September 8, 2019
“…your grace is enough …”
by Betty Furches
Clergy of Friendsville UMC (Friendsville, TN)
Smoky Mountain District
I re-read this one-chapter book after I had reviewed all others listed as scripture readings for Proper 18. I had forgotten how much teaching / learning Paul packed into this letter. And, I realized that I have never taught or preached from Philemon.
Paul in prison is being served by a runaway slave, Onesimus, who was property of Philemon. Both Onesimus and Philemon are now followers of Christ. Paul finds himself with this converted slave on his hands writes this grace-filled letter to Philemon trying to explain the situation. Slaves are more than common place in the Roman empire; Paul as a follower of Christ knows that slavery is wrong BUT…?
Paul writes this letter of appeal, choosing his words carefully, commending Philemon on his active faith, and advising him that Onesimus is being sent back to him. Paul is doing what is right by sending Onesimus back. And Paul is trusting that Philemon will welcome him as a brother in Christ and not a slave. In this short letter Paul pulls out all the stops.
Paul is literally asking Philemon to bring Christian principles into the evil system of slavery. Without attempting to overturn the whole system, he simply calls for grace to intercede where human selfishness and greed has ruled.
In our place in time, we too are looking for a bit of grace to overcome selfishness and greed. Our world is in a tail spin as we find intolerance behind every door as we work to grow the kingdom of God. No one wants to talk about much less work to eliminate moral decline, abortion issues, racism, gun violence, dysfunctional families, over-crowded jails, gay-rights issues, drug culture, child slavery, elder abuse, hunger, homelessness, etc. And yet in this letter we might find some hope.
Paul uses patience, tact, a personal appeal, and love. He is not demanding that Philemon respond one way and one way only. He is not saying it is my way or the highway. He is not lobbying for anything but a Christ like response to a difficult situation.
· Paul has the patience to let the Spirit guide Philemon’s response to the returning Onesimus.
· Paul uses loving words being tactful in his approach.
· Paul makes a personal appeal for understanding on both sides of the issue.
· Paul does all this in genuine love for another human being.
Patience, tact, a personal appeal and love – kinda’ sounds like how we should work together for the common good within the church walls so that those outside the walls might meet Jesus. And maybe, some within the church walls might meet Jesus again.
How would our churches and our world look today if we approached every situation of disagreement or discomfort by claiming God’s faithfulness and grace? Chris Tomlin sings words that might help us:
Great is your faithfulness, oh God
You wrestle with the sinner’s heart
You lead us by still waters and to mercy
And nothing can keep us apart.
…Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough
Your grace is enough for me.