Chris is going to address the issue of interpersonal conflict and reconciliation by looking at the story of Philemon and Onesimus. Reconciliation is such a strategic missional issue, because until the church of Jesus Christ exists in loving unity, what can it offer to others? It is only when the church exists as a loving, forgiving community that the message of Jesus Christ makes sense. Relationships in our world are a mess. People need love and grace. And we have the opportunity to provide it, through Jesus, as we live reconciled to each other.
In preparation for next Sunday, Chris wrote the church a letter. Here it is:
I am prayerfully looking forward to being with Oxford Bible Fellowship in a couple of weeks. I plan to preach on Philemon, one of the shortest books of the Bible (only 25 verses) and also one of the most neglected. When was the last time you heard a sermon on Philemon?Even if you are not a part of Oxford Bible Fellowship, I'd encourage to take some time to check out this extraordinary letter. After all, God included it in the Bible for a reason.
The lack of attention given to Philemon is ironic, because it is one of the most immediately relevant sections of Scripture. Philemon is a case study in how Paul motivates friends to live out the Gospel in his relationships. In this case, Paul is sending back Onesimus, a slave who escaped from Philemon, and probably stole money in doing so. Obviously, it was a complicated situation. While we can't immediately relate to slavery in the Roman Empire, we certainly understand complex interpersonal wounds. In a fallen world, so many of us have deep wounds from relationships. We know, or at least suspect we know, what we ought to do. But we struggle being motivated and excited to do so.
A wonderful way to prepare for the upcoming sermon would be to read through the book of Philemon several times. Again, it's only 25 verses. See if you can identify the explicit ways Paul encourages Philemon to be reconciled with Onesimus. Also notice the subtle arguments that Paul uses. The more you read Philemon, the more you will see the inspired brilliance of his appeal to Philemon. And the more you will understand the significance for how we live in 2011.
Remember, the book of Philemon is the very Word of God. It will revive our souls and bring joy to our hearts when we feel as though we simply cannot take one more step. Soak in the book of Philemon and you will be blessed.