Modern day slavery is a problem that people all over the world wish to address. It was reported by The Guardian in 2019 that “1-in-200 people in the world are slaves.” Slavery comes in a variety of forms these days, so it’s not always easy to recognize. But what if I told you that every person in the world lives in bondage during their lifetime? Scripture teaches that all of us live in bondage to our human nature, and only after becoming a follower of Jesus are we “no longer enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). This reminds me of the slave story in Philemon involving a man named Onesimus.
When I think of Onesimus, I think of the lost in our world today. Just like Onesimus lived under the bondage of slavery, our broken world lives in bondage created by generations of sin. People use whatever means necessary to escape the pain of this sinful world including social media, work, hobbies, and even substance abuse. Onesimus ran from his “slave owner” Philemon and this was an action that could have been punishable by death. Our world, while living in sin, is under the same penalty of death (Romans 6:23) unless they are granted their freedom through the saving grace that Jesus provided.
As Christians we have the knowledge of the truth of God’s Word and that it contains freedom. It can restore us to a right relationship with our Father, and it holds the power to save us for eternity. John 8:36 tells us that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”
The Apostle Paul writes this short letter to Philemon and calls on him to sacrifice and be obedient so that Onesimus can experience the freedom that comes in living in fullness of God’s grace. In the same way, we are called on to sacrifice and be obedient so that our neighbors and billions of people around the world can hear about and experience the freedom that comes by living in God’s grace.
So, let’s look at what Paul is asking of Philemon, for Onesimus’ sake, and I think we will get some good direction for things we need to do to Reach our World.
Paul mentions that he prays for Philemon often and that this is the basis for the Christian life. Scripture teaches us a few very practical ways that we create a foundation of prayer for the lost in our world to be saved. We need to pray specifically as Paul does for Philemon. General prayers are often easy to ignore. Specific prayers tend to stick with us, and they should drive us to action. When I pray to God for salvation for a family member it should drive me to take action and pick up the phone! On a more global scale, as I pray daily for groups like the Kashmiri of India, I need to be giving, going, and helping others go to the unreached people in our world. We also need to pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:15). This is not necessarily a “head down” posture 24 hours a day, but rather it is an “amazing way of life,” according to John Piper. It means that our God-centered focus permeates our life every day, all day. Pray specifically, pray constantly, and pray confidently. We can only do this by studying and knowing the promises contained in God’s Word, getting to know God’s character, and committing that our prayers will lead us to take action! When we know what God has said, the nature of His “all powerful” character, and that we should live lives of action, we can pray with tremendous confidence!
Paul said that he hoped that his prayers would lead Philemon to “every good thing” for the sake of Christ. So, we build a foundation for reaching our world in prayer and that should propel us to obedience. And for Philemon and us, obedience looks like sharing our faith.
Share Your Faith
When we say that we need to be sharing our faith, we typically mean verbally sharing a gospel presentation with someone who is lost, and it does mean that. As said before, we should pray, and we should pray that the gospel would be shared extensively. We need to pray that our missionaries would share the gospel locally as they prepare to go and while they are on the field. We also need to pray for the people groups that will hear it. But our responsibility doesn’t end with praying that someone else will get the chance to proclaim the gospel. We need to pray for opportunities to share with those we encounter every day and the boldness to follow through.
Paul’s writing in the original language uses the Greek word koinonia. This word carries with it the ideas of generosity, partnership, and fellowship. The best way that we can share our faith in the way that Paul describes is through active participation through the local church. We want our prayers to be the foundation for sharing our faith by being a part of the body of Christ. We want our prayers to be the foundation for sharing our faith by literally sharing our faith with those that are lost. So, we have to be willing to try new things, AND we may need to let go of some of our former ways.
Let Go of Your Former Ways
One very practical way that the local church of Colonial Heights needs to let go of our former ways is to end our debt. Continuing in the comparison between us and Onesimus, we want to eliminate the bondage of our church’s debt so that we can live in the freedom to pursue many more mission and ministry opportunities! Proverbs 22 teaches us that the “borrower is slave to the lender.” Let’s drop the shackles of this debt and pursue the Great Commission with a newfound freedom like never before!
We also want to let go of whatever might be hindering the gospel being proclaimed. Paul encourages Philemon to change his way of thinking about Onesimus and receive him as he never had before. What keeps you from proclaiming the gospel? Is it apathy? Is it a lack of equipping? Are you struggling with not knowing how to share the truth of Jesus with someone, or possessing the discipline to look for opportunities? Do you need to wrestle with, or repent of, some previous convictions about people that may not be exactly like you? We need to let go of whatever former ways are an obstacle to people learning of the saving power of Jesus!
Paul’s final request of Philemon, and our fourth and final point, is very practical, and it comes with some assumptions. It’s quite unassuming and I’ve missed it many times in reading Philemon.
Prepare a Room
In verse 22, Paul tells Philemon to “prepare a guest room” for him. This is crazy! Paul is imprisoned in Rome with no hope of being let go, but he confidently tells Philemon to prepare a room for him. He fully expects that God will rescue him. If we ever hope to be a part of the miraculous redemption by God for billions of people around the world, we have got to start living in great expectation! Then we need to follow this expectation with action! In our case, we need to end our debt, continue calling people to live lives on mission, and training them to do it!
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 24, he says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” This “end” will include Jesus Christ returning to claim His church for all time to spend a glorious eternity with Him.
I want that! How about you? Let’s get to work until He comes and Reach Our World!
- Pray that God would help us to become a church that prays specifically, constantly, and confidently.
- Pray that the people of Colonial Heights would share the faith together and boldly share our faith with others.
- Pray that God would lead us to let go of our former ways.
- Pray that we would be obedient to prepare for what God intends to do through Colonial Heights.