Philemon is a pretty amazing story of Paul discipling a brother, Philemon, in how to live out an aspect of the gospel practically. He says, among other things, that Philemon should rejoice over a “run-a-way” slave who probably stole from his master…because he crossed paths with Paul and now was a Christ-follower. Tons of lessons bubble up from the text. We ought to rejoice over the salvation of an enemy. We ought to serve and honor God above all else and pursue His agenda as priority. When we fail and sin against another, we should repent in humility and trust in God’s grace (Onesimus).
Another nugget presents itself in verse 14: “but with out you consent I did not want to do anything [that is, keep Onesimus, your slave, with me to minister to me and chalk it up to you being a brother and assume you would want to do the right thing], so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”
In this verse, we are confronted with the importance of heart motive. If we do something to please me or because of peer pressure…even if it is a good thing, it is not righteous. If we feel guilty and therefore do a good “act” we are still not acting righteously.
God looks on our hearts. WOW! I know many people who say that as if it were comforting… “I may not do right, but God knows my heart” they may say! Well, that terrifies me more often than it brings me comfort. I know how to DO the right things…but sometimes I do them without the right motive. I may correct a person out of a desire to help myself more than to help them. I may do charitable deeds for more of how it makes me feel than for how it reflects Christ or serves the other person. These actions are then, in effect, wicked in God’s sight because they are right things done by compulsion or with wrong motives.
It sometimes terrifies me that God knows my heart…because as much as I know my own heart…it is sometimes wicked. Not always…but sometimes.
Paul seeks to disciple Philemon in this letter. He is not concerned with what is right. He is not concerned with the ability to do what is right. Paul is concerned with Philemon WANTING to do what is right of his own free will.
That requires heart surgery!
Friends…this letter encourages me BECAUSE of two things. One…God is at work on my heart. He is changing, softening, crushing, and rejuvenating it. Second…God graciously saves me KNOWING my fits of wickedness and strongholds of selfishness. The Gospel reminds me that it is not my good works that provokes God’s goodness toward me. His goodness toward me proceeds from His nature which is completely good and gracious, and merciful.
Today…don’t just do good. Beg God to help you to want to do good and when you sense that your heart is not in it, ask God to change your heart rather than trying to justify your wickedness as somehow righteous.