29 Nov 2020


The Maturing Disciples appreciates the body of Christ

Speaker: Ps Daniel Tan
Sermon Title: Biblical Koinonia  
Scripture Text: Philemon 1-25

The basis of Koinonia is redemption in Christ

The implication of Koinonia is Christian relationships

The maintenance of Koinonia is Christian reconciliation

Concluding Reflections

  1. Our faith in Jesus Christ is personal but not private. Do you embrace this statement? If yes, is Koinonia evident in your life?
  2. Have you encountered difficulties in relationships within any fellowships with fellow Christians? How do you think having the same faith in Jesus Christ would make a difference in overcoming these difficulties?
  3. To great length, Paul sought reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. Would you do it too? And how can Hermon cultivate such a culture?
Scripture: Philemon 1-25 (ESV)

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping that through your prayers I will be graciously given to you.

23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, 24 and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers.

25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

TRANSCRIPT

Introduction

A blessed Sunday to everyone. A warm welcome to everyone, to our fourth and final letter from the Apostle Paul.

If you are new to Hermon, this year, we have been going through 4 letters which Paul sent from prison to various churches in Asia Minor.

We began with Ephesians and the key thought we took away from Ephesians was the oneness of the Ecclesia.

From Philippians it was Gospel Partnership and from Colossians which we just finished last week, it was the maturing disciple.

All our sermons can be found on our website www.hermon.org.sg so if you have missed out on any of our sermons or want to re-listen to it, just log on. This is the benefits of technology.

And we have this current pandemic to thank for pushing us to move from just audio recording of our sermons to video recording.

Church, if we think being the church is unimaginative or one-dimensional, I trust that our journey of Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians have convinced us otherwise. The picture painted before us is so rich.

I submit, if we go back and study these letters again, we will unearth more gems and we would be wondering, how come we missed it the previous time.

And even if we pick up the same gem of truth, I sure, our appreciation of its implication and application would be even more varied.

Church, God’s word is rich and deep. And in thinking of what the church is and what she is called to be, I’m sure it will take us forever to exhaust its wisdom.

As I said last week, Hermon is not there yet. We desire to be the church as described in these letters, and we know we are a work in progress.

But I’m confident that as we depend on the Holy Spirit’s empowerment and our corporate desire to move as one, each year as we look back at our shared journey, we will see glimpses of improvement.

We will see that we have taken baby steps towards being more like the body of Christ.

The letter to Philemon may be Paul’s shortest letter, but it touches on one of the most sensitive spots for his listeners.

And as I pondered about a relevant and current illustration, may I share the case which has made headlines in Singapore in the past 3 months.

The case of a former domestic worker, Miss Parti Liyani and the Liew family.

Miss Liyani had been sentenced to 2 years and 2 months in jail for stealing more than $34,000 from the Liew household.

She appealed to the High Courts and on 5 Sept this year, it was reported that the High Courts have cleared her of this charge.

Miss Liyani worked for the Liew family from 2007 to 2016. That’s a period of 10 years and so she must have been a good worker.

Paul tells us that Onesimus may not have been a good worker for Paul says in v11 “formerly he was useless to you”.

Miss Liyani has been acquitted of her conviction. She has been found not guilty.

Paul tells us that Onesimus likely stole from Philemon for in v18, Paul says “if he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.”

Miss Liyani and the Liew family are situated in 21st Century Singapore. Now, we have more humane employment acts that protect both employer and employee.

Philemon and Onesimus were in a far different type of society in the 1st Century. And they were Master and Slave.

Let me ask all of us, how difficult would it be for the Liew family and Miss Liyani to be reconciled?

Now that she has been acquitted, would the Liew Family rehire her, would they consider treating her as a family member?

If we think it is impossible, then imagine what it was like for Philemon and Onesimus?

If we think it is not reasonable in 21st century Singapore to expect reconciliation between Miss Liyani and the Liew family. Let’s appreciate the even wider gap that Paul was asking Philemon and Onesimus to cross.  

Paul’s letter to Philemon was written in a warm encouraging tone, full of agape love and a sense of community. But let’s note the depth and the breadth that Paul is expecting agape love to bridge.

And at the end of the sermon, if you realize that this looks like the picture of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus, you are not wrong.

While we were enemies of God and objects of God’s wrath, Christ died for us. And by his death, Jesus bridged the deepest and widest gap between God and man.

Just before we jump into the letter, may I share the reason for titling today’s sermon ‘Biblical Koinonia’.

Philemon and I pray that the sharing (koinonia) of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ…… 17 So if you consider me your partner (koinonia), receive him as you would receive me.

These are 2 key verses in Philemon.

In v6, speaks of the goal of Paul’s prayer for Philemon. And how he desires that the koinonia or the fellowship of Philemon’s faith would become more active and achieve to a greater degree the results desired.

And in v17, Paul makes it very clear what active faith looks like. Philemon’s koinonia is to receive Onesimus as Philemon would receive Paul.

And the reason why I’ve included the word ‘Biblical’, is because as we will see in the letter, everything is based on the foundation of the shared faith in Jesus Christ.

The basis of Koinonia is redemption in Christ

Most, if not all of us, would appreciate the gap of mistrust, of unforgiveness which now exist between Miss Liyani and the Liew family.

I don’t know about their faith, but Paul does tells us about the faith context that he, Philemon and Onesimus share.

And the fact that they all share this same faith, is the basis of biblical koinonia. Paul begins his letter in v3 by saying, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

This is the commonality that is between Paul, Philemon and Onesimus. Paul uses the pronoun ‘our’ to include all of them.

All of them, whether Jew or Gentile, Slave or Free were dead in their trespasses and sin. Yet, God’s grace has been offered to them through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And so now, we understand that by the blood of Jesus, the wrath of God has been turned away from believers and we are all now at peace with God.

And throughout this letter, Paul continues to highlight their shared connection in the Gospel:

  • I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, – To this God, who has given us both grace and peace, Paul offer his thanks when Paul remembers Philemon in Paul’s communication with God.
  • and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ. – both Paul and Philemon seek to fulfill the purposes of Christ.
  • Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, – Paul’s legitimate authority is derived from the character of Christ not his own. The reference point for both Paul and Philemon is Christ and His instructions.
  • yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— yet, Paul wants Philemon not to blindly be obedient to Christ. But instead act out of God’s agape love flowing through Philemon.
  • 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. – Philemon is to accept Onesimus not just as a human brother but also as a spiritual brother, in the Lord.
  • 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ. – Paul’s earnest request is grounded in their shared faith. In the same Saviour and in the same Master.
  • 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – everything that has been requested can only be achieved by the grace of Jesus that is working in both Paul and Philemon.

We know that the letter to Colossians was read to the same audience as the letter to Philemon and so I’m sure at the back of their minds, they would remember:

Col 1:12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

So who has been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light? Paul a Jew has been qualified not because he is a Jew, but because he has put his faith in Jesus the Son of God.

Philemon a Gentile has qualified also because of the same thing and so has Onesimus, who is a slave.

None of them qualify because of who they are, but all qualify because of whose they are. In Christ, they all qualify. In Christ, they are all saints.

At Communion, one hymn we sing, speaks of this biblical koinonia that we have in Christ. May I share stanza 1, from this hymn Behold the Lamb:

Behold the Lamb who bears our sins away, Slain for us: and we remember:
The promise made that all who come in faith, Find forgiveness at the cross.
So we share in this Bread of life, And we drink of His sacrifice,
As a sign of our bonds of peace, Around the table of the King.

Communion is not done individually. Communion as the name signifies, is observed in community.

The blood of Jesus was shed to birth the church. To tear down the dividing walls of hostility between Jews and Gentiles. To bring them into one body with Christ Jesus as the head.

So in Christ, can a domestic worker and her employer see each other as part of one body? Yes, it is possible because in Christ, the dividing wall of hostility has been brought down.

Jesus Christ is the basis for biblical koinonia.

The implication of Koinonia is Christian relationships

And so we are beginning to move into our 2nd major point of the sermon. That the implication of koinonia is Christian relationships.

With our vertical relationship restored, it must also have an impact on our horizontal relationships.

If you and I say we are Christians, that we have put our faith in Jesus and followed Him. What is the greatest commandment?

I’m sure many of us would be able to say, we can find it in Matthew 22:37-40. Let’s see what it says:

Mt 22:37“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

So we see both the vertical and the horizontal relationships explained. Love God and love your neighbour and on these two commandments depends all the Law and the Prophets.

As we say today, it is 2 sides of the same coin.

The basis of koinonia is Christ and the implication is fellowship.

Many of us take public transport to work. If we go to work or school at a regular time each day, we would tend to meet regular people in our lifts, on the buses or the MRT trains.

After many months, I’m sure we will get to know them a bit. Some we may know their names from the name tags on their bags or files. For some we might also observe their habits – like their fashion sense or favourite colour.  

We may even know the Korean sit-com they are currently watching.

What do we call them? Are they friends? I don’t think we would label them as such. But they are not complete strangers so maybe we would venture to call them acquaintances.

May I say that for some of us, our fellow Hermonites are about in the same category as these acquaintances. We basically see the church as the building, CCKBC.

And this should not be. Church means our fellow Hermonites, means they are family.

So if you are not familiar, the platforms we have for family members to interact are our fellowship groups – Youth, Young Adults, Men’s and Ladies, our Covenant Groups and our bi-annual church camps.

I’ll pause here for us to appreciate the slide before us …..

May I encourage us all to develop family-level relationships. Biblical Koinonia means our faith is personal but not private.

If you regularly come to our Sunday services, family-level relationships means deciding to become our member.

If you are already a Hermonite, family-level relationships means participating in these church wide platforms. (pause)

A related implication of Christian fellowship is that our relationship with our neighbour is not just our own personal business but it affects others as well.

And we see that from the first verse.

Philemon 1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, to Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house

This seems to be a personal letter from Paul to Philemon, so our modern sensitivities would say, this is a private matter.

But what does Paul do? The letter is sent not only from Paul but together with Timothy. It is addressed not only to Philemon but many commentators feel also includes his wife Apphia and Archippus, Philemon’s son.

So a personal matter between Philemon and Onesimus, includes that of his immediate family.

But Paul does not end here, for he says, ‘and the church in your house’. Paul includes in this very personal of matters, the whole church that worships in Philemon’s home.

I submit, the reason for this is that the impact of each Christian fellowship has a ripple effect on the whole church.

What Paul was expecting of Philemon was such a counter-cultural response that Paul felt it needed the understanding and support of the whole church.

Think about it. In the first century, Philemon lost the use of a slave and the price he paid to purchase Onesimus, when Onesimus ran away.

Then and even now, what Philemon was possibly losing is his face, his reputation in the wider society, if he was to accept Onesimus back as a brother without any penalty or punishment.

So Paul in his God-given wisdom was preparing the whole church community to help support Philemon as he responses in a Christ-like manner.

And I’m sure this would have a positive rippling effect on the church.

Now, in case we think that Philemon is a terrible man, we see that Christ-likeness is already evident in his life.

Philemon because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints,

And this to me brings home the point that faith in Jesus and love for the saints cannot be separated.

Philemon was already living out his faith. And Paul was now making it more effective.

Exhorting Philemon that the koinonia of your faith, the sharing of your fellowship should include all brothers in Christ.

May we this morning be encouraged and inspired by God’s Word to model after the church that met in the home of Philemon.

The maintenance of Koinonia is Christian reconciliation

Now, what happens when sinful people are put together? Positively, we say iron sharpens iron. Our rough edges are smoothen as we interact with each other.

But that’s when we are in a positive mood.

In reality many a times, we feel that actually, sinners hurt each other and in some cases, quite brutally.

Yes we are redeemed sinners, but sinners still, nonetheless.  

And so in this letter, we see also that the maintenance of koinonia is Christian reconciliation.

Remember last week, I shared about Paul’s history with John Mark. How John Mark caused such a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas that they went their separate ways in their ministry.

Yet, Paul and John Mark were reconciled.

I hope we have by now appreciated the vast gap that is needed to be bridged if Philemon was to reconcile with Onesimus.

It’s the gap between Miss Liyani and the Liew family multiplied a few times.

Not only does Philemon have the example of Paul and Mark, now Paul initiates reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus by saying in

Philemon 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Paul is taking on the debt that Onesimus owes to Philemon on himself. I’m sure for all of us, we would immediately recall the parable that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan.

Remember, it was in response to a man asking Jesus, who is my neighbour. 

And may I submit, this again brings us to the picture of the Gospel. Jesus took on the penalty of sin that was ours to bear.

And can it be that I should gain, An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be, That Thou, my God, should die for me?

The basis for biblical koinonia is Jesus Christ, the implication is Christian fellowship and the maintenance of koinonia is Christian reconciliation.

So far nothing is said here of Onesimus.  But I would like to say that it must have taken much grace working in the life of Onesimus for him to be seated in Philemon’s home, listening to this letter being read out.

Which runaway slave would return to his master willingly? In those days, it was perfectly acceptable that he be beaten to the point of near death. Onesimus life was totally in the hands of Philemon.

But I’m sure Paul must have been encouraging Onesimus that as a believer, there is now a need to seek reconciliation with a fellow brother-in-Christ.

One especially whom you have wronged.

I wonder, whether Onesimus might have thought many times in the long journey back to Colossae, whether he should just run away and not have to face Philemon.

So we thank God that this letter is preserved for us to show that it is possible for Christian reconciliation on Philemon’s part and also that of Onesimus.

Finally, may I also put the spotlight on Paul. How did Paul appreciate Onesimus?

Philemon 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel

The name Onesimus means useful and he has definitely proven useful to Paul. There has also been close emotional bonding between Paul and Onesimus.

Paul could have done 2 things. Firstly he could have rationalize, I’m so far away and I did not take Onesimus away from Philemon. He is here and he is useful, I can justify that he needs to stay with me.

Secondly, he could say, yes, Onesimus belongs to Philemon and I’ll just send him back and let Philemon deal with him as Philemon sees fit.

Paul did neither of these 2 things. Instead he sends Onesimus back with this warm exhortation, encouraging Christian reconciliation.

There is a verse which is often used at wedding – 1 Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.

Now the context is that of the fellowship of believers. And the verses before explain the love of God for us in Christ Jesus.

I submit, these 7 words are a fitting summary of the letter to Philemon. Philemon, Paul is saying, we agape, we sacrificially love each other because Christ first agape us.

Conclusion

We don’t know how the situation between Miss Liyani and the Liew family will eventually play out.

But if they were all believers, do you think it could happen as how the letter of Philemon did?

What about us here in Hermon?

Might some of us be in a position of Philemon? The Lord wanting us to stretch and go to a new level of the sharing of our faith by offering reconciliation.

Might some of us be in a position of Onesimus? The Lord wanting us to move to a higher level of faith by seeking reconciliation.

Might some of us be in a position of Paul? The Lord wanting us to initiate reconciliation between believers.

Might some of us be in the position of the church in Colossae? The Lord wanting us to support and build this culture of reconciliation.

Church, we have finally come to the end of our pulpit series for 2020. Through it all, we have been introduced to Christ, who is Jesus the Son of God.

We have been told of the vital and significant impact of the Cross and how it has brought forth the Church. 

And finally, what it means for the Christian who makes up the Church. How we should live out our faith in every sphere of our lives.

How it should impact the way we related to each other in the church, the way we relate in marriages, as parents and children and in our society – at work and with non-believers.

May I repeat again this favourite phase of mine which I’ve taken from another Pastor, God’s Word applied changes lives.

May the Holy Spirit convince our heads, convict our hearts and control our hands. 

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, you word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Enable us to walk in step with you. Empower us through the steep mountains and the deep valleys.

Bind us together in your love so that we may be a source of encouragement as we build up the church here in Mt Hermon.

Ps 133:1 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.

Amen.

Reflection questions

  1. Our faith in Jesus Christ is personal but not private. Do you embrace this statement? If yes, is Koinonia evident in your life?
  2. Have you encountered difficulties in the relationships in any fellowship of Christians to which you belong? How do you think having the same faith in Jesus Christ would make a difference in overcoming these difficulties?
  3. To great length, Paul sought reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. Would you do it too? And how can Hermon cultivate such a culture?

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