In this study we’ll conclude our study of Paul’s letter to the Colossians and take a look at his fascinating letter to Philemon, a leader of the church in Colosse. This model of intercession on behalf of the run away slave Onesimus has been called the application of the highest principles to the most common affairs.
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Okay, now here we go. We’re in chapter four of the Book of Colossians and starting in verse 2—and I’ve already got something I’ll have to edit out of here because as we’re doing the CDs, it seems like every track starts with “Okay” and here I went and did it again! [laughing] So fortunately they’ll be able to edit that out, and so we’ll have at least one track that doesn’t start that way, and that’ll probably confuse people because they won’t know it actually started! So, who knows.
But let’s take Colossians 4:2:
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.
That word devote means constant diligence, it means to be totally preoccupied with it, to be totally taken up with it. Because this is the way we communicate with the Lord, right? This is the way He has ordained for us to communicate with Him and the poor guy doesn’t get to hear from us very often, and so Paul is recommending that we spend more time in prayer—a lot more time in prayer. The average Christian, I hear, prays for a grand total of seven minutes a day. That surprised me because I didn’t believe that Christians actually prayed every day. [laughing] At least most of them. I know I do. And the reason I’m in so much trouble all the time is because that reminds me to pray, and the Lord knows He wouldn’t hear from me if I didn’t have problems. So He makes sure I always have something to say to Him.
You know, from other places in Scripture, “Pray without ceasing,” you know, and, “Pray continually,” and all these things that have come up in different passages. 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and 18 I think is one, that is pray without ceasing (pray continuously). Philippians 4:6, pray about everything, be fearful of nothing and be thankful for anything, and so, on and on it goes.
So, devote yourselves to prayer. This is probably the primary task, if you will; if there was ever anything that Christians are really supposed to do a lot of it is praying. Stay in touch. Be in constant contact with the Lord.
In verse 3 Paul says:
And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.
Paul is writing this, of course, while being chained to a Roman soldier waiting for his trial. This was his first imprisonment, he was released after this one; he actually got picked up two more times and the third time was the one that they kept him and executed him, so this time he gets loose. And so he’ll have some free time again after this. This is about 60 A.D. when this letter is being written.
Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Salt is a big issue in the Scriptures. You could do a word study on salt and you’d find out that it was an important commodity first of all. In fact, salt was so valuable that quite often the Roman soldiers were actually paid in salt, then they could go out on the street and sell the salt for profit, so they actually made a little money on the exchange because salt was the only form of preservative. So when he says, “Seasoned with salt,” he is making reference to the fact that Jesus told us in Matthew 5:13 that we are the salt of the Earth, right? We’re the salt of the Earth.
What does that mean? We are preserving the Earth. And what does a preservative do? It doesn’t prevent spoilage, but it retards it, right? That’s what we’re doing. The Earth you know, the Earth is being spoiled. You can tell, and progressively, and it’s noticeable, and it’s on the fast track toward some kind of destruction. But we are retarding that spoilage, we’re the preservative that retards that spoilage.
In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul says that one day this restraining force known as the Church that retards the spoilage of Earth is going to be taken. Then the brakes won’t be on anymore, it will be really on the fast track then, and literally, all hell will break loose on Earth at that point. Because there will be no more restraining the evil forces that have been here on Earth ever since the beginning, but are not released to do their full extent of their damage to Earth because of the restraining influence of the Church. This idea of us being the salt of the Earth is just another way of saying the same thing. We are retarding the spoilage of Earth. Why? Why are we retarding it? Well, to give everybody who will a chance to repent and come to the Lord.
One day, we’ll run out of time; but the fact that we’re here retarding and preserving means that there’s more time for those who haven’t come to the Lord yet to make up their minds to do so.
So you have that in Matthew 5:13 and in Luke another issue where we’re called the salt of the Earth and it says there, “But if salt loses its saltiness, what good is it?”
And you stop to think about it—what other value did salt have? They didn’t put it on roads in those days because they didn’t have roads, so the only purpose for salt was as a preservative. If it loses its ability to preserve, then it was worthless—it was worse than worthless. He said you can’t even throw it on the manure pile, you can’t even use it for anything. It’s worthless; it’s worse than being useless. And so, this concept of salt has to retain its saltiness.
In fact it’s such a unique thing, salt is. Once I had a sales manager and we were trying to do some recruiting and we were trying to figure out how to describe the opportunity we had for energetic and enthusiastic salespeople. You know, if we could get some energetic and enthusiastic (salespeople) we could see there would be a great opportunity. And the hard thing was, in a little bitty classified ad was to describe the opportunity. And finally, one of the guys came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. And we put the ad in the paper, and it went like this:
How do you describe the taste of salt? Well, that’s how hard it is to describe this opportunity!
And that was our ad. So we just submitted it. You can’t put it into a few words, you’re just going to have to come in and let us tell you about it.
And it worked out very well; it was a good ad, and it ran for a long time and we recruited a lot of good people with it but, stop to think—how do you describe the taste of salt? Well, it’s salty. That’s all you can say about it!
So, being the salt of the Earth, being the preservative, he says, “Make sure that your conversation is always seasoned with salt.” And by that I think he means, wholesome talk that, by the words that you say you are helping to retard the spoilage of Earth. You’re not doing anything to promote it, you’re not doing anything to encourage it. On the other hand, you’re helping to slow it down a little bit. Okay, so you’ve got the idea about salt.
Now, in verse 7—and as you know, we’re just wrapping up here, the book of Colossians. We’re going to be done here in just a couple of minutes and then what will we do? Well, we’ll find out. [laughing] I’ve been known to talk for hours without saying a darn thing and so I think I could keep you going for all this time. [laughs]
I gave you Matthew 5:13, Mark 9:50 and then I have written down here, Luke 14:34. Is that the one? Yes, Luke 14:34:
“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.
It does not have any other value in those days.
Okay, verse 7 now:
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
As you’ll see here, I think the way it’s going to turn out is, Epaphras was the guy who came originally to Paul who said, “Please, write to my people back there in Colossae.” You know Epaphras was the one who started the church there, he was with Paul in Ephesus and then went over to Colossae which was just a day’s journey east and started a church there.
And so, when this Gnostic Error, this heresy, began creeping into the church in Colossae, Epaphras came to Rome where Paul was imprisoned and asked him to write this letter. Well, it appears from the way the letter closes that Epaphras was going to stay with Paul, and Tychicus is going to go back and take over. I don’t think that it implies anything about Epaphras. Maybe they just decided to change roles. I don’t know how that works. But it says, Tychicus is going back and Onesimus is going with him.
My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings, as does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas.
This is of course John Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, the writer of the Gospel of Mark, actually Peter’s account, written by Mark. Mark was just a young fellow at the time and so he had been with Paul and Barnabas on a couple of different missionary trips and now, even though Paul and Mark had had a run-in and Mark had left, and then Paul refused to take him on the next trip and that was some number of years ago, almost twenty years ago, and they’ve healed that situation (whatever it was) and now Mark is with Paul in Rome. And he says Mark is the cousin of Barnabas and that’s right.
And it says:
(You have received instructions about him; if he comes to you, welcome him.)
So, apparently they’ve already indicated that Barnabas may come to Colossae and if he comes to you, welcome him.
Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings.
He’s one of the ones we saw early in the Book of Acts when we did our study there.
These are the only Jews among my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
Laodicea, of course, is only about ten miles from Colossae. Remember I told you if you’re driving—and I keep trying to remember the name of the town you’re driving toward when you drive east through southern Turkey. And if you get to an intersection, and if you turn right you go to Colossae and if you turn left you go to Laodicea. They’re each about five miles off the main road and so it makes them about ten miles apart. And so when we were there we went through the ruins at Laodicea. There isn’t much really left of Colossae. Laodicea has some fairly interesting ruins and it’s on the south side of a big, fertile valley.
As you look across this valley you see these shiny white cliffs on the other side of the valley, about ten miles away, and they’re just really shiny white. You’ve seen pictures of the white cliffs of Dover; well, they’re like that except that it looks like they are made of porcelain because they’re shiny, the surface is shiny. And that’s Hierapolis.
The town today is called Pamukkale and it’s one of the premier resort towns in Turkey. People from all over Europe come to Pamukkale (which was Hierapolis) because of the hot springs. And you remember reading in the letter to Laodicea in the Book of Revelation how the Lord said, “You’re neither hot nor cold, you’re just lukewarm”? That phrase is a reference to the fact that Laodicea’s water came by viaduct from Hierapolis. When it left Hierapolis, it was hot because of the hot springs. By the time it came all the way across the valley flowing in the aqueduct, by the time it got to Laodicea it was lukewarm.
And you know, you can do something with hot water, and you can do something with cold water, but nobody likes lukewarm water. So He was drawing reference to the fact that, in His view (the Lord’s writing this letter, of course) He’s drawing reference to the fact that in His view the people of Laodicea are like the water that comes into their town.
He says, “It’s neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! If you were hot I could do something with you, if you were cold I could do something with you. But if you’re lukewarm you can’t do anything with anybody that way.” It’s where apathy has set in and so you can’t do much with it. I remember in one of my groups I asked somebody what the definition of the word apathy was, and he said, “I don’t know, and I don’t care.” And I said, “That’s right!” [laughing] And so, you can’t do much with it.
Well, that’s Hierapolis. It’s called Pamukkale today; it’s a beautiful resort. We stayed there for a couple of days. They’ve got the beautiful hot springs, and all built up nicely. It’s been there since the Romans, in fact, since before the Romans. Hierapolis is actually the Greek name, so they were there during the time of the Greeks. It was a hot spring then, and it still is.
And the white, shiny white cliffs? That’s the sediment that has built up over the years as the hot springs have bubbled up out of the ground and run down along the cliffs there and they’ve left that sediment behind and it’s all white. The whole place is just a milky white. It’s the darnedest thing and it’s really pretty and that’s Hierapolis. And that’s just a few miles up the street, again, so all those places are nice and close by.
Verse 14, now:
Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, and Demas send greetings. Give my greetings to the brothers and sisters at Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.
Nympha is the woman in whose home the Church at Laodicea met.
After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.
Now, he’s not talking about Revelation 2 here. Most people believe that the letter he is talking about from Laodicea is actually the letter that was written to the Church at Ephesus. These letters, you see, were circulated.
I was thinking about that. You know, we’ve spent the last, the last two thousand years as the Church studying these letters. And what they were is, they were just letters; literally letters that Paul wrote to these various Churches. And what would happen is, the deal was that he’d write to a Church and then he’d usually tell them to pass this along. This was what they had instead of the Bible; they had this collection of letters. They’d pass them along; they’d make copies, and they’d pass them along from church to church and each church would read them just like we are.
But of course, a lot of them only got to hear these letters a couple of times because then they’d be sent off to somewhere else, unless they were able to copy them. We have, of course, a copy that we can study all day long, every day and gain great benefit from them even today even though they were written two thousand years ago. But that’s the way the early Church met. That was what they had and, in lieu of the Bible studies we talk about today, somebody would stand up in the front of the Church and they would read one of Paul’s letters and then they would discuss it and that was the way things went. Kind of interesting.
And so Paul is explaining, you know, this letter is to you guys, but you share with Laodicea and then you take theirs and they’ll share theirs with you.
And then verse 17:
Tell Archippus: “See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord.”
We’ll learn here a little later that I believe that Archippus and his wife are people who are important in the church in Colossae.
And then verse 18:
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.
Now, when Paul was sending out these letters, he didn’t write them himself, he would dictate and then somebody would write them down. They called that person in those days an “amanuensis.” You might see that word somewhere in Scripture, amanuensis. It was basically a secretary who wrote. Paul would dictate, and the secretary would write, the amanuensis.
Part of the reason for that was, Paul’s handwriting wasn’t very good because his eyesight wasn’t very good, and he’d have to write really big in order to see it. And so it was a lot easier for him to just speak it.
But because of the second letter to the Thessalonians, which was really one of the very early letters that Paul wrote, they discovered that he had to affix his own handwriting to at least a part of every letter, and he had to put some kind of an identifying mark in each letter because—turn back (well, not turn back) turn ahead two books to 2 Thessalonians and I will show you here in chapter two of 2 Thessalonians, just a couple of books to the right, you see Paul saying to the church there in Thessalonica:
2 Thessalonians 2:1:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.
Apparently from that phrase we get the notion that somebody had written a letter to the Thessalonians, a forgery, claiming to be from Paul telling the church in Thessalonica, that basically the great Tribulation had started, the Day of the Lord had come.
Now, this gives us an interesting insight into what the church in Thessalonica believed. Because when they heard that the Day of the Lord had come, they were frightened. So much so, that they hurriedly sent someone to Corinth where Paul was and asked him to clarify this. “Did you really mean this?”
Because, you see, the Day of the Lord is something that is supposed to happen in the last few years before the Second Coming. And think about it for a minute, if he had taught them a system of End Time events (which we now call eschatology) that the Rapture of the Church was supposed to precede the Day of the Lord and then they get this letter, saying (supposedly from him) that the Day of the Lord had come. Well, that means that they missed the Rapture! And now, what does that mean? If you miss the Rapture, what does that mean? It means that means you’re not a believer, and so, you can imagine why they’d be upset?
And, of course, it turns out later on that it’s a forgery, somebody else sent it. Because, whoever did it (and it doesn’t ever say anything in history about who did it) but whoever did it knew that Paul didn’t write his own letters in his own hand. And so they were able to get away with this forgery because he had several different people who wrote these things for him and so they wouldn’t be able to necessarily recognize handwriting because one time it might be Timothy, one time it might be Titus, because they all served from time to time as his amanuensis.
And so, if they had a new one they wouldn’t know this and they wouldn’t know to question the handwriting. So that’s how whoever this was got away with sending this forgery and scared the you-know-what out of the Thessalonians to the point where they went marching off to see Paul. And he comes back and chides them a little bit for this, saying, “You know the Day of the Lord can’t come yet.”
And then he goes on to explain why, because Christ can’t come until the Antichrist is revealed. He can’t come until he stands in the temple proclaiming himself to be God. And then it says after that He can’t come until the Restrainer is taken out of the way. And that Restrainer, of course is the Holy Spirit, resident in the Church. And so, he’s teaching them you know, if you’re in the Church, you’ll be gone before the Day of the Lord comes. The whole letter to the Thessalonians is about that.
Well here’s the point I’m trying to make: because of that, Paul began to at least write the closing sentence or two of each letter in his own hand and then, according to many scholars, he included what was like a mark of his that would identify the letter as being from him. You’ll find it in every one of Paul’s letters, and it’s the last sentence in Colossians. It’s the last sentence in the letter: “Grace be with you.”
And it turns out that in all the Biblical epistles—you know, Peter wrote some and James and Jude and John and these others. But in only Paul’s letters, does the word “grace” appear. His are the only ones that contain the word grace, and especially being used this way. I think there are some translations of one of Peter’s letters that claim that the word grace is used somewhere in it. But only in Paul’s letters will you find the word grace used this way. If you look at every single one of Paul’s epistles, you’ll find the word grace at the end. It will be within the last couple of verses. I think in the book of Romans it’s farthest up, I think it’s about three or four or five verses from the end, but even then it’s stated as a final greeting. Let’s see if I was right, in this. Was it Romans?
Yes, in Romans 16:20 and the letter goes on for another five verses, but it’s his benediction. He says, in verse 20:
The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you
That’s his benediction. And so you’ll find it in every one of his epistles. You can take the time if you want to look at each one to prove me right here but, I just checked it and they’re there [laughs] and they’re still there.
One thing I do want you to look at though is, there’s a letter that there’s been a lot of controversy over it, over who it’s author is because it wasn’t signed and it’s kind of an anonymous letter, it’s the epistle to the Hebrews. I want you to look at the 25th verse of chapter 13, the very last verse, pardon me, in the Book of Hebrews and what does it say?
Grace be with you all.
And so, a lot of people believe, and also because of something that Peter says in one of his letters, a lot of people believe that the letter to the Hebrews was written by Paul based on that, these little clues. Now, it doesn’t really matter to us because it’s my opinion that if the Holy Spirit wanted Paul to sign the letter, He’d have him sign it. The reason he didn’t sign the letter is because they wanted the letter anonymous. Of course, just because the Lord wanted it that way, that’s what caused everybody to try to figure out who wrote it. [laughs] They wouldn’t have worried about it if he’d signed it but because he didn’t sign it, they all want to know who wrote it.
It’s the same in Revelation. You know, when John wants to write down what the seven thunders said and the angel said, “Don’t write that down, don’t put that in there!” And so now, the libraries are full of books speculating on what was in there and the Lord clearly said, “Don’t write that down, that’s not for you.”
Anyway then, this is Paul’s signature, if you will. And he says at the last verse:
I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.
All right, so that’s the letter to the Colossians. Remember we call it the K.I.S.S. epistle and we used the acronym K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid) and so Paul’s very simple, very clear, very direct presentation of the Gospel in defense of the truth of the Gospel and in rebuttal to the Colossian heresy that came to be known as the Gnostic Error, or Gnosticism. Paul writes a very clear, succinct and very direct and forceful presentation of the Gospel showing the preeminence of Jesus Christ. Some people also proclaim this letter as the King’s Letter because it demonstrates very clearly the preeminence of Jesus Christ.
All right. So that’s the letter to the Colossians.
Now, back up, let’s back up here in Colossians to the final greeting again in verse 7 and I want to read down here a little bit.
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here.
This is our clue that the letter to the Colossians, while it ends in chapter 4, it wasn’t the only thing that Paul sent back to the church at Colossae. He sent a companion letter with it and that’s what we’re going to spend the balance of our time tonight looking at.
His companion letter is called The Letter to Philemon and it came with the letter that we know as the Letter to Colossae. Philemon is back there behind Timothy and Titus, it’s a one-chapter letter. It’s one page long in my Bible and most people don’t think much about it because it’s so short, it’s easy to skip right over it. But it was written kind of as an addendum to, or at least a complementary document that accompanied, the letter to Colossae. The reason for that is, Philemon, the person to whom the letter was written, lived in Colossae and was a member of the Colossian church. And so Paul’s writing a personal letter to him, but not a private letter, a personal letter to him.
People like this letter for a number of reasons. One, that it is a beautiful model. You know, lots of times in the Scriptures you’ll have an event that when portrayed turns out to actually be a model of something else. Like in the Book of Numbers, when the Israelites were camped in the desert and they were disobedient and all of a sudden these venomous snakes came into the camp and a number of people got killed. Moses was sent to enquire of the Lord about getting the snakes out of there and all the things the Lord could have done—He could have just made the snakes disappear, He’s probably the One that made them appear after all. He could have made the snakes disappear, He could have rendered them harmless, He could have issued everybody snake-bite kits, He could have done all kinds of things.
But what did He do? He told Moses to go build a snake, a bronze-cast, bronze serpent and to put it up on a cross-shaped pole, drape it across the crossbars of the cross, and put it up on a hill outside the camp.
And he says, “After you have done that, tell everybody who gets bit by the snake to look at the cross with the serpent up on the hill and they’ll be healed.” That was His cure for it, and you wonder, what the heck was that all about?
Then you get to John 3 and you read where Jesus said to Nicodemus:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,
And then you understand the model, Jesus is going to be draped on a cross, just like this serpent was, and all who are poisoned, if you will, by the poison of sin, from that day forward can look to the cross and be cured, be saved. A beautiful, beautiful model.
Of course, it took a thousand years for all of that to come together. I’m convinced that the Jews didn’t know exactly why they were doing it, and until Jesus actually explained it to Nicodemus, for thousands of years people had read that Scripture in Numbers and said, “Isn’t that neat?” In fact, you know that they misunderstood it because four hundred years later in the Book of Kings, you read that they’ve turned this snake into an idol and they’re worshipping it, and it was King Hezekiah that had the thing chopped up into pieces and scattered around so they couldn’t do that anymore. So you know they had misunderstood it.
And so, a lot of times you see an issue takes place in the Scriptures and then later on you find out it’s a beautiful model of something else. That’s just the way it is, this letter to Philemon. It’s an actual event that took place regarding two—well, three men, really—Paul, Philemon, and this guy Onesimus.
I want you to see these three people in the model that they portray, where Philemon is in the model, he’s representing, if you will, God. Paul is representing the Lord Jesus and Onesimus is representing us. If you look at the letter that way then you not only see what a great salesman Paul was, because it’s a very persuasive letter, but you also see what the hidden meaning of the letter is and how it does for us; just like the bronze serpent; it’s just another issue relative to that.
And you see lots of other things in there. Martin Luther called this book, the application of the highest principles to the most common affairs. And so, it’s a really beautifully written letter. Paul shows us a model for intercession and the first step is always to build rapport. Build rapport. And then the second step is to persuade the mind. In other words, you send a logical argument persuading the mind, and then the third step is to move the emotions. Because, you see, people always buy for emotional reasons. They always buy for emotional reasons.
I remember back in the oil crisis of the seventies, most of you aren’t old enough to remember that. But I was around then, back in the oil crisis of the seventies, it turned out that everybody who could got rid of their gas-powered car and bought a diesel-powered car because diesel fuel was a whole lot cheaper in those days. The diesel people caught on, now it’s just as expensive as gas and sometimes more.
But in those days gas was at the huge price of almost a dollar, probably, and we thought it was outrageous and diesel was still 40 cents, so that was more like it. So everybody who could was trading in their gas-powered car for diesel. And guess what the best selling diesel car on the market was? Runaway, best seller of all the diesel cars available, the very best selling diesel car was what? Mercedes Benz [laughs] and it was the most expensive car on the market. People who had wanted a Mercedes Benz all their lives, they didn’t give a hoot about the diesel gas, that was the excuse.
You see, they wanted the people—in fact the Mercedes Benz had a wonderful sales campaign at that time in which they showed a guy coming in to test drive the car, and they are driving down the street and the salesman is with them, of course and he’s going through the “Smell the leather,” and “doesn’t it feel nice?” and “Notice how quiet it is in here, you can’t hear all the (noises)”. Then they pull up to the light and the salesman says to the driver, “You notice these people looking at you? You’ll get used to that.” [laughing] And the idea is when a big, fancy car pulls up and you always wonder who’s driving it, right? Because there’s a moment of envy there, and that’s what appealed most.
It turned that with the differential between the price of gas and the price of diesel, and the differential between the cost of the Mercedes and the cost of an average gas-powered car, they’d have to drive the car 800 thousand miles to break even—but that didn’t matter, they bought the car for emotional reasons, they only justified it with logic. And so it’s always the emotional reason that gets the sale. Then you try and help the customer justify his decision with some logic. “Look at all the money you’ll save on fuel!” So, never mind the fact your car payment is triple what it used to be. [laughs]
So anyway—the model for intercession here is that you build rapport with the person you are interceding to (and that is of course, God) and then you persuade the mind (you submit the logic in your argument) and then the third step is, you move the emotions because the emotion is what closes the deal. You’re going to find a beautiful example of this in the letter to Philemon.
Now, it turns out that there’s a great—I’m not really an advocate of formula prayers, you know, you’ve heard about these formula prayers where you’ve got to do this, and then you do this, and then you do that. I’m not a great advocate of that but there is one formula that I really have grown to love; I’ve used it all my life, and I’ll commend it to you. It’s based on an acronym, A.C.T.S., the Book of Acts. The model is this, it follows this model of intercession as well.
The first thing you do when you’re praying, the A is for Adoration. You express your adoration to God.
Then comes the C, you Confess because you want to get cleaned up, right? You want your prayer heard. So the very next thing you’ve got to do is you confess. You confess all your sins, you ask for forgiveness.
And then the T, the third part, is Thanksgiving. You thank the Lord for forgiving you which He’s promised to do. You don’t have to to worry about that, you can ask for forgiveness in one sentence and you can thank Him for receiving it in the next sentence because He says, “Whenever you are faithful to confess, He is just and faithful to forgive and will purify you from all unrighteousness.”
Then the fourth, the S, is Supplication, then you ask for what you want. It’s a great way to build rapport because, what do most people do? They just run in and say, “Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme!” And you’re going to wind up doing that but at least you’re going to go through a couple of steps first [laughs] to explain to the Lord that you’re thankful for what He has already given you.
So, it’s A.C.T.S. Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. This letter to Philemon will show you that intercessory model.
So, let’s read this. It’s a quick one; it’s only a page long, and we’ll look at the way Paul goes through this. You’ll see what a clever salesman he was.
You know, Paul was probably one of the earliest motivational speakers, he invented the personal development industry years, and years, and centuries before guys like Dale Carnegie and Norman Vincent Peale came along. Paul was the very first personal development consultant. We’d call him a life coach today, he was the very first one of these. He was a very persuasive salesman and he had great skill, great talent in all of this. You’ll see that, all those talents, at work as we get into the letter to Philemon.
Now remember, Philemon is a well respected member of the church in Colossae and when Onesimus went to Colossae, he carried both letters, the letter to the Colossians and the letter to Philemon, and they were both designed to be instructive to the Church.
Okay, so chapter—well obviously it’s chapter one because there’s only one chapter in the book.
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
So the letter is coming from both Paul and Timothy.
To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker—also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—
Remember, he’s the one he mentioned at the end of the Colossian letter.
and to the church that meets in your home:
So, from this I believe that Apphia and Archippus have the home in which the church is meeting.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now Paul is going to go into his rapport-building part of his letter. Listen to how he builds Philemon up here and, well, we’d say “sets him up for the kill” but we won’t say that. But here’s how he builds him up, loosens him up, gets him listening.
I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.
Isn’t it interesting in verse 6, just as an aside here, the way you gain a full understanding of the benefits of belief is by sharing your faith. Because, you see, when you have a teacher-student situation, who learns the most? It’s always the teacher, okay? That’s why I do so much teaching because I need to learn this stuff! And so, the teaching forces me to learn it and then I find that not only in the teaching do I understand it, but I also gain a greater understanding. So I get back more than I give which is always a good idea. So, he’s praying that this will happen with Philemon as well.
In verse 7 he says:
Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Now, do you suppose Philemon, he’s got his attention by now? You think he’s listening to see “What’s coming next? This is pretty good so far.” So now he’s going into the logical, the persuasive, part of the letter and he says in verse 8:
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.
Now here’s the deal. Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon’s. Philemon owned a number of slaves, we don’t know how many; many people did in those days. As I told you in our last meeting it was a little different in their economy than in ours and slavery had a little different term. But Onesimus had been a slave of Philemon’s, and he did two things, both of which were capital crimes. In other words, under Roman law he would have been executed for either one of these things. He did two of them. One is he ran away, and the other is, he stole some stuff from Philemon when he did. So he took some stuff and ran away.
And he went to Rome, of all places. It was a huge city, and you could hide there. It was a place where if you were going to steal something and run today, you’d run to Los Angeles or San Francisco, someplace where you could hide and get lost in the city. It was Rome in those days.
But, lo and behold, he gets to Rome and his path crosses Paul’s and he’s intrigued by what Paul is saying. He begins listening and, wouldn’t you know it, he becomes a believer; and as he became a believer, he got to know Paul. He found out about the connection between Paul and Philemon and he approached Paul and said, “Now that I’m a Christian, I need to go back and make this right. Would you help me?”
And so, Paul is writing this letter on behalf of Onesimus, saying to Philemon, “I could order you to do something here, but I’m going to ask you to do it instead, out of love. I’m just an old man and I’m locked up in prison, and so this is just a favor. Would you please?”
And he’s going to get even worse than this.
I love verse 11 because verse 11 says:
Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful
The name Onesimus translates, Useful and so, he’s got several plays on words going here; it could mean profitable, it could mean useful, and it could mean of benefit.
You’re going to see these plays on words used; he’s going to use the guy’s name in the letter to show. He said, “Formerly, he was useless to you because he ran away, and he stole some stuff. You know, that’s not profitable for you, that’s useless. But now he’s become useful to you. He’s become Onesimus to you and so here’s what he’s going to ask you to do.”
This is verse 12:
I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me
[laughs] That’s so good! He says, “You’re not helping me so I could have kept him, but no, I’m not going to do that.”
But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever—no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.
So Paul’s saying, “You know, when he left he was just a slave. Didn’t mean anything. But I’m sending him back as a brother and he means everything.”
Verse 17 now:
So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand.
He wants to make sure he knows he’s doing this, and he says:
I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self.
[laughs] But who’s counting, you know? Isn’t this beautiful? It’s like if somebody passes you the plate and you say, “No thanks, I’ve already had two of them.” And the old mom at the head of the table says, ‘You’ve had three, but who’s counting?” [laughing]
not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit
That word “Onesimus” again.
that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
Isn’t that persuasive though? Isn’t that great? So, he’s built rapport, he’s built Philemon up—told him about how great he is, and what a wonderful addition he is to the family, and how great he’s been for the Body of Christ—and then he goes into his persuasive mode, first with logic, “I could order you to do this because I am your spiritual superior, but I’m not going to do that. I’m just going to ask you to do it, as a favor to me, an old man in chains.”
Then he says, “If he’s done you any wrong,” (Now remember, Onesimus ran away and he stole stuff. We don’t know how much but it must have been considerable.)
In the beginning of the study Bible it says that the history of the letter, it says one of Philemon’s slaves (apparently Onesimus) stole something from him and then ran away and it gives a reference to verse 18. And verse 18 is that one that says, “if he owes you anything or has done you any wrong” and so I guess what they’re concluding here is that Paul wouldn’t have said that unless Onesimus did owe him something.
Now, by the way, before we go on any further here, I want you to go with me to Luke 10:35. And in Luke 10:35, you’ll find another case very similar to this where someone says, “If this guy owes you anything, you charge it to me, and I’ll pay it.”
And, of course, Luke 10:35 is in the middle of the parable of the Good Samaritan. You know the story; a man is travelling along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he fell into the hands of robbers, they stripped him and beat him and left him for dead, and little while later, a priest came by.
The Jericho Road went from Jerusalem to Jericho. It went through a really beautiful canyon and at the bottom of the canyon is the city of Jericho. The canyon itself, the road, the Jericho road was called Adummim which means the Passage of Blood because after Herod had nearly completed the temple, he was down to the point where only the finish laborers—the laborers who do the real finish work and the cleanup, and just make everything look special—so it was the finish up crew.
So about 40,000 stonecutters and other general laborers had been laid off. In those days there wasn’t any unemployment insurance, no benefits for that. All of a sudden they found themselves out of a job, and of course, they never had been paid enough to save up anything, they only got paid enough to live on. And so nobody had any real security in things. And so, the only thing a lot of these 40,000 people could do was to turn to crime to support themselves.
And so this canyon between Jerusalem and Jericho was beset with thieves. They’d hide in the rocks and things. It’s very desolate out there and some of you have been down that old road with me and you know what it’s like down there. The reason it made a good place was because a lot of wealthy people had winter homes in Jericho, including many priests.
Jericho was only twenty miles or so, about a day’s journey from Jerusalem. But you went from an altitude of 3,700 feet above sea level to about a thousand feet below sea level, so you dropped very significantly. And of course, the lower you went the warmer it got. So Jericho is in a beautiful palm desert. In fact, Jericho is called The City of Palms because it’s just a beautiful palm tree desert. Up in Jerusalem it could be snowing, but down in Jericho it would be nice and warm. They grow bananas down there all year round so it’s a beautiful place down there.
But you had to go down this canyon to get there. At the bottom of the canyon there was this short distance that actually is called today, the Valley of the Shadow of Death. A lot of people think that David was referring to this when he wrote his Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; even though I walk down this canyon to Jericho, where all these robbers are and people besetting you, I shall fear no evil for You are with me and Your rod and staff will comfort me.” The Psalm of course—it’s a scary place, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, scary place. And so this place was a scary place.
Okay, so this guy is walking down through there and he gets beset by robbers and they strip him, beat him, take all his stuff, and leave him on the road for dead. A priest walks by because he lives—either he’s going home or just coming back—and he lives down there. And when he goes by he goes across to the other side of the street, just passing him by.
After that, a Levite. Now, what’s the difference between a priest and Levite? Priests are of the Levite family, but not all Levites were priests. Only one family out of the Levites actually held the priesthood. The other two families of the Levites were assistants, servants, if you will, helpers in the temple but only the one family was the family of priests. So a Levite is of the same tribe, not all the way up to a priest, he’s like an associate or an assistant. And he passed by on the other side, and then along comes this Samaritan.
And the Samaritan, of course, you know the story; he stops, helps the guy, gets him dressed, puts him up on his own cart, and takes him up to the top of the canyon where there’s a little hotel there. He drops him off at the hotel, gets him a room. He pays for—I think it was two months’ worth of stay—and he says to the innkeeper the same thing that Paul had said to Philemon about Onesimus, he said, “If he owes you anything else, charge it to my account. Next time I am through, I’ll pay you.” So he wanted to make sure the guy who was robbed gets the finest care and he wants to make sure that he never is shorted anything, he gets everything he needs to become fully healthy, and if there’s any balance after what the Samaritan has already paid, “Hold it on account. I come through here again, and I will, and I’ll stop in and if there’s anything to settle up, I’ll settle up with you.”
So, we know the parable is a story designed to tell another truth, right? The word parable means to lay alongside so it means, I tell you this story because I’m trying to convey this idea to you. And it’s easier to do it in a story. So as we review the parable we discover that the man walking down the road—that’s you and me. We’re walking down the path of life, okay? And along the way we are beset by robbers who strip us, steal all we have, and leave us for dead. That’s Satan, that’s what he does. He’s the one who takes everything we have and leaves us for dead.
A priest comes by, he can’t do anything. The priest represents organized religion which is totally helpless; you can’t get saved by organized religion.
A Levite comes by. If you look at the context of the passage, the priest is the official; the Levite is the lay person. They both represent organized religion, neither of which can help.
The Samaritan comes by. He’s the third one. And he of course, is the model of the Lord Jesus. He comes to us where we are, He binds up our wounds, He clothes us, and He takes us home. He gives us all we need, He pays in advance for all of our care, and He tells us, “I’m coming back again and if there’s any balance due I’ll take care of it then.”
So, I always like to use this parable when I’m talking with a group that believes that the Lord Jesus went to the cross to pay for all of the sins you had committed up to the time you became a believer. Once you became a believer, you were on your own. He only got you there. Now, you’d better behave, and if you don’t behave you could lose everything that He died for so that you could gain.
I always like to go to this parable because, what does the parable say? “If there’s any balance due I’ll take care of that when I come back.” And so, “If there’s any sin left unpaid for after I leave, I’ll make sure it’s paid for when I come back.” In other words, who’s going to pay for all the sin, past, present, future? He is. We’re not stuck with any of the bill, He’s going to pay it all.
The parable has got many good applications to it but this one is the one I happen to like the best; He promises in advance that He’s going to cover the entire bill.
All right. So that’s the kind of same sort of thing that Paul has said to Philemon. “If he has wronged you in any way; if you’ve been damaged in any manner, let me know. Charge it to my account, and I’ll take care of it. Onesimus is not to be held accountable for any of it. If you think he still owes you, I’ll pay it. Never mind that you owe me your very life! [laughs] I hate to remind you, but if you really think that he should pay, then charge it to my account, I’ll pay.”
Now, I can see, if they are reading this in public, I can see the beads of sweat on Philemon’s forehead [laughing] as he’s sitting there listening to this—and in public he’s being challenged here.
In verse 21 Paul says:
Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.
Okay, but here’s the closer:
And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers.
Do you know what he is really saying there? “I’ll be by to check, to make sure; to see what’s really happened.” He’s really sort of sealing up the accountability here, isn’t he, by saying, “I have great confidence in you. I know you are going to do even more than I’ve asked. But by the way, I’ll be by in a little while just to see.”
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers.
And then he signs it with his mark again:
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.
Okay, so that’s the little letter to Philemon. Now, there is tradition about all these, and who knows about the nature of the tradition, but tradition is that Onesimus became a very prominent member of the church in Colossae; that he was in fact forgiven, if you will, by Philemon of all of his indebtedness. The capital offense that he had committed by stealing and then running away was forgiven and so he received his life back, and so everything became fine and Onesimus became a leader in the Church.
But remember the model. Philemon is in the role of God here, Paul is in the role of Jesus Christ, and Onesimus represents you and me. So with that view in mind, let’s look at the Book of Romans 8 and let’s see how well that model fits with what Paul himself describes that Jesus has done for us.
Romans 8 and we’re going to start at verse 28 because it’s hard to get into the middle of this particular passage, and we have a few minutes anyway and so we’ll have time to give it a fairly decent run through.
In Romans 8:28, what we read is:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
There are various translations of this verse, this is a pretty good one. The literal translation actually says, “And we know that God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.” So in the literal translation you have God in an even more prominent, more active role here. God is working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
The real trap in this verse is in the word “love” because, in all the words that Paul could have used—there are four of them in the Greek that he could have used for this word translated love, he uses the most difficult one, the highest form of the word, agapeo. Which means God is working all things together for the good of those who are completely given over to Him. To me, that means more than just the concept of, Jesus loves me, this I know.
To me that means that He is working everything together for the good of those who are yielded in spirit to Him. Not just those who know Him, who know who He is, but those who have accepted Him into their hearts and have submitted themselves or yielded their lives to Him.
We’re promised that, once that happens, that from that point on God works everything together for the good of those people. Everything—doesn’t matter whether it looks good to us or not, it doesn’t matter whether it seems good to us, doesn’t matter whether it seems to be pushing us forward or holding us back.
The one thing we can be absolutely certain of is, God using each event of our lives, working those events together for our good. Because we are—and there’s really an article in this translation that’s missing in the English—we are “the” called, not just “have been called.” How do you know you’ve been called? Well, that’s not what it means. You don’t have to make that decision because we are “the” called. The Greek word is ekklesia—we are the ekklesia. It’s the word from which we translate into church.
Ekklesia means to be called out. And that’s what the Church is, called out from the world. And so when he says, “the called” he means the Church so, you’re that. And is it according to His purpose? Well, some of us you know, could question, am I called according to His purpose? What is His purpose for me?
All you have to do is just turn over to the right a couple of books to Ephesians 2 and we’ll look at verses 6 and 7. What is His purpose for us? What is God’s purpose for the Church?
Ephesians 2:6 and 7 says:
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
That’s His purpose for us. His purpose for us is to raise us up and seat us with His Son in the Heavenlies as a demonstration of the incomparable riches of His grace. Isn’t that amazing? That’s the purpose of the Church.
Now we go through all kinds of stuff, and you can get a book and you can try and discover the purpose for your Church. But there it is, you don’t have to do that. The purpose that God has destined for the Church is to be a demonstration of the incomparable riches of His grace.
This is something very poorly understood in the Church today. Because what is grace, anyway? It’s an unmerited favor; it’s something you get that you don’t deserve.
It turns out that of all the groups of people in the history of the world, the Church is the least deserving and the most blessed of all groups. We deserve the least, we get the most.
You know, we don’t have a four thousand year history of obedience like Israel did. We won’t have a two thousand year (or one thousand year, let’s call it) history like the people in the Kingdom Age will have, of actual working hand-in-hand, side-by-side with Jesus. We are the least deserving of all God’s people and we receive the most. And why? So that we can be a living demonstration, a living model, of the incomparable riches of His grace.
You know, I picture it this way: here’s Abraham and David walking down the streets of gold in the Kingdom, and as they do, they walk by you two. And so, there’s David and Barbara sitting there on a little bench and Abraham and David walk by. As they walk by you hear Abraham say to David, “You know, Dave, I’m not complaining. What we got is really something. I mean, here I’m the father of all the faithful, and here you are, you’re the king, the man after God’s own heart. I mean, we can’t knock it. We can’t complain. But those two—look what they got!” Speaking of you. Because, you see, David and Abraham don’t get what we get, they’re not in the Church. No group before or after the Church is blessed in the manner the Church is blessed.
We are not God’s friends, we are not His confidantes, we are not even His favorite servants. We are the Bride of Christ. We get adopted into the family, we get to rule and reign with Him forever. And why? Because He said so. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Abraham and David, they’re doing fine, they’re not complaining. But they’re not the Bride of Christ. They’re walking down the streets with us. I don’t know exactly what their roles are going to be, all I know is, they are not blessed the way we are.
Now, we were in Romans, right? And we’re trying to get back to Onesimus and Philemon? Who said we’re not going to have enough time here? [laughs] Anyway, that’s His purpose. Now we’re in verse 29:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
And of course we could spend hours and hours on each one of those phrases because it shows the absolute compatibility between predestination and free agency. But that’s not the purpose for which we are here tonight, so we’ll have to put that little tidbit off to another time.
But when you understand the Greek words here in “foreknew”, “predestined”, “called”, “justified” and “glorified” you understand that there is absolutely no conflict between free agency and predestination. Election and agency are absolutely compatible in the context of that passage because the issue is whether you are within the time domain or not. As long as you are outside the time domain (which God is) agency and election are absolutely compatible. You can be making an absolutely free choice even though God knows in advance what your choice is and plans accordingly.
You and I could not do this. We’d want to manipulate; if we knew the future, we’d want to manipulate it somehow. [laughs] Only God can know the future and leave it alone. Because He knows it, He can plan things, He can make a reservation for you six thousand years in advance, knowing you’re going to show up when the time comes. Even though for 5,930 of those years you won’t be born yet, the reservation is still good and the day you are born it is there for you.
But like I said, that’s an argument for a different day, because we are heading for this model between Philemon, Paul, and Onesimus, and so let’s go on.
In verse 31:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
He gave us His Son—what’s He going to withhold from us? I mean, what is there greater than that, that He’s going to say, “I know I gave you my Son, but I ain’t gonna give you my car.” It doesn’t work like that, does it? No, if He already gave us His Son, what would He withhold from us? Nothing.
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns?
Who is more powerful than God that he could override God’s justification? Now, I’ve got to tell you, in the Greek, the word “justified” is dikaioo and it means to regard as though innocent. So if God sees you as innocent, who is a superior power that’s going to overrule that? There isn’t one.
And now, here’s the part that Philemon plays out:
Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Okay, so you’ve got God sitting on the throne. His Son, who He gave for us, is sitting there beside Him. And whenever any accusation is hurled against us, I just see the Son, leaning over and whispering in His Father’s ear, “We’ve already handled this one. You don’t have to pay any attention to that. That’s done; we’ve taken care of it. It’s already paid for, it’s not an issue.”
“Yeah, but how about this?”
“No, we took care of that one too. It’s already paid for.”
“Well, this one?”
And of course, you know who the accuser is, right? And so he’s hurling these accusations and as fast as he hurls them at us, the Son whispers to the Father, “It’s already handled, it’s already taken care of.”
You put this in the legal term and you’ve got the defense attorney is the Son of the Judge, and the fix is in [laughs] and there’s nothing, no charge that can be brought against us because the Son and the Father have already agreed in advance that we’re innocent.
And so, Paul put himself in the place of Jesus, whispering in the ear to Philemon, “I will pay for any sin Onesimus has committed against you”. Only, in the case of Jesus, He can say, “I have paid for any sin that Jack can commit against you.”
That’s the model of intercession. Doesn’t it make that make that little letter a cute one? I mean, it’s just all tucked away there, in one little page—nobody notices it. But it’s this beautiful model of what Jesus is doing now for us during the Church Age. He sits there beside His Father, and as all the accusations come flying into the courtroom, He just whispers in His ear, “Don’t listen to that one. Don’t listen to this. You don’t need to worry about this. We’ve already handled this. This was nailed to the cross with all the others. It’s done, it’s finished. We’ve already rendered the verdict: he’s innocent.”
Isn’t that incredible?