Embracing Reconciliation in Philemon, Part 2
We are in the middle of our three-part series, “The Slave Journey’s Home: Embracing Reconciliation in Philemon.” Last week we learned that forgiveness is an action opposite of what the flesh desires. This week Chris will share how Paul pushed Philemon even further and asked him to reconcile with his runaway slave Onesimus. Paul knows that there is only one way this can happen: through the power of the gospel.
Reconciliation is the act of reuniting, mending, and bringing balance to a broken relationship. Sometimes as believers in Jesus, we focus on how Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our sins—and He did! But through Jesus, we are also reconciled with the Father. This is HUGE! Paul focuses on doctrine in his epistles and doctrine is important! But when we read letters like Philemon, we see the doctrine he teaches fleshed out. This difference shows us how Scripture is alive—the actual words of God. He doesn’t want us to be learners of His word alone but He also wants us to be doers.
If you missed Part 1 of this series, Listen Here
Steve Conover: This is The Friends of Israel Today. I'm Steve Conover. With me is Chris Katulka. Today we're continuing our series on Philemon, A Slave's Journey Home. We've all been hurt by someone before or maybe you've hurt someone and it damaged your relationship. Maybe it was a husband or wife, a son or daughter, a friend, coworker. It's a natural part of life. But how do we deal with it as Christians? This is the backdrop to Philemon. Just 25 verses long, Philemon is a personal letter about a wealthy citizen of Colossae whose slave, Onesimus, wronged Philemon and ran away. Onesimus, after meeting Paul, came to faith in Jesus Christ. And now, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with this letter in his hand, a letter encouraging Philemon to welcome Onesimus, not just as a disobedient slave, but as a fellow brother in the Lord. Chris, last week we looked at the power of forgiveness. Where are we going today?
Chris Katulka: Yeah, I want you to remember Philemon, I actually believe, sums up a lot of the teaching that Paul gives us in his epistles. And so we see, really, the power of the Gospel worked out in this unique relationship between Philemon and Onesimus. And last week, we looked at how Paul was urging, kind of encouraging Philemon to forgive Onesimus for how he wronged him. But this week, we're going to see that Paul goes one step further. He's going to say, "Not only do I want you to forgive Onesimus, I want you to reconcile with him." That's the power of the Gospel, right there.
Steve Conover: We look forward to part two of A Slave's Journey Home. But first, in the news, an unnamed Palestinian man recently received residency to work and live in Israel after receiving death threats in his hometown near the city of Hebron. The Palestinian man was threatened by some of his own people for saving the lives of Jewish children in the aftermath of a deadly terror attack. Israel's interior minister, Aryeh Deri, praised the Palestinian man for his selfless, noble actions and said he can now begin a new life in Israel.
Chris Katulka: This is such a fantastic story to me because there's actually a longer backdrop to this story. You know, this Palestinian man saved Jewish children during a terror attack. Israel offered him temporary residency to help him during this time of need. And then what happened is eventually his temporary residency ran out and Israelis spoke up. It was on the news, Israeli news. It was all over the place in Israel, and they actually encouraged the government to give this Palestinian man permanent residency. Look it, to me, that's the heart of the Israeli people right there. This is really what it's all about. And oftentimes Israel is called an apartheid country that's racist, enacts racist policies against Arab Muslims and Christians and other minorities. But here's the case of a Palestinian man who was run off by his own people for helping a Jewish family and it was Israel who welcomed him in and offered him a new lease on life. You know, Israel is not the bigoted country most would have you believe. It's actually a country that reaches out even to the people who hate them the most.
Today, we're going to continue our series on this very small epistle, Philemon. Remember, Philemon was the last of Paul's epistles in the Bible and it's such a unique epistle. Unlike Romans and Ephesians and even the pastoral epistles, First and Second Timothy and Titus, Philemon is a letter written to a believer about an issue that came up within his own household. See, the pastoral epistles are written to Timothy and to Titus and these are instructional epistles for leading and structuring and shepherding a congregation, building, really, a healthy church. But see, Philemon is quite different. Imagine if Paul ministered to you and through his ministry you came to faith, you became friends with Paul, and now an issue that affects you and your household emerges and Paul is there to write a letter to encourage you to think a certain way. It's a personal letter. And this is why I want to focus on this small letter that's only 25 verses long because see, I believe when we read through Paul's epistles, they are engaging, they are deep. They give us the mechanics of the Christian faith. Paul teaches in his epistles about so many theological things like who Jesus Christ is, is the Son of God, the reason we need a Savior, deep theological issues like justification and sanctification, even teaching about eschatology, the teaching of the end times. You know, he's not just the apostle Paul. He's, like I said last week, the professor Paul.
But here in Philemon, we see where all that theology that Paul teaches gets worked out in real life issues. I connect with this letter because it's encouraging to see how even Paul who is taking all this theology and in just 25 verses puts feet to all of this great teaching that he's done throughout all of his different letters to the different churches. Friends, it's not just enough to know that, this is really important, it's not just enough to know who Jesus is. It's not just enough to know the mechanics of salvation, or it's not just enough to know about sin and sanctification and justification, these big theological terms. Theology is pointless if it doesn't change your life, if it doesn't conform you more into the image of Jesus Christ. And last week, if you didn't get a chance to listen, I introduced you to the background of Philemon. So if you didn't get a chance to listen, just go to our website, foiradio.org, and right there you'll be able to go to our archives page and find last week's episode. But remember, Philemon, he's a wealthy citizen of Colossae. Philemon was a believer in Jesus and very likely came to faith through Paul's ministry. Onesimus was Philemon's slave and he wronged Philemon and ran away. And in the providence of God, Onesimus encounters Paul and he became a believer.
Now Paul is sending Onesimus back to Philemon and Paul is going to appeal to Philemon on the basis of love. I love that. On the basis of love, Gospel centered love, to welcome the man who wronged him back into his life. The first step, forgiveness. Philemon has to forgive Onesimus for how he wronged him. And all last week we looked at forgiveness, how forgiveness is an action opposite of what the flesh desires. The flesh wants retribution and revenge, but Paul is not asking Philemon to appeal to the flesh. He's asking him to appeal, Philemon, to appeal on the basis of Gospel love. Forgiveness is at the heart of what Gospel love is all about. Retribution and revenge never ease bitterness and anger. It actually only feeds those desires more. Forgiveness, though, frees the person from those feelings. You know, Focus on the Family actually says this about forgiveness: "The first step to understanding forgiveness is learning what it is and what it isn't. The next step is giving yourself permission to forgive and forget, letting go of the bitterness while remembering very clearly your rights to healthy boundaries."
Philemon could have said to Onesimus, "I forgive you, but we can't interact anymore." Or, "I forgive you, but you're going to work somewhere else." While that is a healthy thing to do to set boundaries, remember, Paul is appealing to Philemon on the basis of love, Gospel centered love. And I want you to hear how, really, Paul is going to push him here a little more. I want you to hear what Paul actually, how he defines his ministry. Let's go to one of his letters. Remember, the letters connect with how Paul is speaking to Philemon. And I want you to hear what Paul says in 2 Corinthians chapter 5, verses 14 through 21. Listen to this.
He says, "For the love of Christ controls us. Since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all, therefore all have died and He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and was raised. So then, from now on, we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view, even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know Him in that way any longer. So then if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. What is old is passed away. Look! What is new has come and all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people's trespasses against them, and he has given us a message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making his plea through us. We plead with you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us so that in him we would become the righteousness of God."
Listen, Paul is saying our ministry is a ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the act of reuniting, mending, bringing balance to a broken relationship. And remember, man's relationship with God, as a result of the fall when Adam and Eve disobeyed God, man's relationship with God was severed. It was broken. But Paul says that through Jesus Christ, we have not only received forgiveness, but also reconciliation. If you believe in Christ and follow him, Paul is saying, you and I, we carry this message of reconciliation between God and man that can only come through Jesus, our Savior. The ministry of reconciliation for a Christian means so much.
It's both. Think about this. It's inviting people into a relationship with God and also living lives as reconciled people. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:18 & 19, "And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation." In other words, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people's trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. Look, when Paul is speaking to Philemon, think of ...
Let's see how all this gets worked out now in this message, this letter to Philemon. When Paul is speaking to him, he's pushing him to do more than just forgive his fugitive slave who wronged him. Paul is asking Philemon to reconcile with him. Listen to these powerful words written in Philemon verses 15 and 16. It says, "For perhaps it was for this reason, he, Onesimus, was separated from you for a little while so that you would have him back eternally, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a dear brother. He is especially so to me, and even more so to you now, both humanly speaking and in the Lord."
Paul is saying to Philemon that just as Christ didn't count your sins against you, but forgave you and reconciled you through his righteousness to God, he's saying the Philemon not only welcome Onesimus back as a Christian slave, but more than that. Think about this. Welcome him back as a dear brother. Forgiveness is letting go of that perceived power that we hold over a person who wronged you. That's what, really, forgiveness is all about, it's letting go. But see, here's the thing, the ministry that God has given to us through Christ is a ministry that goes much deeper. It's a ministry of reconciliation. And that is the process of welcoming the person who has hurt you, wronged you, defrauded you back.
When we return, listen, we're going to continue exploring the theological truth about reconciliation. Listen, it's a ministry that we've all been called to do, both to proclaim reconciliation between God and man through Jesus Christ and a ministry to live out as we interact with fellow believers around us. So stick around.
Steve Conover: When we read the Scripture, sometimes there can be a disconnect between our modern world and the world of the Bible. It's easy to forget that the authors were virtually all Jewish and that we worship a Jewish Messiah. And remember, Christianity is deeply rooted in Judaism. To the early church, Christianity was not a different religion from Judaism, it was the fulfillment of all that was written in the law and the prophets.
Chris Katulka: The DVD entitled Jewish Roots of Christianity takes you to Jerusalem for eye opening insights into the link between Judaism and Christianity. You can watch various interviews by Israeli Christians, including the Friends of Israel's very own pastor, Meno Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Steve Conover: To order your copy of the DVD, Jewish Roots of Christianity, go to foiradio.org or call our listener line at (888)-343-6940. Again, visit foiradio.org to order your copy of Jewish Roots of Christianity or call us at (888)-343-6940.
Chris Katulka: Welcome back, everyone. We're continuing our series on Philemon, a very small epistle written by Paul. And one of the reasons I love this little letter is because it puts feet to a lot of Paul's theological writings that we read about in letters like Romans and First and Second Corinthians and Colossians and Ephesians and Philemon. You know, I can't stress enough to you that if you're reading the Bible to learn more knowledge, then you're in it for the wrong reason. If you're reading the Bible just to learn about Jesus or just to learn more doctrine or theology, you're missing the point. The Bible isn't an encyclopedia. It's unlike any other book that's ever been printed. Because, see, the Bible is alive. It's words are God's words. And God's words, when they interact with the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, they're designed to change you and to mold you and conform you more into the image of Christ, and that's exactly what Paul wanted Philemon to see.
See, Philemon, he wanted him to see the situation with his runaway slave, Onesimus, who wronged Philemon, Paul wanted him to handle this issue through the lens of the Gospel. Just as Christ forgave you and reconciled you to God, Philemon, your new brother, Onesimus, we want, he wants Philemon to welcome him into the family of faith through this process of reconciliation. And folks, let's be honest, it's the hardest thing to do when it comes to someone who's wronged you and hurt you. You know, you could say, "Okay God, I forgive that person, but I'm not going to let that person back into my life, it's just too much." But even Christ says, as he's teaching the disciples on the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter five, verse 21, He says this, "You have heard that it was said to an older generation, 'Do not murder and whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.' But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council. And whoever says, 'Fool,' will be sent to the fiery hell. So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift."
See, you see the importance of reconciliation. Don't go worship God if you've got issues on your hands with your brother or your sister in the Lord. You've got to be reconciled and then bring your gift to God. You know, a few years ago I had a friend on the radio program to talk about forgiveness and reconciliation. Her name was Renee Napier. And on May 11th, 2002 a drunk driver killed Renee's daughter, Megan. The driver, Eric Smallridge, was sentenced to 22 years in prison. And you know, Renee grieved the loss of her daughter. And through this, she did what seemed unlikely in human eyes. She forgave Eric for the wrong he caused her family. You know, Eric seriously wronged her and even stole something precious from the Napier family. Renee not only forgave Eric, though, she did something else. She went one step further. She reconciled with him. Today, they travel together. They speak together about the dangers of drunk driving in schools and churches and really beyond that, not just the dangers of drunk driving, but the power of forgiveness and reconciliation. The two together share this powerful message and they've shared it with more than 100,000 people.
See, reconciliation does something amazing. First, it binds you to the heart of God. That while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. That through Christ's death and resurrection, we have a relationship with our Creator, God. And we're able to reconcile with a brother or sister who hurts us. We can not only experience the power of the Gospel in our lives, but we can even show the world what the Gospel does. You know, when you see Renee and Eric together, from the human perspective, it doesn't seem logical. But see, through the lens of the Gospel of forgiveness and reconciliation, it makes total sense. It's the power of Christ in these two people's lives. And here's the beauty. We become ambassadors, then, of Christ's reconciling power between God and us, but also Christ's reconciling power between two believers, two Christians.
Now next week when we come back, we're going to dive into the power of reconciliation when it comes to the deep divisions that existed in Roman culture at that time. And even, think about this, the deep divisions that exist today. You know, Paul no longer wanted Philemon to see Onesimus as a slave, but instead, as a brother in Christ. Friends, this is the power of reconciliation. So be sure to join us next week.
Steve Conover: Now, Apples of Gold, a dramatic reading from the life and ministry of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Mike Kellogg: Whenever I visit Alat in the South of Israel, I enjoy walking along the beach and meeting new people. On a recent visit, I met two men who looked disheveled and when I tried to speak with them about faith in God, they became upset. "You can see the sorry state of our lives," one said. "How can you speak to us about faith? We're worlds apart from you. We have done so many bad things God could never forgive us." I took out my Bible and I read John 3:16, "For God so loved this world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." I explained, "This passage doesn't say God will accept people based on who they are or what they have done. God said, 'Whoever,' and the only condition is that you believe in his Son."
The man earnestly responded, "We are insignificant to God. It will not help us now to come before Him and ask Him to forgive us. We're poor and homeless. We live here on this beach and we're so dirty people hate to even look at us." I said, "Do not say that you are beyond hope, my friends. In God's sight, you are of as much value as any other person." One of them asked, "What do you want us to do?" I answered, "For me, you do not have to do anything. What you must do is for yourselves. Alas, come to God, worship Him. Be faithful to Him and bear fruit for his glory. Regardless of what you see when you look in the mirror, you will be children of God and will never again doubt your worth before him."
They opened up and told me about their lives. They were alcoholics and they'd lost their families and homes. I told them, "It would be easy for you to stop drinking." They were surprised, and one asked, "How?" I replied, "Open your hearts before God. He will listen and answer your prayer. He will enable you to turn from alcohol." "Shall we do it now or wait until we go to bed?" one asked. I couldn't tell if they were being serious or mocking. So I said, "If you are not serious about this, I'll be glad to leave you alone." "No, no. We are very serious," he assured. "Good," I responded. "You can go to a quiet spot on this beach and pray silently in your hearts. Tell the Lord of your sins and ask him to forgive you and become your Savior." "Will you wait here for us?" he asked. I assured them I would.
I waited and watched for more than a half hour as they both sat quietly under the hot sun with their heads slightly bowed and very serious expressions on their faces. As I waited, I prayed the Lord would open their eyes and hearts and draw them to himself. The two men returned full of joy because the Lord had taken away their stony hearts and given them hearts of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26, "The Lord has given them a new heart and a new spirit, the spirit of the living God. And they were rejoicing in Him." And so, of course, was I.
Steve Conover: We're glad you chose to join us today. We've been studying the book of Philemon. Chris, we have one more week in the letter Paul wrote to Philemon. Where are we going in the next program?
Chris Katulka: First of all, Steve, isn't it amazing how much you can squeeze out of 25 verses? You know, you think, "Oh, this is just a 25 verse letter." But the theology and truth that you can squeeze out of these 25 verses, it's like it keeps coming and coming because there's power in the Gospel. And you know, we looked at forgiveness already, we looked at reconciliation, but now we're going to see how reconciliation does something even more. You know, in Roman society there were divisions then. There were breakdowns of culture and people, from the wealthy to the slave. But see, that still exists today, as well. We have socioeconomic divisions, racial divisions, we live in a divided society, as well. And the power of reconciliation says, "You know what, we no longer see each other on those divisions because we are one in Christ." And that's why when Philemon looks at his brother, Onesimus, now he no longer should see a slave, but a brother. That's amazing, countercultural for Paul's time.
Steve Conover: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry has been sharing the love of the Messiah and supporting Israel and the Jewish people since 1938. If you feel led to support our work or you simply want to reach out to us, visit foiradio.org, that's foiradio.org. In the United States, you can call our listener line at (888)-343-6940. Again, that's (888)-343-6940. You can write to us at FOI Radio, PO Box 914, Bellmawr, New Jersey, 08099. Call our Canada office at (888)-664-2584. Again, in Canada, that's (888)-664-2584. And please let us know where you're listening when you call or write. Our host and teacher is Chris Katulka. Today's program was produced by Tom Gallione, co-written by Sarah Fern. Our theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong. I'm Steve Conover, executive producer. The Friends of Israel Today is a production of The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry. We are a worldwide Christian ministry communicating Biblical truth about Israel and the Messiah while fostering solidarity with the Jewish people.
The Jewish Roots of Christianity DVD
The DVD entitled The Jewish Roots of Christianity takes you to Jerusalem for eye-opening insights into the link between Judaism and Christianity. Watch various interviews by Israeli Christians including the Friends of Israel’s own Pastor Meno Kalisher, the son of Holocaust survivor, Zvi Kalisher.
Apples of Gold: Worlds Apart
Zvi was walking along the beach when he met two disheveled and distraught men. They explained that they had done so many bad things that God could never possibly forgive them. They wondered, “How could God ever love such insignificant people like us?” However, after an honest conversation and some truth from Scripture, Zvi helped change their worldview in a way they never imagined.
Zvi’s story is available in Elwood McQuaid’s book, “Zvi: The Miraculous Story of Triumph over the Holocaust,” available in our online store.
More stories from Zvi are also available in his book, “The Best of Zvi,” available in our online store.
The Friends of Israel Today and Apples of Gold theme music was composed and performed by Jeremy Strong.