Authority and Love
August 7, 2016 Pastor: Don Green
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: Philemon :8-11
We've often commented from our pulpit that it is the desire of many churches to try to make their services seem as much like the world as they possibly can so that people feel comfortable when they walk into the service and they can feel like it's not that big of a transition from where they're at to what they're trying to lead people into. I'm not going to engage in a big polemic about that here this morning, I've done that in the past plenty of times, but I want to point something out to you that nothing could be further from the way that things ought to be. It gives an entirely wrong view of God, a wrong view of Christ, and a wrong view of the church, and a wrong view of the Gospel to talk and act that way and to conduct a supposed ministry in that way. You see, the truth of the matter is that Christ has made it very plain that who he is and the way that he thinks and what he does is completely contrary to the spirit of the world and so it is important for us to recognize the difference in the spirit of Christ, the difference in the nature of God from what the world does, and that has just massive implications for everything. It has massive implications for the way that you think about Christ, it has massive implications for the way that you respond to the Gospel, for the way that you conduct the church, and it has massive implications for the way that you respond in personal relationships as we're going to see here this morning.
To know Christ, beloved, is to know a spirit, is to know a disposition of character that is completely contrary to the spirit of the world and I want to have you turn to the book of Matthew, this is only by way of introduction, by way of Matthew 20. Jesus made this very plain. He went out of his way to state that who he is and what he calls his disciples to is completely different from the way that things are done in the world and so we should expect as we come into the church to find a different manner of life. We should expect as we live out our Christian life, that true salvation reorients us and separates us from the world, it doesn't make us like the world just with a little bit of God stuff thrown in. You see, the call to salvation is to deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow after Christ. The call of Christ is to come out of the world, to be saved from this perverse generation, not to immerse yourself deeply into it and see how much you can be like it. You see, the call of the Gospel is out of the world, out of sin, out of judgment into a completely different realm and that has a lot of implications for us.
Look at Matthew 20:25 as Jesus speaks about the way that authority and love mix with one another in his realm. In verse 25, Matthew 20, "Jesus called the disciples to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'" As you read that text, it helps to do a little bit of reverse engineering on it. Christ is setting himself up as the standard and the pattern by which his disciples would live and what he's saying is that, "I as the Son of Man, as the eternal Son of God, as the Savior, as the Messiah, you must understand why I am here on earth." He said, "I didn't come in order that lesser beings would serve me." He said, "I came to serve them and to give my life a ransom for many." From his status as the eternal Son of God, he set aside the prerogatives of his deity in order to come and lay down his life to be a ransom payment for sinners to pay the price of sin on their behalf, that they might be forgiven from sin and reconciled to God. Understand that from his position of authority, no one could have demanded that from him. We had no right, as it were, to appear before Christ and say, "I think it would be a good idea for you to sacrifice your life on the cross for me." We don't have that prerogative. We're the creature and we're a sinful creature at that. Christ is the holy, uncreated Son of God. No one could make a demand on him to do anything and yet from that position of unparalleled authority, of unparalleled prerogative, Christ says, "I have come to earth not to be served but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many." And he goes from there, again, working the passage that I just read backward saying, "therefore if you're going to be my disciple, then a like spirit would animate you as well."
You see, Christ used his authority to serve his Father and to serve his people. He used his position of power and might and righteousness and grace in order to give his life as that ransom payment that would release sinners from their sin and to save them from judgment. Beloved, this is really really big. Even though the truths we're talking about here are really familiar in one sense, we're tapping into the way that Christ handled the authority that was his, and what he did was, rather than asserting his rights as King and compelling obedience, he took that position to serve with his own obedience and sacrificial death. That means something for you and me as we come to Christ in repentance and faith. 1 John 2:6 says, "we ought to walk in the same manner as He Himself walked." You see, what we're talking about here is a complete reversal, a complete separation from the way that the world thinks about authority, and in the midst of a presidential election season, nothing could be more obvious as people are grasping for authority and willing to pay any price of lies and misleading statements in order to grasp it, in order to exercise authority over people. By contrast, here we are under a true, righteous authority, the righteous true authority of Christ, finding that he doesn't deal with authority that way at all. He doesn't deal you with authority like the Gentiles do and lord it over them.
All of those thoughts help prepare us for an unexpectedly important text for us as we go back to our study of the book of Philemon. The book of Philemon, which is just before the book of Hebrews in your Bible, I invite you to turn there. We took a one-week break last week for communion and now we return to our verse by verse study of Philemon here this morning and you're going to see the Apostle Paul reflecting that spirit of using authority in a spirit of love in the text that is before us today and we'll go through a text and draw some application for ourselves at the end. We're in Philemon verse 8, look at verses 8 through 11 which will be our text for us this morning. We'll explain some context for those that weren't with us. Verse 8, Philemon verse 8, the Apostle Paul writing to Philemon said,
8 Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper, 9 yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you - since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus - 10 I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment, 11 who formerly was useless to you, but now is useful both to you and to me.
I'll be honest, I had planned to go much further in the text than that this morning but I just needed to kind of pause and slow down a little bit for the sake of what I wanted to say here this morning. I think if we had hurried through, we would have missed some vital things. What's happening in the letter of Philemon is this, as we've said in the past: Paul is writing a letter to a Christian man of some means named Philemon, and in that day and age, slavery was an accepted institution in society, and Philemon at one time had a slave named Onesimus who apparently had stolen from him and then run away, and so Onesimus had wronged him and Philemon was in a position of having been wronged and had authority to punish Onesimus and yet his slave was gone and escaped and for all that Philemon knew at that time, you know, he was gone for good. Well, while Onesimus was away and had fled to Rome, somehow he met up with the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Paul led him to saving faith in Christ, led him to repentance and faith in Christ. And one of the outworkings of true repentance, one of the outworkings of genuine faith is that repentance brings forth fruit and one of the things that repentance does is it makes restitution where it has done wrong in the past, if that's possible to do. So here is Onesimus physically with the Apostle Paul, he's been serving Paul for a period of time, and they have developed a close personal relationship. Look, if you will, at verse 12 with me. Paul, speaking about Onesimus says "I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart, whom I wished to keep with me." So Paul had developed this close relationship with a man that he had led to Christ and Onesimus was serving Paul in practical ways in his imprisonment and so there was this wonderful relationship of affection and service that was in place. But there was a problem. Things weren't right in Onesimus' life. There was this whole matter of the way that he had wronged his prior master, Philemon, and he needed to go back and make things right.
Now, here's the problem. It's kind of a complex problem in one sense: if Onesimus just went back on his own, Philemon, not knowing anything about his conversion, Philemon might have treated him differently, treated him according to the standards of the way the world dealt with slaves rather than dealing with him as a Christian brother. So as we said, what Paul did was he wrote this letter that Onesimus would take with him and would be delivered to Philemon and it is Paul reintroducing Onesimus to his master and saying, "Here's the situation I ask you to do something in response," that we'll look at either this week or in coming weeks. Before Paul got to the request that he wanted to make, as we've seen in the past, he expresses his love and his affirmation of Philemon. Look at verse 7 there which is just prior to our text for this morning. Paul, writing to Philemon says, "I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother." So just kind of reacquainting ourselves with the context, Paul writes to Philemon and says, "I appreciate you. You are a godly man. I know your faith in Christ. You have shown love to the saints. You have shown love to me. I am so grateful to God for who you are." That's by way of introduction before he gets to talking about the situation with Onesimus.
Now, with all of that in mind, go to verse 8 now as we step into the body of the letter here and see what's going on. Paul says, "Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper." "Therefore" being a word that builds a bridge from what has just been said into what he is going to say, and what he's saying is this, he says, "Because you are the kind of man that you are, Philemon, because of your character of love, your proven Christian sanctification, I'm going to deal with you differently than what I might be able to do as an apostle." Paul, remember, is writing as an apostle of Christ. That means that he had a unique role of authority in the church. In fact, if you look over at 1 Corinthians 14, Paul was not afraid to assert his authority when the occasion warranted it and in 1 Corinthians 14:37, I just want to remind you of the authority that Paul held in his hand as the appointed representative of Christ to the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:37, Paul says, "If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord's commandment." He says, "I write to you with the authority of Christ when I speak." And in the messed up situation at the church in Corinth, he needed to assert his authority and he did so unashamedly, but when he's talking to Philemon, it's a different situation, a different matter. He's dealing with a different kind of man; he's dealing with a man of proven love and character.
So what does Paul do? Notice this, this is really crucial to the whole spirit of the letter. Paul says, "I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper. I can give you a command as an apostle of Christ and compel your obedience in what I'm about to say. I have that confidence. I have open, candid, bold authority and I could do this if I wished and that would just take care of the matter based on a command." And yet Paul says, "I'm not going to do that." He restrains himself as he uses his authority; as he has authority, he restrains it. He doesn't assert himself. He doesn't compel simply because he can. He does something different. Instead, recognizing the proven Christian character of the man that he's writing to, he says, "I'm going to ask you instead, I'm going to appeal to you instead."
So look at what he says in verse 8 and 9. There he says, "Therefore, though I have enough confidence in Christ to order you to do what is proper," I can lay out for you exactly what the right and fitting thing is for you to do here, Philemon, and tell you to do it, but I'm not going to deal with you that way. Why? Because you're my brother. Why? Because I respect you, because I appreciate you, because I love you, and when it comes to Christian love, we don't deal with each other that way in the context of these loving, trusting relationships that are healthy in Christ. So he says in verse 9, I'm going to deal with it differently, "yet for love's sake I rather appeal to you - since I am such a person as Paul, the aged, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus." Paul says, "I'm going to appeal to you. Remember who I am. Remember who it is that is writing to you. I'm an old man," Paul is probably maybe 60 by this time which doesn't sound too old by our standards but his body was bearing the weight of the years of suffering for Christ in ministry: shipwrecked, five times beaten with stripes, all manner of suffering in addition to the pressure that was on him from the oversight of the churches. So Paul writes to him and says, "I'm an old man that is writing to you here and I'm in prison, remember that I'm in prison for Christ so from this position, while I have authority, I write from this position of human weakness and I'm going to appeal to you based on the love that I know is present in your heart."
Now, beloved, let's stop and just pause for a moment and think about ourselves, about our own lives, and the way that we deal with each other in the context of the body of Christ. Let's do that, okay? Sure, we'll do that. You're just like me in that you bristle if somebody comes and just tries to arbitrarily directly command you to do something without any consideration for what your thoughts or feelings are about it, don't you? You're like that. You like to be approached, especially within the church, with a measure of sympathy, that there's a spirit of love and concern and recognition that goes on. Paul understood that the human heart was like that; that in the context of friendship, friends don't just go and start compelling and commending each other to do things. That's contrary to trust. That's contrary to love. That's not consistent with the nature of the relationship that we say and that we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. We're brothers and sisters. We're family. We share a common bond: we have a common Savior, a common Lord, common faith. Paul says, "I could command you but in light of everything that I know about you, in light of the way that Christians deal with one another, I don't want to go that route." So instead he asks where he could command, and as he mentions his conditions there in verse 9, the person of Paul, the aged, now also a prisoner of Christ, he's recognizing that Philemon's natural love, his sanctified Christian character and his sympathy for Paul as one who led Philemon to Christ and who is suffering for the Gospel, he knows that the inclination of Philemon's heart is going to be to do whatever Paul asks him to do anyway. So rather than just stepping in like a bull in a china shop and saying, "This is what you must do," Paul steps back from his authority, doesn't lord it over Philemon but rather deals with him on a horizontal relationship as a peer, almost, in what he asks, rather than giving him a command as a superior.
So look at verse 10 here. We're just kind of walking through the text together. Paul says, "I appeal to you for my child Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my imprisonment." Notice twice he says, "I appeal to you. I'm asking you here." Verse 9, he says, "for love's sake I rather appeal to you." Verse 10, "I appeal to you." So he's writing with this spirit of deference and with kindness that is in perfect keeping with what our Lord said in the passage that we looked at in Matthew 20. Our Lord said, "We're not like the Gentiles who lord it over people. We step into a role of service." Paul here is not lording his position over Philemon but rather appealing to him as a brother in love. He has affirmed Philemon and now he's going to advocate on behalf of of Onesimus.
Look at verse 10 and notice how he identifies with Onesimus, the sweetness of the love that he has for this fugitive slave. Look at verse 10 with me, he says, "I appeal to you for my child Onesimus." My child, it's a term of endearment. Paul speaks this way about his converts. He spoke this way about the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 4. He spoke of Timothy this way. He spoke of Titus this way. There is this affection that Paul had toward those that had come to Christ under his ministry and now he says, "I have the same affection for Onesimus." Do you see the love that is wound up in Paul's character? Do you see the tender sympathy, the kindness, the gentleness in this man who has authority to command, this kindness toward Philemon? "Brother, I love you and I appreciate you"; this kindness toward Onesimus, "Oh, this is my child. I gave birth to him in prison." You start to see a practical illustration, you see the blinds, the drapes pulled back and see a window into what tender Christian pastoral affection looks like. You see an outworking of it. Christ said, "In principle, this is how you shall be, you shall not lord it over." Paul here has obviously imbibed that, embraced it. It is now woven in his character and it just bleeds out in his dealings with everyone.
Well, beloved, this isn't just in the church, this is you in your family. This is you as a man in your family considering how these principles of authority and love interplay as you deal with your wife, as you deal with your children, as you deal with people in the workplace that are under your authority. We've talked about this so many times and I'll say it again: God gives authority to men, not so that they can lord it over and get things for themselves and grab things for themselves. You are given authority whether in a political realm, in a spiritual realm, in an economic realm, you are given authority so that your skill and your talent and your ability and your control over a situation might be exercised for the good and blessing of those that are under you. This is a completely radically different countercultural way of thinking about the way that you hold your position that you have in life.
So for you men who have roles in your family or roles in business or roles in other areas, roles in the church, this shapes the way that we handle all of that. For you young people that are coming up in life and thinking about what you want to be, this needs to be the North Star of what you aim for in your character; that it's in your mind that, "If God ever gives me a position of ability, of authority, of being able to direct others, I'm going to handle this in the way that Christ calls me to do. I'm not going to make this a matter of proud establishment of my person so that people bow down and kiss the ground that I walk on. My position is going to be given to me that I might be able to reflect the character of Christ and use what is given to me in a manner of serving others, rather than having them serve me." Now how that works out in your personal practical situation, I won't try to speak into that but the idea here, what you have to see is that God gives authority not to be used in the way that you have seen it operated in the world. Maybe some of you have come out of families where your dad ruled with an iron fist and he just spoke and whatever he said was done. Well, look, whatever else we might say about that, what you have to do as a Christian man is you have to look at that and say, "Okay, that may be what my dad did but that's not the law, that's not the realm under which I live now. It is different for me as a Christian and I will take my cues and my understanding of what I do with my position from Christ who from his position of great authority said, 'I did not come to be served but to serve and to give my life a ransom for many.'" It's a whole mindset. It's a whole way of viewing life, position and relationships that fundamentally changes the way that you deal with life and the way that you approach people and the way that you exercise your authority over them.
Mark it, men, it seems like we're just kind of dealing with men directly here today; it would be true of moms as well in a slightly different realm. And for those men of you that like to just speak and get things done and, "It doesn't matter how you feel about it, this is what must be," notice how Paul did it. It would have been so simple for Paul to just come in and say, "Philemon, receive this man back. I'm an apostle. I command you. Do it." And from a position of greater spiritual authority than any of us have, Paul says, "I'm not going to deal with you that way. That's not how a brother deals with a brother. That's not why God gives authority to men." So he steps back and where he could command, instead he says, "I ask. Philemon, would you consider this?" And what he's saying is, and he goes on and he helps Philemon think through it. He instructs him, sure. He leads him with his authority, he doesn't simply back away and not do anything. He gives Philemon information, he instructs him and he leads him in what the right thing is to do but he doesn't command him to do it.
Look at the explanation that he gives as this runaway slave is in front of Philemon as he reads this letter, verse 10. Put yourself in Philemon's shoes as he reads this. He's got this letter from the apostle whom he loves and respects and is suffering. He looks up from his letter, looks under his bifocals, if he had bifocals back then. I know he didn't but, you know, you get the point. He looks up and sees Onesimus, a fugitive, runaway slave, thief; he has this letter and he's looking back at the letter and up at Onesimus and down and back again, processing what Paul is saying, and what does Paul say to him there in verse 11? He says, "I'm appealing to you for this man that is now in front of you, Onesimus. He formerly was useless to you, but now he is useful both to you and to me."
Now, Onesimus was a common name for slaves and the meaning of the name was useful. Paul builds on that, takes on that, but by running away, Onesimus had become the very opposite of what his name implied. Rather than being useful to his master, he was useless. Perhaps he was lazy while he was there. He was certainly insubordinate and so he steals and he runs away and he was an utterly useless slave despite his name, indicating that he would be useful. Paul says, "Philemon, remember, he used to be useless to you. He wasn't even here and now he's back and he is changed. He is now useful." There is a play on words in the original language and "useless" and "useful" that isn't quite as obvious in English but it's simply saying he was not useful, now he is well useful. The words parallel each other, just a different prefix that is attached to it. So Onesimus had been an absent, thieving fugitive and notice the contrast, formerly but now, useless but now useful. Now, Paul says to Philemon, "Understand that this man who once was of no value to you is back. He has capacity for service that he didn't have before and therefore, Philemon, I'm appealing to you to consider what you should do in light of that. Here I have given you a child who is my very heart. He's come back to you now to serve and while you could punish him, while you could do things to him as a consequence for the crimes that he had committed to you, I ask you to waive all of that and to consider the situation that's now in front of you. This man who was wrong, had wronged you, is now in front of you." Where is Paul going with this? In verse 17, you'll see that he says, "If then you regard me as a partner, accept him as you would me." There's the request that he's leading up to. "Oh, Philemon, accept him. Bring him in. Receive him without punishing him. Receive him as a brother in Christ, based on his changed relationship to Christ."
So what is Philemon presented with here? He's got a loving appeal from Paul, he has a man here who has been converted to Christ, and now he's being asked to receive him in a way that he otherwise might not have done. What can we draw from this? What can we draw from the way that Paul handles this situation? There are three things that I want to lay out for you. Before I get to those, let me say this: sometimes, and we're just going to talk about the nature of life in the church, life as a Christian maybe is better, not just within the church but speaking even more broadly, sometimes leadership must be strong. It must be decisive and sometimes it must deal with situations in a firm way. The Apostle Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 5, "I'm delivering this man over to Satan because of his unrepentant condition; because of the threat that he is to the church, I'm delivering him over to Satan." Our Lord Jesus established a process for church discipline in Matthew 18 that would deal with unrepentant people who are within the body of Christ because the issue of purity and unity of the church is so vital and important. So sometimes leadership must be decisive and deal with things like that but in the context of trusting relationships in Christ, you see a different pattern, you see something different that is being in place.
What I want to lay out before you, especially for you young guys that are here, new Christians just entering into adult life and asking yourself, "What kind of person am I going to be going forward? How should I condition my mind? How should I think? What should be my affections? What should be my priorities? As a young Christian man, what kind of man am I going to be as God expands my sphere of influence? What kind of man am I going to be with people that look to me, that serve me, that trust me? How am I going to deal with them?" Let me give you three things to help you think through those things and three things that would mark even leadership in the church as well. Just multiple application for this. First of all, based on the pattern that we've seen with our Lord and with the Apostle Paul, first of all: humble yourself. Humble yourself. Here is a great challenge for a young man of ability, of talent, given authority. You start to think well of yourself, you start to think more highly of yourselves than you ought and if you've had parents that have affirmed you and centered their lives around you, it has made it so that you start to think that you are the center of the universe. I know, I was kind of raised alone in my family and was kind of the center of things and my mom was always good to me. Thanks, mom. But you have to learn to separate yourself from the loving care that parents give you as you transition into adulthood to think about, "Okay, now how am I going to work? I had parents that served me." There comes a point where you have to transition out of that and say, "The idea is not for the world to serve me but I want to be like my Christ. I'm not here to be served but to serve." So your talent, your ability, your resources are simply something that is given to you to be a channel to bless others with. This totally reorients the way that you think about life. That's why we are pausing and going slow on this. You humble yourself. The Apostle Paul here in Philemon refused to assert his position in order to get what he wanted in this situation. He didn't say, "I'm an apostle. I command. You obey." He took a much more long route that honored relationships and dealt with the considerations of others.
Let me show you how this plays out in leadership within the church. Turn over to 1 Peter 5. This is a concern that authority be handled in love; that authority be handled with humility. Look at 1 Peter 5 as the apostle Peter addresses elders in the church. He says, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you," 1 Peter 5:1, "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ." Stop right there. Maybe you've never really thought about this. Peter was an apostle and yet notice how he describes himself here in chapter 5, verse 1. He speaks of himself simply as a fellow elder to those who were not apostles. Rather than, in this particular point, rather than compelling and commanding them, using his apostolic authority, he says, "I exhort you as one who is like you." He lowers himself to their level to exhort them rather than asserting his apostolic prerogatives. He says, "I'm just your fellow elder. I'm a witness of the sufferings of Christ and as a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed."
Now he gets into his exhortation, verse 2, "shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor," here's what I wanted to get to, "nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." Peter says, "Authority is not given to you to lord it over people and to simply compel them and command them to do what you want them to do." He says, "That authority is given so that you can be an example, so that you could oversee them, not for your personal gain but for their benefit as those who are in Christ." Do you see it? Do you see the humility that this calls for? Do you see the self-restraint that this calls for? Rather than asserting everything that might be yours by position, to deal with others in love? You humble yourself. You recognize, "Yes, this position is mine. If it needs to be used, I will, but that's not going to be the mark of the way that I deal with people, lording it over them." You humble yourself in the position that God has given to you.
Secondly, you honor the godly. You honor the godly. Paul honored Philemon by – go back to Philemon – Paul honored Philemon. He elevated him. He elevated him, saying that, "Your faith, your love, has been a cause of me giving thanks. I recognize the way that you have refreshed the hearts of the saints. That has brought me joy. It has brought me comfort." He elevates the man that he's writing to because he's a godly man.
Look at verse 14. How much did he honor him? So much so that he deferred and even submitted to what Philemon's desires might be. In verse 14 he says, "without your consent," well, go to verse 13, he said, "I wished to keep Onesimus with me," I wanted to do that because, oh, do I love him and, oh, is he useful to me but, verse 14, I set all of that aside. I set my desires aside because, "without your consent I didn't want to do anything." Philemon, it was too important to me that I would not compel your goodness by not even giving you the opportunity to speak into the situation. It was more important to me to set aside my self-interest so that I could honor your desires and your position and your prerogatives as Onesimus' master. He's honoring him. He's deferring to him. He has affirmed him and now he honors him to the point where he submits his own self-interest to Philemon's determination. Wow. He has the authority to get what he wants and doesn't use it.
He honors him. Romans 13:7 says that you give honor to whom honor is due. Well, when you have godly men in your midst, if you have a godly spouse, if you have children that are trying to walk with the Lord, you honor them and you start to realize that, "I deal with them differently. I don't assert my prerogatives over them and just demand what I want out of them. That's not godly. That's not like Christ. I use my position to serve, to encourage, to help them," you say to yourself. So you honor them and respect them, you deal with them.
Beloved, here's the thing: whenever possible, whenever possible, you cultivate willing agreement, even if it takes a little more time than external compliance by the force of your position. Those are big principles to take and to work out in life. You see, you and I are only going to live rightly in life with the position and authority that the Lord gives to us if we have first thought through why we have authority and position to begin with. Only then, only when you're thinking about these deeper spiritual principles, only when you're thinking about the priorities of authority and service that Christ laid out in Matthew 20 and say that you're not to be like the world, you're not to be like your unsaved father and the way that he did things. That's not the standard, beloved. You have to step back and think through what it is that you have been given and think through how it is that you are to use it, rather than simply going through life pushing buttons in order to get what you want. This matters. To lay hold of these things is to lay hold of the nerve center of what a Christian man should become.
Finally, we've said you humble yourself, you honor the godly, finally, you help the weak. You help the weak. Go back to verses 8 to 11 one more time, and in a sense Paul is helping both Philemon and Onesimus here. He's helping Philemon walk through the right way to think about the situation that's being presented to him and so he's helping him from a position of perspective and he's also helping Onesimus who is completely vulnerable in this situation. If his master turns on him, he is subject to severe punishment as a fugitive slave and so he's vulnerable and notice this, notice this: Onesimus, being in that vulnerable position, nevertheless deferred when Paul sent him back to Philemon. He is compliant and yet his very compliance, his obedience to Paul puts him in a position of vulnerability. Well, what does Paul do? He protects him. He helps him in his time of weakness. He says, "Onesimus, you're not going to have to stand before your former master alone. I'll give you my protection. I'll write a letter that I know this man will receive well. I'll help you in your obedience to Christ." So Paul uses his position of superior authority to help the one in the most vulnerable and weak position. That's what Christians do. That's the way that church leadership operates is to help the weak, to protect them, to protect them from unseen dangers. To protect them in their spiritual struggles. To give them strength. To give them help. To, as it were, get under them and establish them. That's what you do with spiritual authority.
Look over at 1 Thessalonians 5. This isn't just done indiscriminately, different people come who are dealt with differently. 1 Thessalonians 5:14 though, I just want you to see this one thing. We'll begin in verse 12 as again you see these principles laid out in different context with different theme words being used but you see these principles woven through the way Christian relationships are handled. Verse 12, the Apostle Paul, it's incredible. 1 Thessalonians 5:12, here's the Apostle Paul with the authority to command and look at what he says in verse 12, "we request of you." He humbles himself. "We request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction." He says, "I want you to honor the godly." He humbles himself and makes a request rather than asserting a cold command and he says, "I want you to appreciate them, esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another." What is he saying except honor the godly in the way that you live in the church. Then in verse 14, he says, "We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted," here it is, "help the weak," help the weak, "be patient with everyone." He says, "There are going to be those among you who are suffering, those are doubting, those who are unsure of what to do next. They have not yet grown in the grace and knowledge of Christ to a point where they stand firm on their own." He says, "You view such ones like that with tender affection. You care for them. You help them. Be patient with them," the end of verse 14, "be patient with everyone," while the Lord does his work to build them up and strengthen them. He says to the church at Thessalonica, "Use your position, use your strength to help the weak." Paul wasn't simply one who said, "Do this." Out there, he modeled it. When a fugitive, helpless, vulnerable, recently converted fugitive slave was in front of him, the great Apostle Paul said, "I'm with you. I've got your back. I'll help you in this situation. Now go back to Philemon, give him this letter, and we'll ask Philemon to do what is right."
You see, beloved, what do we do in the church? We protect the people that are vulnerable. We protect the unsuspecting. We protect those who are newborn babes in Christ and give them a place where they can grow and flourish. That comes in an atmosphere of love where established mature men are humbling themselves for the benefit of them, looking out for their welfare, honoring the godly and, as it were, spreading their protection over those who are weak and vulnerable in the process. Look, compared to the world in which we live, isn't that a wonderful place to be? Isn't that a wonderful realm to know that something like that exists? That people with power and authority as we see them in the world using it to hurt and take advantage of people, to realize that we are called out of that? Do you see why we don't want to be like the world? Because Christ is not like the world. We want to be like Christ. How do we do that in part? We humble ourselves. We honor the godly. We help the weak.
Let's bow together in prayer.
O Lord, Christ, we thank you that in you we have someone who came not to be served but to serve. We thank you that you lay down your life for us, that in our vulnerability and sin, vulnerable to the impending judgment of God, our vulnerability of being dead in trespasses and sins and completely unable to do anything to save ourselves, helpless as a squirming babe unable to do anything to provide or care for itself, O Christ, we thank you that from your position of the supreme authority in the universe, stepped into time, stepped into human flesh in order to serve and to save sinners just like us. We thank you that you humbled yourself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Lord, we ask that you would help us process what this means for our own lives. For those of us that are a little bit further down the road of life, Father, may we be like Paul, the aged, and handle ourselves in a gracious godly way.
For the young men that are with us, some whom I would love to name by name but I won't do that, Lord, those who are just stepping into life, just beginning to sort out the way that you have gifted them and getting established in the kind of men that they are going to become, O God, I pray for the work of your Holy Spirit upon their hearts, that you would go far beyond the feeble words that have been expressed from this pulpit this morning and establish in them the profound depths of character that is willing to humble themselves for the sake of others, to use the immense ways that they have been gifted and the ways that you have blessed them and say, "This isn't for me, this is for me to serve others with." Help them to work through what that means in their lives.
Father, help us to be a people that give honor to those to whom honor is due, to honor the godly. Father, sometimes godliness isn't found so much by whose up front, it's found in the quiet outworking of life; of men and women who simply with godliness fulfill the duty that is in front of them even when no one is watching. I thank you, O God, that you have filled this church with people like that and I pray that you would bless and encourage them as they raise their families, as they deal with little ones. Father, as they wait on you for life and marriage, would you honor them in their godliness? Would you bless them? Would you encourage them? Would you keep them? Would they see the hand of God richly upon them? Father, may we be a people that gladly affirms others without a sense of pride or manipulation.
Father, we would ask you for the grace to help the weak, to recognize, to see the ones that are vulnerable, perhaps those that have stumbled along the way, to pick them up, to dust them off, to love them, to encourage them. Perhaps where failure has entered into life, spiritual stumbles have marked them and they have that sense of isolation from God and condemnation of self because they haven't fully grasped the position that they have in Christ, God, may those of us who are a little stronger come alongside and lend that strength to them that might strengthen their limbs to be able to walk in an assurance and in a confidence of life of the goodness and the blessing of God.
Yes, Father, ultimately what we ask is that you would make us like Christ as we walk through life together. And perhaps, Father, someone has been convicted today of how separate they are from this life and it opens their eyes to the fact that they have never even been born again, Lord, would you take this occasion to work repentance and faith in their heart so that they might respond to Christ, come to him for salvation, to leave the world behind and say, "I want to embrace this Christ. I need him to save me. I want to pick up my cross and follow him." Lord, make Christ and make the service to him something sweet and attractive in their lives that they would gladly pick up the cross and follow. Sanctify us in the truth, O God. Your word is truth. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.