Our Persistent Compassionate God.

2 Chronicles 35-36, Philemon 1

The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy. 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 ESV

The days of the kingdom of Judah are quickly coming to an end. In spite of the reigns of kings like Hezekiah and Josiah, the downward spiral of the kingdom continued. The unfaithfulness of the people became increasingly evident. Even the reforms of Josiah would not prevent the inevitable spiritual decline of the people. While Josiah had proven himself to be a good and godly king, he too failed to fully trust God. He had gone out of his way to reestablish the proper worship of God, reinstituting the Passover ceremony. But when he found himself facing a possible threat from the Egyptians, he took matters into his own hands and refused to listen to the words of God. His stubbornness and rebellion results in his own death. From there, things went downhill fast. Josiah was followed by his son Jehoahaz, but his reign would last only three months. He was deposed by the king of Egypt and replaced by his brother, Jehoiakim. He would be defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and taken captive. Jehoiachin replaced him as king of Judah, but his reign would last a mere three months and ten days. He too would be taken captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. Zedekiah, his brother, would replace him as king. But “he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord, the God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13 ESV). And all during this time, God had been sending His words of warning and calls to repentance through the prophets. He had repeatedly sent men like Obadiah, Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk and Jeremiah. These men had been His ambassadors and spokesmen, delivering His message to the kings and the people of Judah. They warned of things to come. They called the people to repentance. They expressed God's desire to restore them if they would only return to Him. But rather than listen, the people mocked God's prophets, “despising his words” spoken through them. They scoffed at these men, rejecting their messages, “until there was no remedy.”

What does this passage reveal about God?

God persistently, compassionately gave His children opportunities to return to Him. He begged them to repent. He warned them of what was going to happen if they refused to turn from their wickedness. He gave them ample proof of His power and goodness when they did things His way. But they just couldn't seem to trust Him. Even the good kings each eventually ended their reigns on a sour note. They started well, but ended poorly. But God's compassion never failed. Jeremiah the prophet would write of God, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV). When reading these closing chapters of 2 Chronicles, we must remember that they were written to the people of Judah who had just recently returned to the land of promise after having spent 70 years in exile in Babylon. They had been allowed to return to the land, in spite of all they had done for generations. The chronicler had spent chapter after chapter reminding them of their less-than-flattering history as a people. He had made it painfully clear that their fall had been their own fault. But he had also gone out of his way to make sure they understood their return was undeserved. They were back in the land, not because they had done something to deserve it, but because God was merciful, loving and faithful. The chronicler closes his book with a reminder of the most recent events in the history of the people of God. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up”’” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23 ESV. God had done a miracle. He used the king of a pagan nation to return His people to the land. Cyrus would not only decree that the people of Judah return to the land and rebuild the Temple of God, he would fund the entire operation. God made that happen. God was faithful to keep His Word and restore His people to the land He had promised to Abraham all those years ago.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Man is inherently unfaithful. Even those who have enjoyed the blessings of God and been the recipients of His power and presence can find themselves refusing to live in faithful obedience to Him. In spite of His goodness and grace, we tend to return the favor with a stubborn determination to do things our own way. We are rebellious by nature. The prophet Isaiah reminds us, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 ESV). All of us have sinned against God. All of us are guilty of open rebellion against a holy and righteous God. But in spite of us, God provided a plan to redeem us. He sent His own Son to die in our place and satisfy His own just demands that someone pay the penalty due. None of us deserved it. None of us had earned it. It was the gracious, merciful gift of a loving God. Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). Like the people of Judah, we must be reminded of God's amazing love and mercy, showered on us in the midst of our disobedience, while we were living as slaves and captives. Jeremiah knew of the compassion of God and he tried to let the people of Judah know that God would never let them go completely. “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Lamentations 3:31-32 ESV). In spite of us, God just keeps loving us.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

In the story of Philemon and Onesimus, we have a picture of God's amazing love, forgiveness and compassion modeled in a real-life scenario. Paul was writing to Philemon, who was a Christ-following slave owner. No where in the text does Paul speak against slavery. It was a part of the cultural context in which the Christian in his day lived. Paul neither condoned or condemned it. He did not address the moral, ethical or spiritual implications of slavery. But he did encourage his readers to treat those who found themselves living as slaves in a different way. Paul's desire was not to revolutionize or change the institution of slavery, but the hearts of those involved in it. Onesimus, a runaway slave, had become a believer, probably through Paul's ministry. He had been ministering to Paul during his imprisonment in Rome. But Paul knew that Onesimus needed to make things right with Philemon, his master. So he appealed to Philemon to accept Onesimus, not as a guilty, runaway slave deserving of punishment, but “more than a slave, as a beloved brother…both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:16 ESV). Paul infers that the relationship between these two men had been radically changed because of Onesimus' acceptance of Christ as His Savior. While he was technically still a slave, according to the laws of the land, Onesimus was now a brother in Christ. And in reality, Paul, Philemon and Onesimus were all slaves to Christ. They all had a new Master. Paul's appeal to Philemon's compassion was based on the compassion shown to each of them by God through Christ. Elsewhere Paul would write, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV). We are to love as we have been loved. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. We are to show compassion to the same degree that we have received it from God Himself. What a difference it would make if we were able to live this out in everyday life. What a testimony we would have to the world around us if we could model the compassion, love, mercy and forgiveness of God in our everyday relationships. 

Father, help me to fully grasp the magnitude of Your amazing grace in my life. Show me how to express that kind of grace to all those around me, not just because they deserve it, but because I have been the recipient of it from You. I want to love like You love, forgive like I have been forgiven, and show compassion in the same You have shown it to me. Not based on the other person's merit, but simply because You have called me to do so. Amen

Salvation: A Game Changer.

Philemon 1

It seems you lost Onesimus for a little while so that you could have him back forever. He is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, especially to me. Now he will mean much more to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord. – Philemon 1:15-16 NLT

Philemon was a believer and a slave owner. Onesimus was a believer and a slave. According to the laws of Colosse, Onesimus was the property of Philemon, and yet he had run away. In God's divine providence, this runaway slave had somehow ended up in Rome, come into contact with the apostle Paul, and came to faith in Christ. Paul, who happened to have had a long-standing relationship with Philemon, Onesimus' master, knew it was necessary for Onesimus to return home and make things right with Philemon. So he sent this letter along with Onesimus to help prepare Philemon's heart and pave the way for the restoration of their relationship. But Paul was looking a change in their relationship that would reflect the change that had taken place in both of these man's hearts. They were no longer the same. Yes, Philemon was still a slave owner, as were a good portion of the people in that day. Technically and legally, Onesimus was still a slave, and likely worthy of punishment for having run away. Interestingly, Paul spends no time addressing the issue of slavery, but simply calls these men to recognize their new relationship as brothers in Christ. Paul reminds Philemon that Onesimus "is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother" (Philemon 1:16 NLT). While legally, Philemon had every right to view and treat Onesimus as a slave, Paul emphasizes that their relationship had a new and more important dimension. They were brothers in Christ. They shared a common faith in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Paul had earlier written the Galatian believers, "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28 NLT). He was not saying that these distinctions no longer existed, but that their mutual relationship with Christ altered them in such a way that they would never be the same again. Within the body of Christ, the distinctions and lines of differentiation went away. Faith in Christ was the great leveler. Rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – these earthly distinctions were trumped by a common bond in Christ. From a worldly perspective, Onesimus was still a slave. But from a heavenly perspective, Philemon was obligated to see him first and foremost as a brother in Christ. Their mutual faith in Christ was expected to change the way in which they now related to one another. In place of revenge and judgment, Philemon was expected to show mercy, grace, and brotherly love. He was expected to view Onesimus not as a runaway slave in need of punishment, but as a brother in Christ in need of encouragement.

It's fascinating to see how Paul handled all the different kinds of relationships in his day. There were so many dividing lines within the church. Race, gender, economic status, social standing, education – these all played a role in the society of his day – and Paul saw how they had become points of contention and division. They even threatened the health and vitality of the church. As people from all walks of life came to faith in Christ, they found themselves in fellowship with people who were unlike them and with whom they shared nothing in common – except their faith in Christ. Masters found themselves attending church with their own slaves. The wealthy were suddenly forced into regular and intimate relationships with those of an entirely different economic status. Men found themselves worshiping side by side with their wives. Faith in Christ had changed everything, for everyone. Paul told the believers in Corinth, "Are you a slave? Don't let that worry you--but if you get a chance to be free, take it. And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ" (1 Corinthians 7:21-22 NLT). The important thing to Paul was notyour circumstances on this earth, but your status from God's perspective. In God's way of thinking, even slaves were free, and free men were now slaves to Christ. The primary goal should not be to try and change our earthly circumstances, but to recognize our new position in Christ. That's why Paul told the Corinthian believers "Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you" (1 Corinthians 7:17 NLT). Freedom is not found in seeking release from slavery, but in Christ. True riches are not of this world, but of a heavenly, eternal nature. Gender or social status does not provide us with worth or value, only a relationship with Christ can do that.

Paul encourages Philemon to accept Onesimus back, not as a runaway slave, but as a brother. He challenges Philemon to recognize the value of this man as his brother in Christ, not as former property. Which is why Paul tells Philemon that Onesimus will have much more value to him now than ever before. He is more than a slave, he is a fellow child of the King. Coming to know Christ changes everything. It may not change our earthly circumstances, net worth, work conditions, economic status, social standing, or perceived value. But it can and should change every one of our relationships because we are no longer the same. A redeemed slave is totally new slave with a new Master and new outlook on life. A redeemed wife is a radically different wife with a new capacity to love. A redeemed husband is to be a drastically different one than he was before. A redeemed employer is a remarkably different individual with a new perspective on leadership. A redeemed son or daughter is a refreshingly different person with a new outlook on the family. Faith in Christ changes everything. It changes lives, alters relationships, improves perspective, transforms hearts, heals hurts, destroys barriers, and encourages unity.

Paul's greatest desire was for Philemon and Onesimus to be restored – not as slave and owner, but as brothers in Christ. He knew that these two men now had something in common that was going to radically change their relationship with one another and impact the world around them as they lived out their mutual faith in Christ in the circumstances of their daily lives.

Father, we have been radically changed because of the saving work of Christ. And while our earthly circumstances may appear to be the same, everything is different because of what You have done within us. May we live as changed people, not because our circumstances have changed, but because we have the capacity to live differently in the midst of them. Amen.

A New Kind of Freedom.


…that you would have him back forever. – Vs 15

At one time a slave, now a brother. Once a runaway deserving death, now a repentant believer deserving of forgiveness. This is an incredible story of God's sovereignty and love. It reveals the way in which God works in the lives of men, behind the scenes, orchestrating events in such a way that the results are truly amazing.

Here was a slave named Onesimus, who had run away from his Christian master, Philemon. In his travels, Onesimus ends up in Rome. As "fate" would have it, he somehow crosses paths with the imprisoned Paul. The result of this "chance" encounter is that Onesimus the slave of Philemon becomes Onesimus the bondslave of Jesus Christ. He is free in Christ. He is forgiven by God of all his sins. He even begins serving Paul in his imprisonment. But Paul encourages him to return home to his master in order to restore that relationship. The amazing thing is that Onesimus agrees, knowing full well that he faces possible death as a runaway slave. It is interesting that Paul does not write a stinging criticism against the evils of slavery, but appeals to Philemon's Christian sensibilities. He asks Philemon to view Onesimus not as a returned slave, but as a repentant brother. What he had once lost, he has now gained back, but with more value than ever before. Paul says Onesimus is "no longer a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother" (Vs 16).

Paul even asks Philemon to consider God's hand in all of this. That God was behind all of this in order to give back to Philemon something of greater value than he ever had before. Paul says, "for perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that ou would have him back forever" (Vs 15). In other words, that Philemon now had gotten back more than a slave, but a brother in Christ – a relationship that would last for eternity. Philemon used to own Onesimus as a slave, but had lost him. Any value he had once had went out the door when Onesimus left. Now he had walked back in the door, but his value had significantly increased. He was now a fellow believer – a Christ-follower.

God had transformed this runaway slave. He had redeemed him just as He had Philemon. They were equals in Christ. As Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28

God had worked a miracle in the life of a slave with a bounty on his head. Now Paul was asking his former master to accept him as a brother in Christ, to "accept him as you would me" (Vs 17). What a fantastic story of God's grace that extends to all men in every situation. What an unbelievable picture of God's love that reaches us wherever we are. Onesimus had run away from Philemon, but he could not run from the love of God. God found him in Rome and somehow placed him in the path of another man who was little more than a slave to the Roman government, chained and restrained, robbed of his freedom. But through Paul, Onesimus would discover true freedom in Christ. Slavery, chains, imprisonment, bondage – none of these things could prevent a man from experiencing the kind of freedom Christ offered. Onesimus learned that his ultimate freedom had nothing to do with an escape from the chains of slavery, but from his bondage to sin. So even if he had to return to his former life as a slave, he would be free in Christ. Free to serve his master with a new heart. Free to love his master with a selfless, sacrificial love that expects nothing in return. Free to express his newfound freedom in Christ in a thousand ways, in spite of any earthly shackles or limitations he may face.

We don't know what Philemon decided to do. Tradition says that he freed Onesimus and this former slave went on to become a minister and later bishop of the church at Ephesus. But whatever happened, we know that Onesimus was no longer the man he once was. He had been released from his slavery to sin and was now free to serve Christ in whatever circumstance he found himself.

Father, thank you for the freedom you have given me through Christ. That you for reminding me that it is not a freedom from circumstances, but from slavery to sin. I no longer have to allow my circumstances to control and manipulate me. Yet I do. If things do not go the way I think they should or if I find my circumstances less than appealing, I can easily become frustrated, angry, or even depressed. And when I do, I only reveal that I have become a slave to my circumstances, allowing them to control my responses. Father, help me to live like a free man no matter what is going on around me. If my job is not going like I would like, let me live above it, freely sharing my love and rejoicing in Your grace. Let me see myself as more than employee, but as Your servant. Let me see my circumstances as opportunities to trust You and serve You. Because I am free to do so in You. Amen