I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon,5 because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of Godâ€™s people.6 And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.7 Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of Godâ€™s people.
8 That is why I am boldly asking a favor of you. I could demand it in the name of Christ because it is the right thing for you to do. 9 But because of our love, I prefer simply to ask you. Consider this as a request from meâ€”Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.
10 I appeal to you to show kindness to my child, Onesimus. I became his father in the faith while here in prison.11 Onesimus hasnâ€™t been of much use to you in the past, but now he is very useful to both of us. 12 I am sending him back to you, and with him comes my own heart. Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Philemon 4-12 (NLT)
Lectionary texts: Jeremiah 18:1-11, Psalm 139, Philemon 1-21, Luke 14:25-33
The texts this week brings me to a place of much personal soul-searching and prayer. And that is what, to me, the four lectionary texts should do.
Jeremiah 18 is God’s instruction to Jeremiah and the nation of Israel through the work of the potter. I am familiar with the lesson that God is the potter who takes the clay that is my life and molds and shapes it as He will. When my life may become misshapen and not useful, He will not allow me to just sit there useless but instead will push and shape until I become all that I was meant to be.
Psalm 139 is a beautiful song of God’s vision for my life since before I was in my mother’s womb. With extraordinary and unfathomable love, He sees all that I am, as nothing in me is hidden from Him. I may be able to hide my sins and imperfections from the world, but God knows the all of me. And He loves me still.
This week’s passage in Luke 14 is the very pointed teaching from Jesus that the price that I must pay for being a disciple (more than just a Believer in Him), is everything. God must be first in my life, even before my parents and my children. This is not an easy teaching to take. Jesus goes on to describe the my life as a disciple as one that involves carrying my own cross, just as He carried His cross to Calvary. This teaching destroys the expectation the disciples may have had that they, as His chosen ones, would have a life of power and ease, as the church leadership of their day had. It also destroys our modern day â€œprosperity gospelâ€ that is often taught: as a disciple of Jesus Christ, God will give me health, home, and money because of His great love for me.
For me, Paul’s letter to Philemon brings the other three passages into a very pointed message to me this week. Paul asks, he doesn’t demand, that Philemon receive Onesimus with love and extend to him all that Philemon would do if it was Paul himself. I get the impression from Paul’s words that Onesimus had been less than a helpful, honorable follower of Jesus Christ. Philemon is being asked to extend unconditional grace and mercy. This is the cost of being a disciple.
It isn’t easy in my own flesh, I would say even impossible, to welcome a fellow Believer back into my life when they have abused our relationship. To extend the hand of fellowship to someone who has lied or in some way broken trust is to look at Jesus on the cross who said, â€œFather, forgive them because they truly do not understand what they are doing.â€ and take that example for my own. It is hating my way of conducting my life and accepting The Way that Jesus is teaching and showing me instead.
God knows the all of me and He knows that with His help I can be all that He sees in me. I can be the useful vessel that He has formed by His own hand. At what cost? The cost of everything that I am, that God made me to be.
The Potter’s Hand written and sung by Darlene Zschech