Last Sunday I made an audacious claim. I argued that the
crux of the letter we know as Philemon was verse 11, “Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me,” my point being that perhaps Philemon had either overlooked Onesimus or had simply categorized him with other servants of little or no value. When one is treated as useless, one often feels useless. When one feels useless, often one acts as though they are useless. Perhaps Onesimus ran away and found himself in Paul’s company in Rome precisely because he had been treated as useless, believed it, and lived into it.
Paul’s experience with Onesimus was just the opposite and Paul entreated Philemon to take another look, not at a servant, but at a brother in Christ. Onesimus had great value to Paul and as such would have great value to Philemon.
I made an audacious claim that verse 11 was also the crux of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus takes those who are made to feel useless in the eyes of the world, of course, unless they have the ability to consume and drive the economy, and not only makes them useful, but precious. Stop and think about that for a moment. Not only do you have value in Jesus’ eyes, you are precious to Him. His sacrifice was on your behalf.
Sunday’s audacious claim was made in the name of evangelism. The invitation was to believe Jesus, not to believe in Jesus, but to believe Jesus when he sees us as precious in his sight. In coming to the Lord’s table, the invitation was for us to see ourselves as Jesus sees us.
There is also a discipleship component to Philemon verse 11. If we are of value to Jesus and the kingdom of heaven, then that value will translate into a gift for ministry in the kingdom. If we say we have no gift and are of no value to the kingdom, we are, in effect, refuting Jesus! (Don’t refute Jesus.) The task for us is not to argue with ourselves about our gift for ministry. It’s to do the hard work of discovering the gift for ministry, then inviting Jesus to put that gift to work in the kingdom. Sometimes it’s a no-brainer, but often it takes discernment and courage.
How are you of use to Jesus? What gift have you been given for ministry? Where is Jesus calling you to labor in the mission field? Why have you resisted the call?
On the heels of these questions, Sunday, from Luke 15:1-10, we will discover that “The Truth Hurts.” But naming and owning the truth is a key to growth in grace and faith.
See you Sunday,
PS—In preparation for our celebration of Ruth Bronson’s life and the legacy gift made on her behalf to Ruth’s Pantry at Project Suppertime, I would love to hear some stories/memories of Ruth. Please either email them to me or jot them down and give them to me Sunday. Thank you.
To respond directly to Pastor Paul, email him at email@example.com, or contact him at 816-724-0080