The Effect of Sharing Your Faith
Families are interesting.
Blood relations between people create their own dynamics;
doing so in the short term and in the longer term as well.
When I was growing up, I was in regular conflict with my brother.
These conflicts were most often verbal with us nattering at each other; arguing back and forth over trivial stuff.
At times our conflicts even became physical;
with some pretty good not-so-brotherly punch-ups occurring.
When my brother left home to join the air force, on one level I wasn’t particularly sad to see him go.
At last I had my own room; no more fighting and feuding.
So “good-bye and good-riddance to you my brother”.
But later in life our relationship warmed.
We still don’t speak to each other all that often.
But we do have a relationship that we both appreciate because we realize how unique it is.
I only have one truly blood brother.
And so does he.
So, family dynamics, the relations of those connected by blood, though frequently strained in the short term tend to heal as the parties mature and gain understanding with the passing of time.
At least that has been my experience
But what does this talk of family have to do with us today as we sit together in church?
Well, talk about family applies here because we frequently refer to the church, the people in the church, as our church family.
And just like flesh and blood families, church families, spiritual families, often find themselves engaged in conflict.
We fight over the music.
We fight over the way the kitchen is run.
We fight over the content and the length of the sermon.
We even fight over more weighty things such as church law and doctrine.
And frequently these fights end up with someone,
or perhaps whole groups of “someones”, leaving one church home to find another.
Or in some cases, leaving one church home so fed up with the fighting that they never again darken the door of any church.
And so are left spiritually homeless.
And what does this talking about church family have to do with our reading from Philemon?
Philemon is the shortest book of the Bible.
On the surface of it, it is a letter that has the apostle Paul, then a senior minister of the church, admonishing his junior partner in ministry, Philemon, to be reconciled to a man named Onesimus who has injured him in some way.
So, the book of Philemon is about a church family fight.
The exact nature of the injury, the cause of the fight, and the relationship between Philemon and Onesimus is not completely clear from the text.
Some interpreters say the relationship between the fighting parties in this epistle was that of a Christian master and his, originally unconverted, slave.
Other interpreters disagree with this interpretation, saying, “No, the relationship is not between a slave and his master but between physical, fleshly brothers who are now also brothers in Christ because the one who fled his brother’s presence was somehow converted to Christ in prison under Paul’s ministry.”
So, there is a difference in how interpreters have understood the circumstances of the family fight portrayed in this book of the Bible.
However, all the interpreters of this scripture that I have read agree that this is an epistle aimed at the healing and reconciliation of a family, church or otherwise, conflict.
The commentaries further agree that this is an epistle instructing the church then, and us the church today, in the role that we play both in leading others to conversion and in helping them once converted to stay within the family of God by being reconciled one to the other.
Matthew Henry, a minister who studied and wrote in the 17th and 18th centuries, interpreted Philemon in this way.
Henry taught that Philemon is an epistle that was chosen for addition to our canon, the Bible,
for the teaching that it offers around the forgiving nature of God, the process of human conversion and our role in it.
Here is a quote from Henry to this effect,
“God would have extant a proof and instance of his rich and free grace for the encouragement and comfort of the meanest and vilest of sinners, looking to him for mercy and forgiveness;
and for instruction to ministers and others not to despise any, much less to judge them as to their final state, as if they were utter cast-aways, but rather to attempt their conversion, hoping they may be saved;
likewise how to behave towards them. Joy must be on earth, as well as there is in heaven, over one sinner who repenteth.
Such must now be loved, and helped, and confirmed in good, and furthered in it; and in their outward concerns, their comfort and welfare must be consulted and promoted as much as possible.
And on their part, they must be humble and grateful, acknowledging God and his instruments in what good they have received, ready to all suitable returns, making what reparation they can in case of injuries, and living a life of thankfulness and obedience.
To such purposes may this epistle have been written and preserved”
How’s that for a mouthful?
Let’s unpack what Rev. Henry had to say to us those many years ago.
Henry, teaches in these words from his commentary on Philemon that in this letter the apostle Paul is making supplication to Philemon on behalf of the once offending but now repentant Onesimus.
Henry likens Paul’s pleadings, to Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, to those of Jesus as he stands in the Father’s presence making intercession on behalf of all sinful humankind.
He further states that the Biblical book, Philemon, is given to the church to admonish us in our attitude toward repentant sinners, those who have offended both us and God.
Henry admonishes that our behaviour toward repentant sinners should be like that of our Lord who stands before the Father, not prejudging our latter end but rather making intercession for us, pleading for our salvation.
And as each of us is a repentant sinner we are taught by this scripture to entreat each other not by judging but by forgiving.
And that brings us to what God has to say to us as a congregation today through the book of Philemon.
As it applies to us today, here is the key phrase of what Paul said to Philemon,
“I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.”
Paul was praying here first, that the sharing of Philemon’s faith, his ministry to others, would become effective.
Paul’s desire is that Philemon’s ministry to others would grow and prosper so that those God was calling to be served by him would be saved and find safe long-term refuge under his ministry.
Paul was also saying to Philemon, in a diplomatic way, that the growth of his ministry would happen when he, Philemon, became more aware of how his actions as a Christian person affected the growth of the spiritual lives of others.
Paul was hinting to Philemon that the success of the witness of his Christian life to others would grow and flourish when he started forgiving others and treating people as Jesus had treated them when he was with us in the flesh.
So, in this admonition to Philemon we find God’s admonition to us today right here at LPC.
God by his word is asking each of us to consider,
to begin to perceive, the ways in which we deal with people that actually hinder the effectiveness of our ability to share our faith,
to minister to others.
I am sure that each of you who has attended church for many years can remember the people in church who were a blessing to you and who helped you to grow in your faith and so to prosper in your service to God and to the church.
I am just as certain that you can also remember those in church whose unkind, unfriendly or unforgiving actions have limited or utterly destroyed their ability to effectively share their faith.
I am equally sure that you have seen the faith of many a soul made ship-wreck by the unkindness in word and deed of their fellow Christians.
God has a deep desire to see growth in this congregation.
God desires to see each of us grow in our faith.
God desires each of us to see and do the good, for the sake of Christ and for the sake of others.
God desires to see each of us grow in the effectiveness with which we are able to share our faith.
God desires this because God desires to see this congregation, his church, grow in numbers,
flourish and prosper not for our own good or for the purpose of boosting the pastor’s ego.
But so that others may come, as Onesimus came to Paul, and find shelter and comfort in our midst by converting to Christianity through the effectiveness of the sharing of our faith with them.
So, God is asking each of us here today to reflect on the ways in which we have failed to do the good and instead behaved in ways that have hampered the effectiveness of the sharing of our faith.
Have we spent time complaining about the leadership of the congregation, sharing our complaints with others, rather than speaking our concerns directly to our elder or the minister?
Or better yet praying for the good of the elders as you promised to do at their ordination.
Have we spent time picking small nits about the way the service goes, about how long it runs,
about the musical choices for the week?
Rather than focusing on the purpose of our time together which is to worship and enjoy God here on earth as we will one day in heaven.
And have we shared our nit picking about our worship with others, rather than respectfully sharing our concerns with the people who work hard and faithfully to lead the various aspects of our worship services.
Or here is another one.
Have we complained about the changes in the church’s furniture arrangement over the years;
doing so by speaking in disrespectful ways,
ways we would not even use to address close family members?
I am sorry if these questions strike close to home.
I am sorry if this sermon is causing discomfort.
But I am not sorry if God is speaking to you today, saying to you that it is time for you to become aware, to prayerfully begin to perceive,
the effect that idle words, self-centered and unkind behaviour have on your ability to live up to your Christian commission to share your faith for the good of others.
I am not sorry if these words of admonition from your God make your faith more effective in doing the good.
The good of helping to bring the word of God to all people.
The good of helping disciple people to Jesus.
The good of bringing them to baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
The good of living in ways that help all people learn to live into everything Jesus taught.
This is who we are as the Body of Christ.
This is our commission from God as the church of God.
The way in which we discharge our commission from God is a matter of life and death.
It is a matter of the eternal life, or the eternal death, of those who God even now is calling to be saved from the wrath which is to come.
So, it is a matter of life and death, that each of us as members of the Body of Christ, hold to the Biblical truth that the sharing of our faith will become effective when we perceive all the good that we may do for Christ.
Father God, make us aware of the good.
Help us to flee from the evil.
Open our eyes that we may see.