Philemon: The Nature of Love

This is a sermon I gave at the student ministry of my high school. It may lose a little of the power if not read aloud. 

​            Imagine you’re walking around school, minding your own business when you see someone running down the hall. You look at them and you recognize them and your heart sinks. You hate that person. Maybe it’s the guy who beat you up as a kid. Maybe it’s the girl who slandered you. Maybe it’s the person who you trusted with all your heart and they abandoned you, you trusted them to have your back and they stepped away. Well whoever it is they are coming at you, and fast. You can’t help but stare at them and as you do they lock eyes with you. You look over your shoulder and the only thing behind you is the wall. They’re looking straight through the crowd and at you. They’re waving this piece of paper and shouting your name. They have the biggest smile on their face, and you know they have something terrible planned for you. You start coming up with what you’re going to do, hit them or insult them or something, and you know you are totally in your rights to do so. When they get to you, they just stick the piece of paper out and just say “Before you do anything, read this.” You look and it’s a letter. You open it up and it’s from your pastor, or some important father figure. The letter says that this person you hate has changed and accepted Christ. Your pastor or father figure tells you all this and then, here is the kicker, that you shouldn’t punish them for what they have done to you, at all. They want you to love and forgive that person.

If you have a bible open up to the book of Philemon. Little book in the New Testament. Philemon is a letter from Paul, to Philemon a church leader. Philemon had a slave, Onesimus. Onesimus and Philemon had some kind of falling out and  Onesimus Ran away.  While Onesimus was running he met Paul in prison and met Christ. Paul knows that Onesimus needs to be forgiven by Philemon so he sends him back with a letter. The letter tells Philemon to forgive his slave and accept him back as a brother in Christ. This book isn’t only a letter about forgiveness but truly it is a letter about love. It is about both our love for others and about the love of Christ for us. This book shows us three things about the very nature of Love. Love is never forceful, it gives up its rights, and it is willing to be hurt.

Love never forces anyone to do something. Love will convict. Love will persist. But love won’t force someone to do something. Paul shows this in verses 8 through 10. “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.” Paul is probably the person who shared the good news with Philemon in the first place, so he is asking the elder son to welcome his younger brother back in love. Much like the father in the story of the prodigal son. Look at Luke 15:31 and 32 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ” (Luke 15:31, 32 NIV). Now Paul also knows that this probably isn’t what Philemon wants to do. You see, under Roman law a slave was their master’s property and could be beaten or even killed for running away. Paul wants nothing more than for Onesimus to be well received, and yet he doesn’t simply tell Philemon to do so. Why? Because love is not forceful. Verse 14 “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.” Love ALWAYs has the choice between right and wrong, between love and hate.

The second insight into the nature of love is that love denies its rights. Remember Philemon owned Onesimus and it was entirely in his right to kill Onesimus for running away. Paul is asking Philemon to give up his rights! That’s not fair! Why should he give up his rights and forgive him unconditionally! What is Paul thinking? Who does that? Wait wait wait wait wait wait. Well the answer of course is: Jesus does. Paul is subtly reminding ALL of us that we are all Onesimus and God, like Philemon, has every right to spurn and reject us.  Yet in spite of that, here is where we see a love that gives up its rights for those it loves. Look at 1st Corinthians 13:5-7

“ 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Love doesn’t look out for itself first, it puts others first, and it gives up what it deserves, so that someone else doesn’t have to suffer. Paul loves Philemon and Onesimus enough that he is even willing to take Onesimus’s punishment. Verse 18 “If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”  When we are told to love those who hurt us, to forgive those who wrong us, to take back those who betrayed us, we have two choices. Hold tight to our rights or let go of them. True love lets go of its rights.

Finally true love is willing to be hurt by and for those it loves. Paul tells Philemon in verse 12 “I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.” Paul knows Philemon and Onesimus need to be reconciled, but he also knows the risk of it. Remember Philemon, under Roman law can kill Onesimus without any penalty. Paul knows this and he is opening up his heart to be absolutely broken because if Philemon rejects Onesimus, well that is going to wreck Paul. Paul knows this and tells Philemon “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (Verse 17). Paul is putting the love and trust he has in Philemon on the line. The original Greek biblical manuscripts mention three kinds of love: Eros, romantic love, Philos brotherly love, and finally Agape, God’s love for people. Christ’s love for us, this Agape love, is the kind of love that not only was he willing to be hurt, but he was willing to die, for a world that hated him. Look at Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Christ wasn’t just willing to be hurt, he was willing to DIE! Why? Because that’s what Love does. True love is willing to be hurt.

The bible doesn’t tell us what happened between Onesimus and Philemon, because it isn’t as important. When we love we will face both reactions. We will be rejected and received, ignored and listened to. So the question is will you chose love? Will you chose a love which puts you at risk and which calls you to abandon your rights? Who do you have to be  Onesimus to? Who do you need to humble yourself to and ask for forgiveness from? What relationship in your life do you need to go and mend in love and humility? Now the next question may surprise some of you. I could ask “who do you love enough to be hurt for?” If I did that then I’d be cheating you. No the question I’m going to ask is “who DON’T you love enough to hurt for? Who DON’T you love enough to give up your rights for?” Who is Onesimus in your life?” Because those are the people in your life who you can’t show human love to. No those are the people who to love them it is going to require a love bigger than yourself. This is God’s love, Agape, a transcendent love which is willing to die for those it loves. That is the love we are called to show. I love you guys so I’m not going to force you to do anything, I’m simply going to ask you to show those people some love. Because even if your Philemon right now, we were all Onesimus once.
By TKH Hamilton

Musing on Heaven

This was a piece rejected from a writing exposition at school. My hope is because I took a stance they didn’t think fit their event rather than poor writing quality. I’ll let you be the judge. This piece is meant to be read aloud. 

You know sometimes I wonder what it’ll be like when I’m gone. Not so much for the people down here, cause everything here will keep rolling, on and on and on and on, till there’s no name on the grave stone and no one to remember it. Nah, I’m not worried about here. I’m thinking about where I’m going, cause when I’ve gone, I have gone somewhere else. I’ve really thought about it. I’ve thought about the people I’ll meet and the stories I’ll tell and the stories I’ll hear. More so than that I wonder, just what it’ll be like. If you will join me I wish only to do as Dante did, though perhaps we may skip the inferno and enter into paradise. If I am vague it is to avoid blasphemy and if I am harsh it is only to avoid heresy.

I imagine, the first thing you’d realize is the glory. Greater than standing up on the brightest stage or greater than standing in the greatest city with the tallest of towers. The only way to imagine this glory is if you imagine you’re an ant. Which, let’s be honest, is pretty close to the truth. Cause if you think that you are any more important or noticeable on a cosmic scale than an ant, well then, you have another thing coming. Creation doesn’t know you and honestly, for the most part doesn’t care. Just be glad Someone does. But an ant. Imagine you are an ant. You’re from under the ground and you think you know what big is. That rock is big. That twig is big. Your anthill is your whole world. Maybe you think that ant is important, or that, those ants are special ants. This is your world, the tunnels and your conceptions of size and importance. Then imagine you leave the anthill. You leave the anthill and enter into, Glory. 

You see your conception of size is shattered. The world is colossal. There are things made of metal that twist and clamber upwards. There are the sources of twigs, standing proud and erect in the sunlight. Even that sunlight is tremendous, like nothing you have ever seen, it threatens to roast you under itself. There are these creatures that put you to shame, as they run around and make a terrifying clamor and stick fingers up their noses. These things that don’t know you and don’t even realize that with a single step they could annihilate all of life as you know it. Then there are the bigger ones, who seem to know and don’t care about their even greater powers of annihilation. You have entered into Glory. Take that sense of wonder, and that sense of awe and that sense of splendor and multiply it by itself a million times over and you may taste a bit of what the glory of heaven is like. You see we will be and are just ants, and if we enter into paradise it will be like entering into a playground. We would see Angels with mighty power and all of our conceptions of size and more importantly importance, will shatter. We will be ants, yet there’s more to heaven than just a play ground.  

If you get past the shock and splendor that bombards you initially, then maybe you’ll go and see the places there. There’ll be libraries, filled with truth. In school they teach you that the only true thing is math. Science is only true until someone proves you wrong, and history is always biased. Don’t even get me started on literature, where truth isn’t valued so much as being convincing. Yet here, in these libraries, every book, from cover to cover, is true. Each tells history exactly as it happened, with every ounce of pain and pleasure. With every drop of sorrow and joy. Both for victors and for failures. Truth. All to glorify the One Who Is True. Or maybe you’ll walk in the museums. Filled to the brim with truth as well. Yet more than that, there will be the art. True art of course, truer than the art they teach in schools and universities and universes. Amazing, splendid, wonderful art. Yet, when you walk through the libraries, when you walk through the galleries, you won’t see the names of those who created the art. Because that’s not the important bit. Those people are just that, the created. The art, as any good art does, glorifies the Creator. All the truth and art is to His glory and honor. 

Then perhaps, you might go and meet the people. Oh I don’t know who you’ll meet. Loved ones who have gone before you, and those who came after you. You’ll meet heads of state and the feet of states too. Kings and paupers sitting beside each other. Farmers and philosophers in earnest and honest conversation. Here there are no masters, save one. Time and Death have gone to the other place, and have taken their courts with them. Pain, disease, fear, money, popularity, all ruled beside them here and yet they shall not be there. All those things which enslaved us here on earth will be gone, for they have no power here. If you meander through eternity then perhaps you would notice the people who aren’t there. Of course there will be the obvious ones, the truly wicked and the dastardly. The fiendish terrorists and the despicable despots. Then perhaps you’ll notice those that aren’t so obvious. The secret hypocrites, or the hidden enemies. Yet there will be those that some would be shocked to see that they had been excluded. They were good people, they were helpful and kind people and they are shockingly absent from paradise. Then there will be those who don’t deserve to be there. The people who abused, and those who bullied, and those who held slaves. Yet, if you think this unfair you must realize none deserve heaven. Because the Ruler of Heaven is Perfect, a kind of Perfect like we don’t know here on earth. This Ruler will not tolerate less than perfect, yet here we are. What is it to be human if not less than perfect? Yet, this Ruler, decided to change things. Because HE is the creator and He will not stand to so easily lose His created. He Himself came down, and He Himself in His Perfection, died. He sacrificed Himself to pay the debt caused by our sin. Debt created by our imperfection. You see HE was pierced for OUR transgressions against HIM, HE was crushed for OUR sins against HIM. Thus, the punishment that brought US peace was Upon HIM. By HIS wounds, WE can be healed. Heaven is not for good people, it is for the perfect. It is for those who Christ, the very Son of God, has redeemed and made whole by His punishment upon the cross. Heaven is not for good people. 

The biggest part of Heaven is still to come. The reason for the glory, the reason for the Truth, the reason for the people there. He who sits in glory and is praised by spectacular things that put us to shame as they cry out to Him, “Holy. Holy. Holy.” This is a kingdom and thus there is a King. This is no ordinary King, He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of Lords. He is so great that I could sing his praise for ten thousand years and still have new songs to sing. He is so amazing that I could glorify Him until planets turned to dust, stars burned out, and until galaxies sputtered to a stop, yet there would still be more to glorify. He is a King so great that I don’t deserve to stand in His presence without being annihilated, decimated, and obliterated for my crimes, sins, and transgressions against Him. Yet He paid the ultimate price to win me back from Hell. This is the King of Heaven and of Earth, for His Prince said that a time was coming and was here when He would be worshipped in spirit and in truth amongst all people. From kingdoms to classrooms, from senates to swimming pools, from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high, this King is and will be glorified.

I don’t know what it’ll be like here when I’m gone, but it’ll be in good hands. I know only a little of what it’ll be like where I’m going, but it is spectacular. I know only that I have been redeemed and claimed by a King unlike any other.
By TKH Hamilton