will simply be A Call To Obedience.
Believers are called to a life of obedience. And one mark of a true Christian is a life of obedience. This is what Christians do. We love Christ by living in obedience to his commands. Christians are those whose sins have been forgiven by believing in the death of Christ on the cross for sinners and repenting from their sins. Are you a Christian? Do you love Christ? Then you must live in obedience to him. There are those who claim we must not talk about obedience and that it is legalism— a keeping of do’s and don’ts to find justification with God. But when we speak of obedience, we are speaking of living in line with our new nature. Our old ways of life is gone with the new.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him (Colossians 2:16).
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Again, the verse we read, that is Philemon 1:21 is not the first time Paul speaks of obedience. For example in Philippians 2:12, Paul says
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Are you a Christian? Then obedience is required of you. If you are not living in obedience to the teachings of the Christians faith, then beware.
Now in what way does Paul require obedience from Philemon.
Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Those of you who were not with us from the beginning of our series in Philemon, we have established that Philemon is a letter of reconciliation Paul wrote to Philemon, who was a believer with a runaway slave—Onesimus. Who run away with stolen money. During his escape, he encountered Paul and become a believer (v.10). Paul in this letter therefore is trying to right the wrong and bring reconciliation between the two parties. In his appeal, he made certain entreaties.
Now in v.17, Paul makes some astonishing statements: “Receive him, as you will receive me” This is astonishing because Paul is telling Philemon to extend the same treatment he would have received from Philemon to Onesimus. This is a message of reconciliation. And a message that destroys any form of discrimination or partiality. Onesimus is a fugitive, he is a runaway slave. But now, because of his relationship with Christ, he has become a brother to both Paul and Philemon (v.16).
“Receive him, as you will receive me”:
See, Onesimus has now joined the band of brothers, fellow soldier and fellow workers consistently presented in the text: (vv. 1-2;13;24). In fact, Onesimus has become a partner in the gospel ministry just as Paul is to Philemon. Christian message goes beyond social status. In here the Master and Servant have all become one—they are brothers in Christ. Isn’t this beautiful? It is.
In Galatians 3:28, Paul states that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is the Christian message. The Christian message is a message of forgiveness and reconciliation. God has forgiven us, reconciled us unto himself that we may bring reconciliation to others. In the Christian community, we are all children of God with no one having higher access to God than others. What Paul therefore requires is a reconciliation between the two. Reconciliation between Master and Servant. Like a Christian employer and a Christian employee, that relationship is still there. But it takes on a richer meaning.
Bondservants, your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ,
6not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart,
7rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man,
8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
9Masters, do the same to them, band stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.
In the new Testament world, the existence of slave owners and slaves in the church was real. What Paul does here is addressing such relationships in Ephesus. I indicated at the introduction of this series that slavery in the Biblical world is not to be necessarily compared with slavery that tool place sometime ago in human history. Because there were various nuances in which people became slaves. Some are for economic reasons just like the employer and employee relationships of our times.
But there were rules governing these relationships. Of course there were abuses: “Masters, stop your threatening says a lot”
Note also that Philemon is not just to receive Onesimus as if nothing has happened. No, that will go against proper ways of reconciliation. The wrong has to be first dealt with for proper forgiveness to take place. In our own everyday interactions and relationships, we expect certain things to happen when there is conflict. Look at v.18. Paul here makes an offer to deal with the problem.
In one of our series, I pointed out the beauty in these words. Paul paints the picture of the work of Christ on the cross for Philemon. This will ring a bell with Philemon: “Charge that to my account.” Christ an innocent man took the place of guilty sinners, bearing our sins in his body. Our sins was charged to his account that we may be reconciled to God:
For our sake he made him to be sin rwho knew no sin, so that in him we might become sthe righteousness of God (2Corinthians 5:21)
All these appeals are made based on a newly found relationship in CHrist. One of the things I hope you would have noticed while we have been going through Philemon is the consistent reference to Christ. Philemon at a glance doesn’t appear like a book that has much to teach us about the Christian faith and of Christ. It is only 25 verses and a personal letter.
But a careful study does reveal so much to us.
Now though the main Characters in this letter are Philemon and Onesimus, we cannot miss Christ. Dear brothers and sisters, don’t! miss! Christ! in the Scriptures! He is there. The Scriptures is about him. The Scriptures points to him. The Scriptures reveals him. And so I make a bold statement that “Philemon is Christocentric— Christ centered” It teaches us about Christ. See the number of times Christ is referenced in the text.
v.1 (“Prisoner for Christ)
v.3 (the Lord Jesus Christ…” Christ is Lord over our lives he is not only a Saviour but Lord),
v.5 (Faith toward the Lord Jesus:Christ must be believed in),
V.6 (For the sake of Christ: Christ the center of all we do)
V.8 (in Christ, here Pauls speaks of his apostolic authority in Christ)
Through these references to the Lord Jesus Christ, this letter can be considered a Christocentric one, where Christ is both the basis and the goal of Paul’s appeals (cf. v. 6). Without Christ, Paul has no grounds to appeal to Philemon, and Philemon will find no reason to receive Onesimus as his brother” (David W. Pao, Colossians and Philemon, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 3.
Obedience To Scripture
Obedience is receiving the word of God and doing it. James says that be not only hearers of the word but be doers of it. Look carefully at a repetition in vv 19 and 21: “I write.” Whenever you see repetitions in Scripture pay attention. Paul is at this moment bringing to Philemon’s attention the authority behind the words he is writing. Paul was an apostle and this letter he was writing was no mere letter. What Philemon was holding is the very word of God. When the Apostles wrote, they were writing what carries authority as the word of God. Some argue in certain academic circles that when the apostles wrote they didn’t know they were writing Scriptures. Human beings, through councils, it has been argued, have given authority to human writings as Scriptures. But that’s wrong.
In the lifetime of the apostles, when they wrote, they knew well they were writing the word of God and their writings carried authority They were setting forth what Christians must believe. They were establishing Christian doctrine. What they taught and wrote they knew was the word of God that must be obeyed.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:37-38).
Clearly, these Scriptures points us to the undisputable fact that when the apostles wrote, they knew they were writing Scripture.
Since the apostles were commissioned by Christ to speak for him, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so, then these writings would have borne the authority of Christ himself. Thus, whether we call these books “Scripture” is a bit beside the point. To the earliest Christians, they were “the word of God” — Michael Kruger.
So the obedience Paul demands from Philemon is an obedience to the very things he wrote to him. Paul’s writing was God’s word. It carried authority. Though Paul has been diplomatic his authority as an Apostle is clear in the text: v.8 “Accordingly though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required” This dear brothers and sisters is apostolic authority. And Paul states it diplomatically if you will. At this moment he is negotiating, but his authority is intact. “I write to you” What Paul wrote is Scripture and expects Philemon to obey.
If we are not living our lives in obedience to Scripture and shaped by Scripture, then friends, we must repent. Whatever Scripture teaches, we must obey. “If you love me, keep my commands” Jesus taught.