To hear some Christians talk, you’d think the blood really doesn’t have all that much power and that the Spirit isn’t really all that able to sanctify. These people often declare they are still wretched . . . they are still filled with hearts that are wicked and deceitful . . . they remain in competition for Paul as the chief of sinners . . . in them, still, is no good thing. Now, to be sure, we are not there yet. Every morning we wake to civil war within us — the flesh vs. the Spirit (Gal. 5:16:17). But, as believers, should we really be declaring that there’s nothing good in us? I’m thinking not.
Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
(Philemon 1-6 ESV)
Philemon’s an inspiration. He’s an unsung hero. One of those guys who, while you can never remember his name, you’re glad is on your team. He was a man of means as he had slaves and a home big enough to house a church. More importantly, he was a man of love and faith. Not just an “I know what I believe and I’ll keep it to myself” type of faith, but a faith that was so impactful that Paul heard about it even in Rome. The type of love which manifested itself in such hospitality that “the hearts of the saints” had been “refreshed” by Philemon and his wife through their home (Philemon 7).
What’s more, Paul was confident that these good deeds were not birthed in a self-serving desire to impress men but were, in fact, a manifestation of a man who had been saved and transformed by the glorious gospel. Acts of grace and generosity sourced in Philemon’s own personal encounter with the grace of God and the generosity of the cross. Paul being so confident that this was a man with his heart and soul so set on things above that Paul would ask him to do the unimaginable — receive back a runaway slave without judgment. In fact, Paul asks Philemon not only to give this rogue bondservant a second chance, but to welcome him as Philemon would welcome Paul, regarding him not as an AWOL bondservant but as a brother in Christ.
Big ask! But Paul was confident. How come? Because of “every good thing” that was in Philemon.
Receiving this runaway slave back into his home as an equal in the Lord was but a sharing of Philemon’s faith . . . a living out of what he knew to be true concerning kingdom dynamics . . . an exercising of “every good thing” that was in him through Christ and for the sake of Christ.
And I’m reminded this morning that, while it’s true that “nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh” (Rom. 7:18), I am no longer a creature in subjection to the flesh. But, in Christ, I am a new creation in subjection to the Spirit of God and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). And in that, there should be a lot of “good things” in me. Good things that should be manifest in good deeds for the sake of Christ. Good things that are to be shared such that the love and faith I have, for the Lord Jesus and all the saints, is evident. Good things that witness to the power of the gospel to take wretched people and redeem them. That testify to the power of the gospel to replace wicked and deceitful hearts with hearts that seek to worship God in truth and spirit. That powerfully communicates the power of the gospel to take a chief of sinners and conform him or her into the image of the Son of God. All by the power of Christ . . . all for the sake of Christ.
Might God’s people be like Philemon . . . that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.
Because of grace . . . for God’s glory.