Year C – Sixteenth Sunday in Pentecost – Philemon 1-12

Philemon 1-21 NRSV

1 Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

4 When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. 7 I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

8 For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, 9 yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. 10 I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. 12 I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. 13 I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Summary – Paul wrote a letter to a Christian man named Philemon. Philemon had a slave named Onesimus (which means “useful”) who had stolen money from Philemon and then ran away. In God’s providence, Onesimus ends up meeting Paul who was in prison in Rome (v.10). Under Paul, Onesimus becomes a Christian. Paul attempts to reconcile the broken relationship between Onesimus and Philemon, so he writes this letter to Philemon appealing to him to accept Onesimus back, not just as a slave, but as a brother in the Lord (v.16). Now that Onesimus is a Christian he is more “useful” than he was before, and so it would benefit Philemon to accept him back (v.11). Paul also appeals to Philemon to charge the debt that Onesimus owes Philemon to Paul’s account (v. 18-19). Paul sent this letter to Philemon by the hand of Onesimus. Tradition tells us that Onesimus later became a bishop in the Church, proving himself to be more “useful” than anyone had expected.

Insight – The key theme of this letter, is reconciliation – that is, making peace between two parties who were hostile toward each other. Undoubtedly there was tension and strife between Philemon and Onesimus since Onesimus had stolen from Philemon. But Paul, reflecting on the work of the Lord Jesus, seeks to bring peace and reconciliation to a broken relationship. We were once hostile toward God, and at enmity with him, and had accumulated a massive amount of debt of sin, that we could never repay. But Jesus, on the cross, charges our debt to His account, and makes peace between us and the Father, thus reconciling us forever (v. 15). Paul seeks to do the same for Philemon and Onesimus.  This is a beautiful picture of God’s grace in freely justifying sinners.

Catechism – What does Onesimus mean?  Onesimus means “useful.”

Discussion – Discuss “reconciliation”, and apply that to the Christian’s relationship with God. Discuss ways to seek reconciliation with others. Discuss charging the debt to another’s account.

Prayer – Dear Lord God, we praise you for reconciling us to yourself, through the cross of the Christ, and canceling the debt that we owed you. Please grant us grace to be useful to you and others in this life, as we live debt free lives of gratitude. In Jesus name, Amen.

 Submitted by Michael J. Shover

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Year C – Fifteenth Sunday in Pentecost – Hebrews 13:1-16

Hebrews 13:1-16

Let mutual love continue. 2Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. 3Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. 4Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6So we can say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

7Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them. 10We have an altar from which those who officiate in the tent have no right to eat. 11For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. 13Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. 14For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. 15Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

Summary – Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish believers who were tempted to go back to Jewish practices and worship, and leave the new way of Jesus Christ behind. Paul encourages them to keep on believing in Jesus and to not leave the New Covenant Church for the Old ways which were about to perish. He explains to them that Jesus is far better than Moses and the Priesthood, and that the Heavenly Jerusalem is far better than the earthly Jerusalem. In Jesus we have better promises and the fulfillment of all God’s promises.

Chapter 13 focuses on how Christians, who have received an unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:28), should live amongst each other. Christians are to continually live in brotherly love, showing hospitality, remembering those wrongfully imprisoned for the sake of the gospel, living sexually pure, and content with what God provides. Christians should imitate the faith of their leaders, and have their hearts strengthened by the grace of the preaching of the Word of God, and not on sacrificial food from the Temple altar. Rather, our food is from the Heavenly altar, and so we offer sacrifices of praise to God, and we share what we have with one another, in a sacrificial way. For these are the sacrifices that are pleasing to God.

 Insight – Jesus instructed us in Matt 4:4 that we are to not live by bread alone, but every word of God. Here in Hebrews 13:7-10, we have a similar teaching. Paul encourages the Jewish believers to not put too much of their trust in the food they were eating from the altar. The true food that strengthens the heart, is the grace of the true Word of God. Only those who devote themselves to God’s word will receive the benefits of what the altar food symbolized, which is saving grace. When you come to the Lord’s Table, are you coming with an expectation that your heart will be strengthened by the bread and the wine? Or is your heart strengthened by the grace of God’s Word? Show God you believe His Word by offering Him the sacrifices of praise with the fruit of your lips, and with thanksgiving in your heart.   This is what pleases God. Eat, and be thankful.

Catechism – Q. What is the true food that strengthens our heart? A. The Word of God.

Discussion – Discuss the relationship between God’s word and food. What is more important, physical or spiritual food?

Prayer – Heavenly Father, we praise you for sending your Son Jesus to be our true Bread and Wine. Grant to us your Spirit, so that our body and soul would be preserved unto everlasting life, by feeding on the Body and Blood of Jesus in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving. Amen.

Submitted by Michael J. Shover