Steve’s sermon, “How to Treat People,” was based on the book of Philemon. He addressed the issue of how easy it is for us as humans to take offense. However, even though we will make mistakes, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to avoid being gracious and forgiving. Noting that Philemon was one of the letters Paul wrote during his period in prison, he added that the letter was written to be aloud to the whole church—like the one that met at Philemon’s home.
In the letter, Paul appealed for Onesimus, who after running away from Philemon had accepted Christ. In verse 9, Paul said as an apostle he could command Philemon to forgive, but was appealing to him on the basis of love. Later Paul says if Onesimus owes Philemon anything, to put it on his account. Paul urges Philemon to take him back and treat him as a brother.
There is no clue in Scripture about why Onesimus ran away. However, Steve said it is fascinating to consider how the slave then encountered Paul, who led him to faith in Christ. “That was God,” Steve said. “That changes everything. It affects the way Paul addressed Philemon; he says Philemon should forgive him. Onesimus probably stole some money on the way out. If you were good to somebody who mowed your grass and he stole a bunch of your stuff, you’d probably say, ‘That’s not right!’”
Encountering this kind of action can make you callous, uncaring and defensive, Steve said. When someone does you wrong and you have a legitimate complaint, how do you forgive? How do you forgive when you’re a good guy and host a church in your home? You don’t deserve to be treated that way. Yet Paul demonstrated Christian maturity, offering to repay any of Onesimus’ debt.
Still, he made a remark that would likely offend many of us, when in verse 19 Paul added, “to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” In other words, the apostle is reminding Philemon that without Paul’s ministry, Philemon would likely still be lost. This wasn’t the kind of insult that many of us would take, Steve said, but reflects a culture that operated in honor and respect. That’s why Paul wasn’t commanding Philemon to forgive, but preferred he show love.
“Consider others more important than yourself,” Steve said. “If you’re struggling in your marriage, consider your spouse more important than yourself for a week and they’ll freak out. Treat that irritating co-worker to lunch.”
While the love of God is a commitment, it should also affect the way we feel. We shouldn’t be defensive but open to embrace others even though we are likely to be hurt. But that is 1,000 times better than giving off a sense of coldness and fear, Steve said. What Paul asked Philemon to do is what Jesus did for us; that is our example. We are supposed to forgive those who spitefully use us and hurt our feelings. That is impossible if it’s left up to us—which is why we can look to God for His help to do this.