3 Things You Can Do When You Hit a Crossroads
By Ben Lowry
Philemon was a wealthy man of influence who had come to faith in Christ as a result of apostle Paul’s ministry. While Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he met Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave. Philemon is confronted with a crisis that turns out be a crossroads of discipleship when he finds himself standing face to face with Onesimus, a man he might have called his enemy. Paul, however, is asking Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother.
This is a compelling story to me because I’m Philemon, standing at a crossroads of discipleship, pulled in one direction down a broad path by what I want to do, what I feel like doing, and also pulled in the opposite direction down a narrow road by the love of God and what He wants and wills for me.
Read Philemon 17-25. There are three ideas that I think Paul hopes will shape our thinking when we’re standing at our crossroads of discipleship.
1. Consider who your partners are.
If I were Philemon, I would absolutely be annoyed with Paul at this point. Paul is totally meddling in Philemon’s personal affairs! If I’m Philemon I’m thinking, “This is between Onesimus and me! He owes me what he stole from me!”
But Philemon, I don’t think, had that kind of response. So, why does Paul get away with this? The answer is tucked away in verse 17: “If you consider me your partner … ” So, Paul is able to get away with this interference because he and Philemon were “partners in Christ.”
What is a partner in Christ? A partner in Christ is someone who you know is chasing down the same dreams and the same goals in Christ Jesus as you. A partner in Christ is a friend who will oppose you and call you out of yourself and back to your senses for Christ’s sake. It’s that person who’s not afraid to tell you not to send that text, not to linger in that place, not to post that comment to social media. It’s that person who cares enough to point you toward God’s will even when you don’t want to hear it.
2. Second, be mindful of God’s love towards you.
Paul, in verse 18, says, “If he has wronged you at all or owes you anything, charge that to my account … I will repay it … ” This had to be a little shocking to Philemon, who I’m sure was hoping to extract from Onesimus everything he had stolen from him. I can imagine Philemon thinking, “Who would willingly sign up to pay the debt of guilty person, a renegade, a runaway slave?” Do you see what Paul is doing here? Who would pay a debt He did not owe? Who would willingly sign up to sacrifice himself in order to pay the ransom for a runaway, renegade slave? How about Jesus! And how about the Father’s love for the world, that while we were yet sinners, He sent His Son to die for everyone in it. Paul is modeling God’s love within the real-life circumstances of Philemon’s crisis so he can remind him of the way God has loved His own runaways.
3. Be ready to show what you know.
Paul reminds Philemon that, in Christ, we’re called not only to receive grace but to extend the grace we receive to others. Then he says that he’s so confident that Philemon’s next step will honor the Lord, he believes Philemon will do “even more” than he’s already said.
Most scholars believe that Paul is implying that Philemon would/should formally and legally grant Onesimus his emancipation, his full freedom. “Cancel the debt he owes you, Philemon, AND grant him full freedom and a new identity.” That’s forgiveness. That’s how God forgives you. And that’s how God would have us to forgive one another.
At the crossroads of discipleship, did Philemon restore his relationship with Onesimus? Did he grant him his freedom? Maybe it’s appropriate that we don’t know what path Philemon chose because maybe Paul is meddling with us now. Which path will you choose? Find a partner in Christ. Join an LCC group. Give someone permission to meddle with your life. Let them remind you of how God loved the world, and how He loves you personally and deeply. They’ll help you SHOW what you KNOW, because the love God pours INTO you, He pours that it may flow THROUGH you to those around you who need it most.
Ben Lowry is an LCC guest speaker from the Dallas/Fort Worth area.