Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered November 28, 2009 by Pastor Don Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Building Bridges

Philemon 1:4-7

(RealAudio available)

O... Nesimus.....  Where are you?  O... Nesimus..... where is that slave of mine?  I think he has run away.  I’ve lost my slave.  Where is that boy?  And where is my money that was here in the drawer?  He robbed me!!!  If I ever catch that boy he will suffer badly.

Onesimus was a slave wanting his freedom. 

One day he finally escaped with much of his owners loot.  He ran fast without looking back over his shoulder.  He ran through the briars and brambles.  He ran through places where a rabbit couldn’t go.  He hid in the bushes and traveled at night.  He must not be found.  The punishment for escaping was often death, sometimes by crucifixion or by being thrown into a fishpond full of voracious lampreys. 

The youngster headed for the big city of Rome, where he could get lost.  Sometimes I suspect that is why some people join a big church of thousands of members.  To be uninvolved.  But it’s a small world.  I know that when you are an Adventist, and you bump into another Adventist anywhere in the world, you will find a common friend that you both know. 

Paul was under house arrest in Rome.  Paul had probably seen the slave boy in the house of Philemon.  And sure enough, one day Paul and the runaway slave met and things changed forever.  When you met Paul more than likely you became a Christian.   The slave did.  Now, A new Christian is a new person.  He wants to make things right.  Onesimus was a thief AND a runaway slave.  He must go back and face up to his sins.

The 300+ word letter you hold in your hands was written by Paul to urge Philemon, the local head elder,  to fully forgive the fugitive.  He must walk 1000 miles and ask his former owner for forgiveness.  Would you do that?  Being forgiven is extremely important.  If he is not forgiven he will be brutally punished.  He might even lose his life.  But he must go back. Jesus does not want us to run away from our past but will give us power to face our past and rise above it. 

Philemon is the local leader of the church.  Verse 2 says the congregation meets in the elder’s own house.  Philemon must be rich.  But he has been robbed and hurt by his trusted slave.  How can he ever forgive him?

Friend, is God prompting you to forgive someone today.  Will you treat them like long lost family and love that individual or will you try to make them pay for what they’ve done?  Unconditional love says that regardless of what’s been done, I’m going to love you.  I will forgive you.  That doesn’t mean you have to sweep the violation under the rug. Instead it means that you deal with it by releasing that person from the hurt they’ve done.

Your goal is a restored relationship. Brother Steve Cash is an expert antiques restorer.  Some people will take an old antique and try to cover up the flaws with filler or paint.  Many antiques are ruined by water.  Broken antiques are similar to broken human relationships.  Don’t gloss them over with paint or putty.  These things are just band-aids   The real solution is to strip the antique right down to the wood.  I stood in Steve’s workshop and watched him repair the broken portions. He must replace broken and split corners.  Re-make ruined spindles. Re-glue loose boards and sand rough places.  Re-stain and carefully apply a bright new finish. 

That’s what restoration means.  To restore means to make it like new again.  This takes much effort and time.   If your relationship  has been damaged by sin or neglect or abuse or an affair don’t give up.   Don’t set  it out on the curb like trash.  Forgive and rebuild.  A wife said to me, “I can’t forgive him, I’ll just go out and find me a new husband.”  She was going to trash a marriage of quite a few years.  I urged her to try again, if only for the sake of the kids.  Many kids are totally devastated by a divorce.  Some even leave Jesus.

Have you forgiven your enemies?  Or have you shot them all down?   Have you forgiven  that individual who has hurt you?  Wronged you?  Sinned against you?  Violated your trust?  Maybe they said some things about you that really hurt. They lied about you and made you look bad. Forgive them.  Maybe they knew some things about you that no one else did and passed them along and hurt you. Forgive. Your spouse has been hiding things, been lying, knows he or she has hurt you but now wants to work it out.  Forgive him.  Forgive her.

Paul wrote the entire letter that we call Philemon just so Onesimus might receive forgiveness.  Paul said in verse 8, “I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do.”. Does Paul order the head elder to forgive?  He does not.  He asks him in politeness to do that.  What was it that Philemon ought to do?  He must welcome the runaway slave and accept him back with total forgiveness.

To hold anger in your heart is like holding poison ivy in your mouth.  The longer it is there, the more you will suffer. 

One day there was a visitor out in the farm country of Alabama, and he happened to be walking along the road and he came up on a farm that was fenced in and he saw this old farmer plowing with a mule.  And he stopped to watch, and after awhile when the farmer got near the visitor said, “You know, I don’t like to tell people how to run their own business but I’ve got a suggestion for you that could save you a lot of work.  Why don’t you just say ‘gee’ or ‘haw’ to that mule instead of tugging on those lines all the time.  That’s going to wear you out.”  And the old farmer pulled a big handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped the sweat off of his brow.  He was working hard, and he said, “Well fellow.  I reckon you’re right, but that animal kicked me five years ago and I haven’t spoken to him since.”

You know that a grudge is harder on the one that holds the grudge than it is on the one that it is held against.  Get rid of the poisonous grudge in your heart.  Forgive whoever hurt you or said those evil things about you.  Forgive & go on with life.  Paul urged Philemon to forgive this disobedient slave.  Just like Christ forgave us, we are to forgive  one another.

Come over to Colossians in your Bible, chapter 3 and verse 13.  It says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  That’s what we need to do.  Forgive the grievances.  If God and Christ can forgive you because of your sins, you can forgive one who has wronged you.

Have you ever thought:  "I hate you for what you have done to me."  We carry hatred in our hearts.   It is hurting us.  We don’t just get mad; we want to get even!  Forgive your  father.  Forgive your mother.  Your neighbor.  Americans are pushed to be unforgiving.  We celebrate and honor people who are tough and unforgiving.  Movies are made about Rambo’s who murder people out of vengeance.  They get Oscars. 

Because of the excessive sinfulness and wickedness in modern America, & the lack of Christian social restraint in culture.  We have a society filled with anger, bitterness, vengeance, hatred and hostility for one another.  On ESPN you see coaches yelling at each other and players attacking each other.  At work  an employee thinks that his boss has slighted him in some way, so he takes a gun to work and before it is over many are gone. Lawsuits for legitimate wrongs and even trivial offences clog our courts.  We have almost 1 million lawyers in America!  

Modern society says you don’t have to forgive.  You can have your pound of flesh. You can sue anybody and everybody for anything.  You  are a victim.  Go ahead and blame others for the trials of life.  It’s not your responsibility.  Make sure they pay painfully for what they’ve done to you.  But this is not Jesus’ way.  An unforgiving spirit makes you a prisoner to the past.  Your pain will never heal.  You will become bitter which will poison every relationship you have. Your bitterness will infect others.

Look at Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 26 in your Bible.  “In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry & do not give the devil a foothold."  The Devil moves into an unforgiving heart.  If you can’t forgive others, You will lose your fellowship with God.  Proverbs 19:11 says, “The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, And his glory is to overlook a transgression.”  Your glory is to overlook the transgression.  Matthew chapter 6, verse 12 is the Lord’s prayer, and a portion of it there in verse 12 says that you will be forgiven as you forgive others.  But if you don’t forgive others, how can you expect God to forgive you?

After President Richard Nixon was removed from the Presidency, he was so disgraced and emotionally disturbed that he wanted to take his own life. He and his wife were in the hospital room with the curtains closed. Then a nurse came in and asked permission to open up the curtains. When the curtains were opened, Nixon saw an airplane flying back and forth outside his window, with a banner that read, God loves you, Mr. Nixon.

When Nixon saw that, he realized not every body was against him and he regained hope.  Who was behind this?  Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s wife, had given orders to the pilot to keep flying that sign until Nixon could read it.

I wish I could have seen the expression on Philemon’s face when Onesimus slowly and timidly walked in.  I wish I could have seen the tears of joy on the slave boy’s face when after reading Paul’s letter, he was embraced and accepted by his former slave owner.

Corrie ten Boom likened forgiveness to letting go of a bell rope.  When you forgive someone do the feelings in your heart instantly go away?  To ring a big bell way up in the bell tower, you begin pulling the rope.  Once it has begun to ring, you merely maintain the momentum. As long as you keep pulling, the bell keeps ringing.  Miss ten Boom said forgiveness is letting go of the rope. It is just that simple. But when you do so, the bell will still keep ringing. Momentum is still at work.  However, if you keep your hands off the rope, the bell will begin to slow and eventually stop.

Just so, when you decide to forgive, the old feelings of unforgiveness may continue to assert themselves. After all, they have lots of momentum. But if you affirm your decision to forgive, that unforgiving spirit will begin to slow and will eventually be still. Forgiveness is not something you feel, it is something you do. It is letting go of the rope of retribution.

Paul’s plea for Philemon is to accept the wayward slave and forgive him and reinstate him into the family, not as a slave, but as a brother.  Jesus said in Matthew 10, verse 8,  “Freely you have received, freely give.”  

Forgive him!  Did he?  50 years later, one of the church Fathers in Smyrna was traveling to Rome where he would be martyred.  He wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus.  “I received your large congregation in the person of Onesimus, your pastor... a man whose love is beyond words.”  Historical records intimate that it was Pastor Onesimus himself who collected and published all of Paul’s letters that he could find which we have in our Bible today.  Obviously Philemon did forgive him and helped him become a successful leader in the early church.

Look at verse 11 of Philemon.  Paul said of Onesimus, “formerly he was useless to you, but now he has indeed become useful.”  Paul found him useful in a time of extreme distress.  This once useless runaway slave became useful.  You may not have much hope for a young teenager.  They’re useless.  What are they ever going to amount to?  All they do is sleep in bed all morning.  You can’t get them up and then you can’t get them to bed at night.  What’s ever going to become of my teenager?  Is there any hope?  Yes there is.  They need to be exposed to Jesus Christ.  Through your words, your heart, your attitude, they need to see Jesus in you. 

The young Onesimus, desperately wanted to be accepted by his former boss.  Everyone needs acceptance. It doesn’t change when you go to college, or when you begin your vocation or even when you retire.  We want to feel accepted.  Kids in school crave acceptance.  If a new fad in clothing begins, all the Kids want to get one and wear it.

People will go to great lengths to feel acceptance.

According to the American Society of Plastic surgeons, last year,  $14 billion was spent on cosmetic procedures.  And this will shock you:  $1 billion of this vanity surgery was financed.  These are not rich movie stars that are doing this.  The majority of these people are low income people.  They mortgaged the house for a face-lift or a tummy tuck.  They got a loan for their liposuction and their Botox injections.  They can’t afford it but are desperate for it.  Why do we do things like this?  For acceptance.  We want to be liked.  Assured that we are still OK.

Onesimus desperately wanted to be accepted.  Paul said, welcome him as you would welcome me.  I will pay back the entire debt.  A slave in 60AD could cost about 500 denarii.  About 500 days wages!  Onesimus could never pay this debt.  He deserved life-long retribution.  But Paul said in Philemon 1:19, “I will repay it.” 

This is just like Jesus.  We have an unaffordable debt with Christ.  We owe Him everything.  We can never repay our sins, and yet Jesus does more than that.  Jesus pays our debt in full.  We are forgiven.  Then Jesus adds wealth to our account.  He gives us His free righteousness.  He places His expensive robe of righteousness, His blood, over us and forgives our sins, and He makes us whole again.  I love my Saviour and I know you love Him too.  I pray that you will get the message of this great story and realize that even though you are a runaway slave, once you meet Jesus, you’ll never be the same.  You’ll go back.  You’ll make things right and you will become a magnificent worker in the house of God.

 Hymn of Praise: #559, Now Thank We All Our God
Scripture: Philemon 1:4-7
Hymn of Response: #114, There's A Wideness

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 12/31/09