The Relationship-Transforming Gospel (Philemon 8-16) by Bro. John Lao

We’re often fascinated by transformation stories. We see that in the world of business, society, people who are engaged in fitness, those who have changed their lifestyles. And if you would have the opportunity to talk to these people, paano nila yun ginawa? How they did that? How were they able to achieve that? They would often answer you with hardwork, dedication and sacrifice. Usually yun yung mga formula nila in order for them to transform themselves. But there exists a kind of transformation that is unattainable on our own. No hardwork, no sacrifice, no discipline will be able to attain that. It is humanly impossible. It is a transformation that only God can do to human beings. One that would establish fellowship between God and His people. And that is the relationship-transforming gospel. So please turn with me now to the word of God, the New Testament to the letter of the Apostle Paul to Philemon. So if you’re trying to locate Philemon, it’s after Titus and right before Hebrews. And for this afternoon we will be looking at verses 8 to 16. Philemon verses 8 to 16 I’ll be reading from the ESV. So hear now God’s word. 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— I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother— especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. Let us come before the Lord in prayer. Oh Lord God, Your grace continuously amazes us. It is an unending outpouring of your goodness towards us who are undeserving of your mercies and love that you have given us in Christ. We pray, Lord God, that through this love, we would be bonded all the more with our brothers and sisters and may You bring into the fold oh Lord and bound them here as well those who haven’t received the grace of God in Christ. And so Lord, we pray that Your Holy Spirit would be our teacher. Enable us oh Lord. May this time of the proclamation of Your Word be effectual in the sanctification of Your people and the salvation of Your, of the ones who, whom You are drawing onto salvation. We praise you and thank You in Jesus’ Name, amen.

We’ve learned that Paul had a fruitful relationship with Philemon.

He considers him as a beloved brother and a fellow worker whose ministry has been a great blessing to the saints. Sabi niya doon, the saints were refreshed by you and because of that, he has derived much joy and comfort through Philemon. And Paul wrote this letter in order to plead for his slave, who goes by the name of Onesimus, who ran away and stole money from him. We learned that what he has committed were capital crimes. He is both a fugitive and as well as a thief. And in that culture, you will either be labeled with something on your forehead na kapag sinabing “F,” you are a fugitive; or kapag nilagay naman ay “CF,” it warns everyone that “beware of the thief.”

But there’s another one. Since the slave is in the hands of their master, the master can act what he choose to execute the slave and or place them in a dangerous working environment…yung nakamamatay, delikado, pwede nilang doon ilagay ang mga slave na nagkasala sa kanila, which means that Onesimus is in “big trouble.” Just as any runaway slaves, he probably fled to the city of Rome, hoping to escape punishment. But by God’s providence, the situation that is unknown to us, he met the Apostle Paul, he became a christian, he was changed forever, he became a faithful servant of God and a beloved brother, he served Paul in his imprisonment for the gospel. But since both of them knew that there is something that he needed to iron out between himself and his master Philemon and along with the other letters na kailangan nilang ipadala sa churches: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, sinama niya dito ang letter kay Philemon na nagsasabi na: “receive my child in the faith.” Now in Verses 4 to 7, he commended Philemon’s faith and love to God and his love towards all of the saints and by doing such he is setting the stage of what he will mention to Philemon as uh, on behalf of his runaway slave who was guilty of theft and running away from him, and he puts Philemon in a position where if he truly loves the saints, kung talaga ngang mahal niya ang mga saints at yung mga naniniwala kay Kristo, he must love Onesimus who is now, by the way, a brother in Christ. That’s what we see in this section. He says that he could he could have used his authority as an apostle of Christ to do what seems to be a christian thing to do. But he instead opted to appeal to him for the sake of love that he had for God and his people, and the love that he had for the Apostle Paul who had suffered greatly for the cause of the gospel and who is presently suffering as a prisoner for Christ Jesus. And what is the plea? Simple lang, I am sending back Onesimus and you must receive him as a brother in Christ. Why? Because he is a changed man. And more than that Philemon, he is a beloved brother. As it is proper among God’s people who are called to love one another, Paul wanted Philemon to receive love and forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus. He wants Philemon to see that his new relationship with his old old slave is in light of the Gospel. Since he, himself, through Christ, receive grace and pardon from all his sins. And we can see that the gospel in this short letter of Paul to Philemon shines brightly as it is practically applied in this particular situation. We see how it brings a radical change upon our lives before God. We see how it brings a complete change as well in our lives as a church. That’s how powerful the gospel is. It changes, it renews and it transforms us. And it transforms us all together as a church. The gospel brings a radical change upon our relationship with God and with our relationship with one another. That is my message for you this afternoon.

The gospel radically transforms our relationship with God and with one another. It makes an impact first in our vertical relationship with God which results to a great change in our horizontal relationships with one another. And we would look at how it transforms our relationship with God on the first point. Yun po yung first point po natin. OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. And we’re going to look at how it transforms our relationship with one another in the second point, OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ONE ANOTHER.

So let’s go to the first point, Our Relationship With God. In our text, we see the runaway slaves transformation which Paul mentions as he made his appeal to Philemon. Sinabi niya in verses 10 to 11, I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) And so the Apostle Paul is using a play on the words here. Because the name Onesimus means “useful.” So essentially, what he’s saying here is that useful is now truly useful. In a short time he became so dear to the Apostle Paul that Paul would even say in verse 12 that he as he sends him back to him, it’s like sending my very heart. Paul loved him and his support have become so invaluable to the Apostle Paul. It’s like letting go of him is losing a part of him. And we see that the runaway slave from his earthly master has turned into a useful servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. He has demonstrated repentance based on the testimony of the Apostle Paul, and the fact that he himself showed up. Kasama ni Tychicus as he brought the letter to Philemon, means that he would be willing to own up to the possible consequences that could befall him should Philemon choose na I- execute siya, should Philemon choose to put him in a dangerous working situation. I am here, I am owning up to my mistake, I am sorry. He’s there, he’s making himself present which is a demonstration of his turning away and repentance. This change happened not because Onesimus had further realisations along the way or napagtanto niya as he went to to the city of Rome, or that he was able to buy some time to think about what he has done. No, it is not just that. But it may include that, the gospel changed him. It was because of the Gospel as Paul shared the gospel to Onesimus, he turned from uselessness to usefulness. We could argue that it wasn’t only Onesimus who, who used to be useless. Philemon, himself, we could say that he was, he used to be useless before coming to Christ. We have no information kung paano siya na-convert, but commentators agreed that he might have been a convert of Paul’s ministry to the, to the Ephesians and eventually became a member of the Colossian church. But as we have seen earlier, he’s living a faithful, exemplary, christian life. He’s been a blessing to the saints. He has been contributing to the to the work of the Gospel. Of course, mawawala pa ba si Apostle Paul who used to be useless even if he knew the Old Testament scripture which led him to kill, execute christians, dragging them out of their homes to kill them. We have a wealth of information about how the Apostle Paul turned from being a zealous persecutor of christians to becoming the great Apostle to the gentiles. We see that in Acts chapter 9, Philippians chapter 3 verses 4 to 7 he mentions that whatever that he has considered gain, his Birthright, his race, his accolades, he counted it all as loss for the sake of Christ and became responsible for the conversion of many people including both Gentiles and Jews. I’d like to add another one on the list. We as believers, we used to be useless before coming to Christ. We weren’t useful to God because we had no desires and inclinations to serve Him until His grace changed us. He saved us and He made us useful to Him and His kingdom. The point is my brothers and sisters and friends, the gospel makes us useful servants of the Lord Jesus Christ. It not only saves us from our sins, but it also delivers us from the power of sin. It changes us from the inside out. It is not just a better principle for living, na parang self-help lang para tayo ay magbago, para tayo ay mag-improve sa ating pamumuhay. But it is a thorough change that as we hear the preaching of the word, in the hearing of our ears, the ministry of the Holy Spirit takes it down deep in our our hearts so that we may be renewed from within, bringing the life of God in the soul of the man. With this new life, we were given new desires. We now long for God’s glory in our lives.

Possessing such, we’ve been made useful to His kingdom. Yes, in salvation my dear brethren, you were not just counted righteous but you were made useful. You were made useful borrowing the words of the Apostle Paul, formerly, we were useless to God. But now we are useful to him. Kanina pa natin naquo-quote si Martin Luther. But you know, I found a very short quote from him.. “we are all Onesimuses.” No member of the kingdom of God is useless. Just hear what the Apostle Peter tells us concerning the church in First Peter chapter 2 verse 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. We see the grace of God in His saving work. Being chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to be given that wonderful privilege of being servants of His kingdom. Having been made a people that is set apart for himself. He took us out of the the world of darkness, the dominion of sin, so that we can be called to proclaim to tell about to, to ,um, to bring that message of the greatness of the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ. Which by the way we first hand experienced, known and believed through the gospel. And through with our relationship with God radically changes. We go from being rebels against him to his very own servants. And more than that, as his beloved children, no matter how fancy or nice looking our watches are, if it can’t tell you what time it is, it is useless. What you need to do is to have it fixed, and it will be useful now, brethren. God has provided the one and only solution to our problem of sin in the person and work of Jesus. That we would no longer remain in the passions of our flesh, destroying us daily and moment by moment by the deceitfulness of sin; rather we are called to walk in the newness of our life. Being His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10 being useful to him through God’s spirit who did the much needed fix in us. Yun yung ginawa niya in his work of regeneration. And if you are not in Christ my dear friend, then you are joining us for this afternoon. You might have been invited by our fellow brother or sister because of your sins you deserve the Judgment of God and you will remain useless to him. The Bible tells you that you are a law breaker, you have broken every commandment that is in the law of God, no one through the works of the law will be justified so even if you attempt. Gaya po ng sinabi natin kanina na even if you have that discipline, desire and sacrifice to even fulfill the law of God, you cannot save yourself from all of your sin because you are essentially a sinner. And because of that, the call for you is to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, escape the wrath of God. This is your only hope. And friends, he can make you useful for His kingdom. But the call for you first is to turn away from your sins; place your faith in Christ; escape the wrath to come. Our gracious God reconciled us to Himself and made us His useful servants brothers and sisters. Out of His great love for His people, he has received us in his immeasurable kindness. He has given us the privilege to be even used for his service and because of that let your lives be of useful service to God as His beloved children. You already are, my dear brethren. The problem is when we make ourselves useless. Paano ba ang nangayari iyon? How do we make ourselves useless? Simple answer, by giving ourselves to sin wilfully.

When we let the world and the passions and its passions entice us..we let and cultivate the desires of our flesh rather than cultivating godliness in our hearts, and our minds. We yield to the enemy’s influence and if that happens brethren, we will surely be useless. Sin will take us away from the great aim of our lives – to give glory to God and the enjoyment of Him. Because instead of being drawn into a closer communion with our God and service of Him, we will be drowned into the destructive means of the enemy that will plunge us into greater ruin. Are you letting sin hinder your usefulness, my useful brethren? Are you being slothful in your studies, in your work? Are you being consumed by lust? Struggling to show love towards your brethren for whatever reason? So this serves as a warning for us brethren. B if you find yourself in that situation, if you would answer yes dun sa mga katanungan ko kanina, look to the Savior of our souls. Jesus Christ died for our sins, He rose again from the dead, so that we who find our hope in Him might live through Him. Be drawn to the means that God has given us, that helps us put to death our sins and our temptations to it. Saturate yourself in the word that you may be complete, equipped for every good work. Thereby rendering us useful to God and His church.

Augustine was also mentioned during the morning worship. Until he came to Christ, he lived a life of, um, passions. As you know, he had a prostitute, he had took all of the vain pleasures that the world has to offer. He told, he said that in his confession. Until he came to the grace of God, until he learned the grace of God in Christ Jesus, and up until now he’s being used by God. His writings have been greatly benefiting us to understand further and benefit in understanding the grace of God, the doctrines of grace. And so brethren, this is the kind of change that takes place in our relationship with God. Be useful servants to Him for He has made us useful unto Himself.

Now the second point..hindi lang natatapos dun. Hindi lang nagbabago ang vertical relationship natin by virtue of the Gospel but it also radically changes our relationship with one another. And so let’s look at the second point Our Relationship With One Another. We could see how dear Philemon and Onesimus are to the Apostle Paul in the way he, he refers to the both of them. He called Philemon his brother, he called Onesimus his child just as he has referred to Timothy and Titus as my true child in the faith. We see that he is viewing his relationship with both individuals in a different light. Iba na ang kaniyang connection, association and affiliation with both individuals. He wants Philemon, the master of the slave, Onesimus to do the same thing because he is now a brother in Christ. Paul said in verses 15 to 16 for this perhaps why he was parted from you for a while that you might have him back forever no longer as a bond servant but more than a bond servant, as a beloved brother. He’s telling Philemon that perhaps God used the temporal separation between you and your slave in order that you may have him back for good. It is providential outworking as God orders things by His providence. Onesimus may have meant his theft for evil, but God meant it for good. He ran away as a thief, but he’s coming back as a brother in Christ. And this time, it goes beyond the master and slave relationship. Ito yung sinasabi ni Apostle Paul dito, and I and personally, I wouldn’t agree that he’s saying that he shouldn’t be your slave anymore. But it radically changes the relationship between the master and the slave which only lasts in this lifetime. Dahil yung sinasabi niya kay Philemon, guess what? As a brother in Christ, you’re gonna have him as your brother forever. In other words, they’re in a new relationship by virtue of the gospel. And on that basis, Philemon must receive love and forgive Onesimus.

This tells us that we must view our relationship with each other with a gospel-lens. He bounces in a fellowship that he Himself has authored. We have God as our father you, Christ Our Lord and one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The gospel bounds believers together as one family. God’s saving work brought us into His household. We became members of it not by natural birth, not by race but through the supernatural birth that God Himself has given. The relationship that we enjoy now with each other in fact transcends any other earthly friendships and association that you have right now. Mas naka-aangat ito just as you are close to your family members since we have been brought into the family of God, we refer to each other as brothers and sisters because of what Christ has done for us. We are now in an intimate relationship with one another. And in this family, we are called to love one another. Christ commanded His disciples to do just that. In John chapter 13 verse 34, a new commandment I give to you that you love one another just as I have loved you that we should love one another. And this is a teaching that is throughout the New Testament Epistles. Kasama na diyan yung scripture reading natin kanina in Colossians chapter 3 verses 12 to 15. Paul says in light of our oneness with Christ and with what another. Sinabi niya rito, put on then, as God’s chosen ones holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another in love, bearing with one another and, excuse me, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Now hear this, and above all these, put on love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Paul commands believers to put on Christian virtues and in verse 14 he says, above all these put on love, yung pagmamahal, that is divine, that finds its roots from the Triune God Himself since He has poured out this divine love upon our hearts, we must overflow with our love to God and for the church as well. And when we put this on, it becomes like a glue that sticks us together in perfect harmony. Sinabi ni Apostle Peter, love one another earnestly. The Apostle Paul in Romans chapter 13 verse 8 owe no one anything..huwag kang magkakaroon ng pagkakautang kundi, to love each other. When such love exists in the body of Christ, it bears testimony to the power of the Gospel that radically transforms our relationship with one another.

When a child is born to the family the baby doesn’t have to make an effort to be loved by their parents and siblings. Ano nangyayari kapag may dumarating na bagong sanggol sa isang pamilya? They welcome the child, they rejoice, they praise God from whom all blessings flow. Here’s the thing, God defines our relationship with one another as a family and that’s how we ought to look at one another.

Which means that we ought to receive one another, knowing that Christ Himself received us in Himself. As fellow members of the body of Christ, we ought to see the importance of every member.. take note: every member. We must love and care for all members knowing that they’re part of the body. Eto yung sinasabi ni Apostle Paul in First Corinthians chapter 12, you cannot say to another part of the body that I do not have a need of you. You cannot say being a part of the body that, hindi naman kasi ako ganito, so, hindi na ako kailangan.

Sinabi ni Apostle Paul doon, God designed it in that way so that the members may have the same care for one another. Meron pa siyang argument doon na paano kung lahat ay mata? Paano na yung kamay? Paano kung lahat ay paa? Paano tayo makakakita? That’s the design of God in His church and therefore we must value one another. See the importance and the vitalness of our members in the local church.

Knowing that also, we could sin against our fellow brethren. Tayo pa ba ang pinakamatagal mag-forgive? Knowing that Christ Himself has forgiven us lavishly and greatly? Being fellow members of the body, we must be eager as well to resolve conflicts that may be happening in our church. We don’t put um gas, sabihin ko sana kerosene..meron pa ba nun? Hindi tayo yung nag-a-amplify ng apoy sa mga conflicts na nangyayari sa church. We do not sow division. Hindi natin pinag- uusapan yung away para lang lalo siyang magkaroon ng controversy within the church. Pero tayo mismo as members of it, pinapatay natin yun because we do not want anything that would divide the church or affect the unity of the church. We see this in the way that Paul have dealt with the situation of Philemon and Onesimus. Paul sought Philemon to be gracious to Onesimus just as God has been gracious to him. And from what what we saw, walang dahilan si Philemon to hold forgiveness. Wala siyang any reason to say that kahit na kapatid siya, hindi ko siya kayang tanggapin. No, and you know what brethren, friends, we see this ultimately in our merciful, peace-making Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ who Himself loved and gave Himself up for His people. That we may be reconciled to the Father and be brought into His body. He gifted each of us according to His grace so that we can build one another in love. And through His finished work, we have been forgiven and cleansed from all of our sins so that we can be holy and blameless before Him. And so again, I would remind our friends that if you are not in Christ, you are not part of the family of God. You remain outside of God. I call upon you once again to turn away from your sins and to place your faith in Christ. Go to Him, the only One Who can save you from all of your sins. The One who can take away your guilt, the One who can give you a blessed hope. And you can be assured because through His resurrection, He has given us a a visible proof that He has accomplished His mission of redeeming sinners unto Himself.

And to my fellow brethren, knowing that we have been accepted by God unto Himself by His grace, receive and love one another as your very own brothers and sisters in Christ. Eto lang yung karapat-dapat na response natin as we have heard, learned, known, been convinced and have rested ourselves in the hope that is found in the gospel. The only thing that we can do is that the fellow recipients of it should be welcomed, should be valued, should be loved and cared for. Now what difference will it make if we started seeing each other as our very own siblings in Christ? What difference would it make if we started treating one another as our very own brothers and sisters in the Lord? What difference will it make if we start recognising that each member of the church the body of Christ has been obtained by the blood of our Savior and Lord? What change will it make in that relationship that you have with your brother? What is concerning is that when our relationship with our brethren looks quite identical with our earthly friendships. We can go out with them, we can enjoy meals with them, may tawanan, may saya, we can go out and enjoy this this fellowship that we can have, but it stops there. No feasting upon the gospel, no encouragement given, no rebuking of sin kapag nakikita natin ito sa ating mga kapatid. If we are to love and receive one another as our very own siblings in Christ, then we must go deeper than that of earthly friendships. There must be true fellowship. In a way, we engage with each other, nakita natin throughout the letter that Paul is very tactful, very careful in his words. Talagang he is using not his authority, but appealing to the love that he has with Philemon. How are we using our words as well? Sa mga discussion and theology, masyado ba tayong hard? Na slam dunk natin sa mga utak ng mga kapatid natin? Yung mga natututunan natin sa ating mga readings?

When in fact, how would it be different if we have that kind of love to our brethren for love’s sake. We would walk them through the scriptures in order that they themselves would see it from the word of God Himself. And knowing that context would arise in the family of God dahil pare-pareho naman tayong mga makasalanan, nagkakamali tayo. We could fall into sin, we can commit a sin against our brother or sister, at pwede rin tayong magkaroon ng disagreements within the church. Narinig na natin kanina itong Colossians as the Lord in Christ, we must forgive. And if will struggle to forgive, remember that He has forgiven the greatest offenders against Him. Sino yun? Tingin po tayo sa salamin. We have committed a transcendent crime against the God of heaven. He did that by sending His Son so that he would represent his people to die on the cross on their behalf so that they can be pardoned from all their sins. Do you struggle to forgive? Are you holding grudges against a brother or a sister? Go back to the cross of Christ. Are you tempted to be partial towards certain members in the church? That you prefer these persons, you prefer those persons that have these kind of hobbies, at ayaw natin mag-reach out? We are tempted to be cliquish. Remember, Christ died for each of His brothers and sisters and we are called to to reach out and to love one another with the love that is found in Jesus Christ.

One of the persons who struggled in receiving and loving others when the church was born and the gospel was spreading not only to the Jews but as well as to the Gentiles is the Apostle Peter. There was one even one instance na nung dumating ang mga circumcision parties, yung mga Hudyo, that forces believers to be circumcised. Ano ang ginawa niya? Habang kumakain siya with the Gentiles, he separated himself. He acted hypocritically in the presence of the circumcision party until he learned in a vision, God taught him that the gospel is for all people, whether Jews or gentiles. God shows no partiality and if we are to be imitators of God as His beloved children, we likewise ought not to be partial with our fellow brothers and sisters. And if such attitude of God towards all those who would come to Him. If such attitude of God towards all who would come to unto Jesus is just like that, then we too as a church must welcome love, receive and even so forgive fellow members of the family of God.

And so that’s how radical the change that has taken place in our relationship with each one. Value every member, love and care for them. Reach out to them, fellowship with them, understand what they’re going through and if they sin against you, forgive him not only seven times but 70 times seven, don’t even count it. If they offend you, be ready to forgive. Don’t hold grudges, because remember that the Savior Himself received you unto Himself. He loved you, He died for you and He rose again for you so that we can have hope of being redeemed from all of our sins from the enemy, the world the flesh and the devil. Our relationship with God and one another were made possible only by His saving grace in the Lord Jesus Christ. His gospel is a relationship-transforming gospel through which we’ve been made His useful servants and members of His household.

Let us all pray. What great and gracious love that You have given us O Father that we would be called your sons, that we would call each other as brothers and sisters, closer than any earthly friendships that we can have. And oh Lord, knowing that we are still in our flesh, struggling with sin daily, we could even have sinful thoughts against other fellow members. But we pray oh God, na mas manaig pa po ang aming pagmamahal sa bawat isa. And oh God, just as You have received us in Christ, may we have that heart to receive and love one another with the love that You have given us in Christ. And as we continue living daily our lives for your sake for Your glory, we pray that we would live lives as useful servants of Your kingdom so that you alone would be honoured, so that we would be salt and light before the dark world that they may give glory unto You who is in heaven.

And so Father, we thank You once again for this great reminder and message that you have given us in Your word. And we pray that we would be able to have the strength to really embody this kind of love that we have received from You in the first place. We pray all these things in the Name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.

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