4 I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5 because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. 6 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. 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL
VERSION ®. NIV®. COPYRIGHT © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by
Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- How can you become more purposeful in being constantly thankful in your prayers?
- If you were to audit your current prayer patterns, how often would you say your prayers are filled with thankfulness?
- What does it mean to look for the graces of God in others? What should we expect to find?
- Thankfulness is possible even when interpersonal relationships are very difficult. What is the context of this letter and how does the situation inform how you think about Paul’s thankfulness?
- When we accuse others, we join in the work of the enemy. What is the functional title for Satan and why does that matter?
- How does God deal with the accusations of the devil (see Zachariah 3)?
- Joy and encouragement are two outcomes to Paul’s reflection on the work of Christ in Philemon. Have you been experiencing this joy lately? Explain.
- What are your key takeaways from this sermon?
- What opportunities have you had to apply your key takeaways?
- How have those opportunities helped you grow spiritually?
Prayer of Thanksgiving
*This transcript is generated from the sermon audio. This document has not been edited for spelling, grammar, or exactness.
…If you can track down a Bible, we have them in the book racks and the chairs in front of you. And we’re going to be in Philemon today. Philemon. In the Bibles that we have here, that’s on page 1032. Philemon…I’m going to read just a brief section here, verses four to seven, and then we’ll pray and we’ll get to work. Philemon. There’s only one chapter. It’s only one page long. It’s on page 1032 in our Bibles, and it reads like this.
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 and the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.
Let’s pray. Lord, as we’ve opened Your word this morning, we’re praying that by Your spirit, through Your word, you would speak to us. We’re praying, Lord, that you would teach us how to be a thankful and joyful people, people who can recognize Your grace, your hand at work in the lives of individuals around us. Lord, help us to discern the grace that you are performing in real people around us and help us to be the kind of church that can be a group that is very, very thankful for Your handiwork. We pray in your name. Amen.
I thought it would be a good idea this morning to kind of bridge the gap between the series that we just finished and the Advent series that we will start next Sunday with a time where we look at this idea of thankfulness. And what we find with the Apostle Paul is this habit that he has of expressing thankfulness in his prayers. And so what we’ll see here, four different things that I want to point out to you this morning. And these are all lessons for us. So he’s an example, and then we’re going to learn from his example. So here are the four different things that he does, how he prays, why he prays, the way that he does, what he prays for specifically, and the outcome of that kind of prayer. So how he prays, why he prays, the way that he does, what he prays for, and the outcome of that kind of praying. Let’s get to work.
HOW HE PRAYS
First off, how he prays. I actually, as I was looking at all the different instances where the Apostle Paul would write a letter to believers and he would pray over them, there’s a part of me that wonders how much of this is hyperbole, because he’s saying things like, I’m always doing this. I’m constantly praying for you. And I look at that and I go really? Like you just do that all the time and there’s a part of me that’s just honest and I look at my own prayer habits and I go, well, I’m nowhere near that. Maybe he’s just kind of going over the top here and just expressing himself in that way. But then the more that you realize, the more that you watch the pattern and the ministry of the Apostle Paul, he’s speaking the truth here. He has a habit of praying for people and when he does that he’s very purposeful in his prayers. So the first thing that you note or should note is that he is praying with this constant thankfulness. Look at verse four. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers. When he thinks about he’s writing this letter to Philemon and he’s saying whenever you pop into my brain, I pray with thankfulness for who you are and what God is doing in and through you. There’s this constant thankfulness. And what I’m noticing then is this is a pattern, this is a habit. This is something that he’s being intentional and purposeful with because I do not believe that you just gravitate into this kind of praying that it’s just like you drift into it and all of a sudden you find yourself always thanking God for everybody. You know what I find in my own heart? And when I observe pastorally the work of the people of God, I see the opposite. I always grumble about you. Every time I think about you, you’re a pain in my this is, this has to be something that we would say I’m going to choose to do this, I’m going to intentionally make this a part of my routine. I’m going to be strategic here because this will not come easily or naturally but Paul is able to do it and I believe that it is a helpful way to grow in the Gospel of Grace. I believe that it’s an antidote to complaining. One of my personal pet peeves complaints, whether my kids are doing it or grown ups are doing it around me, which this is ironic. I’m complaining about complaining which is why I need to apply this message as well. But it just bugs me. It bugs me when people look at the circumstances and they go, oh, I don’t like this or they just have something that they want to grumble about and that just irritates me. I think what Paul is doing here is he’s showing us that’s always a possibility in any circumstance with any people. We’re always going to have opportunities to complain. But what we need to do is train our hearts to practice this activity of thankfulness where we look at the goodness of God in other people and we express that even in our prayers. I was meeting with so not only does it bug me when I hear people do it around me, but nowadays it feels like there’s a lot of complaining with our church. And I was out at the tree farm this weekend helping out, and so I’m working with some of us that are part of this church, and we’re just chitchatting along the way. And I was talking about how right now, because of just the dynamic of the church, it feels like our church is just a big suggestion box. Like, have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought and all these different suggestions are coming in and that’s wonderful. I’m glad you guys are daydreaming about church, that’s great. But then there are also complaints on that as well of I wish we would do this or why can’t we do this? Or Why aren’t you better at this? And all these different things. I was sitting with a missionary a couple of weeks ago right out here in our lobby, and he’s stateside right now with his family, and he was asking me what’s going on with the church? And I’m explaining all these different things and he goes, man, this is wild, because he’s visiting all these churches and he says, right now churches are struggling. Like, they are struggling with attendance and offerings and keeping budgets and things like this. And it’s just a really hard time in the church world. And he’s looking at us and he’s going, what you guys are going through, the growing pains that you’re going through? Yeah, it’s difficult. And he wasn’t diminishing that at all. But he’s saying what a privilege that you guys are in the place that you are dealing with, the problems that you are dealing with. We need to become the kind of church that does that, that we observe God’s at work. So instead of grumbling or complaining about how I wish things were, let’s observe the goodness of God as it is, and let’s learn to be thankful for the many things that God is blessing us with now. Thankfulness, you might think, well, I bet Paul and this guy Philemon, I bet they just had it pretty bet. You know, Paul’s looking at him going, oh, yeah, there’s a lot to be grateful for here, and so I can easily do that. But the truth of the letter, the context of the letter reveals otherwise. Paul is writing to this individual to address a significant issue. He’s going to deal with this interpersonal conflict, this potential for vengeance and hurt feelings and betrayal and animosity and resentment and hatred and things of that nature. And Paul is writing a letter to Philemon to try to encourage him to reconcile to somebody. There’s a slave named Onesimus. If you’re not familiar with this letter, there’s a slave named Onesimus. And in the first century, slavery was a norm. It was something that they had as a part of their economy. And onesimus was a slave under Philemon. And Philemon as a believer, he had a slave. But this slave ran away and Onesimus finds himself in the company of Paul and his ministry partners there, and Onesimus becomes a Christian. And so Paul apparently preached the gospel to him and he received it by faith. He becomes a Christian. So now Paul’s thinking through, okay, what do I do here? What is the pastoral response to this runaway slave becoming a Christian under my ministry? And he goes, I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to send him back. I’m going to send him back to Philemon with this letter. I’m going to send this letter ahead to Philemon and then I’m going to send Onesimus back. And so what Paul is doing is he’s about to deal with this incredible circumstance where he’s inviting people to reconcile, where there could be an awful lot of hurt feelings, an awful lot of animosity there, and he’s encouraging this reconciliation to happen. So Paul is he’s actually, by being thankful, I would put it like this, he’s preparing the way for the request. If he came at Philemon and he said, listen, bud, I heard how much of a jerk you are. Onesimus is with me. He was telling me stories and I’m so disappointed in you. I know you’re a believer in Christ, and what this guy is telling me makes me think less of you. A critical spirit. If he had a critical spirit, which may have been accurate, by the way, he could have accurately said all those things, potentially. But if that was his strategy, how do you think the request would go down the line? It wouldn’t go well, but by being thankful, it’s a tactical move to say God is at work here and I want to join God in the redemptive work that he is performing. So thankfulness is a part of the bigger strategy that we need to recognize if we want to be a part of the work of God in this world, dealing with real people, we have to learn to be a thankful people, observing the ways of God in the real lives of individuals in front of us.
WHY HE PRAYS LIKE THIS
So why does he pray like this? Secondly, why does he pray the way that he does here? And what I’m noting is this is not flattery. Sometimes people can say, man, you are great. You’re like, oh, thank you, that’s wonderful. And then you’re like, but tell me why. And they’re like, I don’t know. You just are. Well, there’s no substance there, right? That’s flattery when somebody gives you a compliment, but it’s for the sake of the compliment and there’s no actuality there. That’s disappointing. Paul doesn’t do that. He’s not saying, I’m thanking God every time I think about you. And then he’s like, but there’s really not much material here. I’m saying I’m thankful for him, but good grief, he’s a pain. No. Paul is sincerely observing things about Philemon that he says, I thank God for this and this. And he names them, look at them, they’re in verse five it says, because I’m constantly thanking God because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. Two things and they’re related. I’m thanking God, first off, because you have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have believed in Him. And I’m thanking God because you have love for all of his holy people. Now these two things, by the way, are true of every believer. These two things that if they’re a sincere believer in Christ, number one, they have faith in Christ. And that by itself is enough to praise God for. So to look at anybody in here that’s a believer in Christ and to go, they have faith in Christ, that can be the substance of your thankfulness. They’re following God. They’ve believed in Christ, they’ve committed themselves to who he is. And then the other part of it is the love that we have for one another. We just finished a series in John, chapters 13 to 17. And what John heard from the Lord, he actually turned into his letters first John, second John, third John. And one of the things that he did was he noted how important love was to real faith. And so his letters, first John, second John, third John, it’s all saying if you love God, it’s going to show up in your love for other people, for other believers, your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. So what Paul is saying here is, philemon, I’m thanking God for these two things. And by the way, these two things are true of everybody that’s a believer, faith in Jesus Christ and love for the people of God, even if they are minimal, they’re there. So we need to become the kind of people who are looking for these things in one another, looking for the opportunity to highlight, I praise God for you because of this. You have faith in Christ and you have love for his people.
Going on a Grace Hunt
Now this is something that I now call going on a grace hunt. And this language is very, very important to me because it came to me through an experience with a friend. And then I began to realize how important it is for life in general and ministry for sure. My buddy was doing courses, he was getting a minor in counseling and he was doing courses at Trinity in Deerfield and also Westminster Theological Seminary. And he was doing this stuff on counseling. And one of his projects was he had to actually sit down with somebody and work through some of the material with them. And he asked if I would do it and we’re good friends. And I said, yeah, absolutely, that’s totally fine by me. And we can do these different things. And actually, because I’m in pastoral ministry and I pay attention to these things, I was able to bring a truckload of junk, meaning I know myself. So I’m going to give you a leg up here. I’ll just offload all the things that I know I struggle with, and we can just kind of dig in there wherever you want. We can kind of work at some of these different things. So I told him all these things, here are the things that have been habitual patterns in my life that are unhealthy and let’s go. And so we’re doing this counseling thing. And what I began to realize was our relationship as the months went on and he’s working through this with me and we’re meeting together, our relationship became incredibly strained. And I was like, what is going on here? This is a friend I’ve known for forever, and we’re both pursuing ministry and doing these different things. And it got to the point where if I saw his name pop up on my phone, I wouldn’t want to answer it. I was like, what is going on here? Later on, we sit down and we so the relationship continues to get worse and worse, and we feel the effects of that. Well, eventually we reconcile. And he writes me a letter, and it says this. He says, Listen, Cor, I’m really, really sorry, because the approach that we took to this whole thing, he said it was kind of wrongheaded. He said, here’s what I was doing, and I recognize that now. I was on a sin hunt. This is his language. I was on a sin hunt when I should have been on a grace hunt. I was looking at your life, and you already gave me all these things that you recognize. And I just kept going and just kept trying to get even more and more and more. And that actually put our relationship in conflict. And he said that’s what I was doing, and I’m sorry. Now, in that story, I’m on the receiving end. But listen, I do this all the time. When I deal with real people, what do I do? Same thing. I go on a sin hunt, and I’m looking at the faults of other people, and I’m highlighting those different things. A part of recognizing how the gospel changes us is to go the other direction and to go when I deal with real people, I’m not looking for their faults. I’m sure I could find them, but I’m looking for the grace of God. I’m on a grace hunt. I’m going to begin to look at other people with that anticipation that I’m going to find the work of God in them, and that’s my ambition. To do otherwise, by the way, is unacceptable.
Don’t Join the Accuser
Our enemy, Satan, he has a functional title. Functional title meaning a thing that we call him, but it describes his activity. A functional title is something like this, like a pastor. That’s a word for shepherding. And that’s what pastors do. They’re supposed to shepherd. A functional title could be Savior. We call Jesus our Savior. That’s a title we’ve identified about him, but that’s also what he does. That’s his functional title. So what’s the functional title of Satan? Revelation, chapter twelve tells us the functional title of Satan is he is an accuser of the brothers and sisters of Christ. Look at it in chapter twelve, verse ten. We’ll put it up on the screen here. This is a future vision that John has about the end. He says, now have come the salvation and the power of the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah. And this is what he’s looking forward to and celebrating. It says, for the accuser of the brothers and sisters who accuses them before our God, day and night has been hurled down. It’s a day of celebration because this enemy of ours who is the accuser of the brothers has been thrown down. See, the enemy looks at us and he’s looking for the things about us that he can bring up and go, look, you’re a mess. One of my favorite passages in a counseling setting is actually Zechariah, chapter three. And in Zechariah, chapter three, it’s a vision about Joshua the High priest. And Joshua is standing there and he’s filthy, he’s covered in dirt, head to toe. And he just looks sullen, he looks upset. And Satan is right there beside him accusing him. Now? What is Satan doing? Satan is actually, in this case, telling the truth. You are dirty. And he is. And Joshua the High Priest is standing there feeling the guilt and the shame and the accusation. But the Lord rebukes Satan and the Lord makes provision for Joshua the High Priest, to be taken out of his filthy garments and to be clothed in white linens and have a clean turban placed on his head. In other words, God is saying, I’m fully aware, I’m fully aware of the mess that this individual is, but I’m making provision for him. That’s the good news of the Gospel, that God looks at us in all of the sinfulness that we commit and all the things that make us unfit to be in the presence of God. And Satan is standing there going, look at you dude, you are a mess. How dare you stand in front of people and share the good news of the Gospel. And he’s looking at all of us and he’s saying those words of accusation and he’s got real things that he’s bringing up. And we’re like, yeah, that’s right, that is me. And God says, I’m closing your mouth because I know Satan, you cannot speak these words of condemnation over them. I am going to clothe these individuals in my righteous garments, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. I’m going to make them fit to be in my presence. I’m going to do what’s necessary for them to be with me. And yes, Satan, you are right, they are dirty, but I’m making them clean. That’s the good news of the gospel. We believe in Jesus Christ and we receive the righteousness that he alone can perform. We look at our fallenness and our brokenness and our sin and we can acknowledge that’s true, I am filthy, but God has made a way for me to be right. He has clothed me in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He has put the white garments of the Lord Himself on me. And so when God looks at me, he sees the work of His Son and that’s good news. So we want to be the kind of people who, when we’re praying, we’re observing the grace of God and we’re looking at each other going, God’s at work here, and I’m going to unearth that. I’m going to look for that and it’s there. If they’re a believer in Christ, they have faith in Christ, they have love for the brothers and sisters, and I’m sure there’s a whole lot more that I can bring before God with thankfulness on account of his work in them.
WHAT DOES HE PRAY FOR?
Third, what do we pray? We pray with thankfulness. We identify these different things, but what do we pray for? Look at verse six. 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. Kind of a confusing sentence and it’s been translated different ways, but essentially here’s what he’s saying. I pray that your understanding of Christ would deepen. I’m praying that your experience of Christ would become effective so that you would live your life in a way that’s pleasing to Him. That’s the shorthand for it. He’s looking at Philemon and he’s saying, what I’m praying for is that the thing that we share together that commonality in Christ becomes so prominent in your life that you actually live out your faith, including how you’re going to deal with Onesimus when he gets back. I’m praying that the gospel would become so profound that it would shape the choices that you’re making. That’s how we pray. As believers, we ought to be thinking about one another going, we don’t just want to come to church and sing a few songs and listen to a dude talk and then go away and give no consideration to the way of God. We should be praying, let the gospel become so profound and so real and our understanding of it so deep that we go away from here and we actually do interpersonal conflict different. We show up to work tomorrow and we’re good news people. We don’t just pretend on Sunday, but we actually become what we’re talking about. We become the good news people that show up and we do our job well and we’re a blessing to work with and those sorts of things. And he’s saying, that’s what I pray for, for you. That’s the kind of prayer that we should be offering up. We should be praying so phil. He wrote up a little thing for his small group and this is something that all of us should be doing when we’re listening to a sermon. We’re going, what are the key takeaways that God wants me to be aware of from this sermon? And then throughout the course of the week, where are the opportunities that God is giving me to practice this? So I believe that God’s at work and his spirit’s speaking through his word and I’m going to expect that he’s going to highlight one thing. Okay, what did Core say this week? Here’s my big takeaway now. Where are the opportunities for me to actually live this out and we begin to live in this way that recognizes the answer to this prayer. We actually want our understanding of Christ to become so deep and so profound that it shapes how we live. There’s another prayer in the book of Colossians, and this was almost where we were this morning, but they’re parallels, they’re very similar. And I’m going to show it to you on the screen here. It’s the same dude praying in the same way, but he’s a little bit more clear on this point here in Colossians, chapter one. So he prays like this. For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we’ve not stopped praying for you. Again, that continual prayer, you’re always on my mind. I’m praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Here’s why verse ten. So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work growing in the knowledge of God. So he’s praying for another church in a similar way and he just makes it clear here’s what I’m praying for, that your understanding of the will of God would be actuated in your life. You would actually come to believe it and go, okay, I’m now going to live my life in a manner worthy of the Lord so that I’m producing good works, the fruit of a life committed to the things of God. That’s how we pray for one another. That’s how we pray for ourselves. Lord, would you help us to come to see the beauty of what Jesus Christ has done as so significant that it shapes everything that I do, every single thing that I do this week?
THE OUTCOME OF THIS PRAYER
Well, the outcome of this kind of prayer, we see it here in the final verse, in verse seven. When we pray in this way, it’s interesting because we actually get a benefit from it. In verse seven, he tells us about an experience on the inside. He puts it like this your love, Philemon, your love has given me great joy and encouragement. I’m praying for you and I’m observing the work of God in you and I’m praying that that would increase that your knowledge of Christ would increase and you’d share more and more and living in a way that’s pleasing to Him. But now what I’m feeling is joy. I see grace in you and I experience joy and encouragement. Now, when we begin to pray like this, when we actually take to heart the things that we’re talking about, what we’re doing is we are experiencing the benefit of the gospel and we will begin to pray very purposefully for one another and for the goodness of God. And then we’ll find ourselves walking around joyful, not bitter, not resentful, not upset, but we will find ourselves being joyful because we will be observing the work of God in real time. So again, we need to pray continually with thankfulness. We need to have the lenses of looking for the grace of God in other people being on a grace hunt. We need to be praying that the reality of Christ would become more profound in each of us. And when we find it, we can expect God is going to fill us with joy and encouragement and refresh the hearts of the Lord’s. People, let’s pray right now.
Lord, we thank you for Your ministry to us. We thank you for Your patient work with us, that you are making us more like Your Son. And Lord, as you’re doing that, would you help us to be thankful people, even in the way that we pray? Help us to look on brothers and sisters in Christ with a gratefulness for them and a readiness to find the goodness of God in them. Help us, Lord, to discern those things and then fill us with joy because of those things. We pray in Jesus name. Amen.