Berlin Immanuel Church gathered on Sunday, October 29, continuing the meditation on relationships through the book of Philemon. The sermon’s main passage was in verses 15-16, speaking of the importance of seeing God’s bigger purpose and plan he is working in our lives when we are in the place of suffering and pain.
Onesimus acted on his own will when he ran away from his master, he was not kidnapped, however Paul says that he was separated. Paul sees God’s invisible hand that governs and works in our lives in every situation. There is God’s reason and intention in our lives, even though we don’t see it nor understand it in that moment (vs15 ‘perhaps’), We can’t know God’s timing either, as God’s focus is not on the momentary but on the eternal salvation – ‘separated for while … have him back forever.’ However, we can be confident that God is deeply involved in our lives and works for the good of those who trust in him (Romans 8:28).
The story of Joseph in the Old Testament speaks very clearly about this view and attitude in life. Being sold as a slave at very young age, Joseph suffers for over 20 years, but trusts in God’s providence, and in the end he sees God working out a great history of salvation and reconciliation. Joseph is able to forgive and be generous towards those who were so cruel to him because he believed in God’s justice and knew that even though men meant to harm him, God intended it for good and to accomplish salvation of many (Gen 50:20).
The greatest good that God is working out in those who love him are not his blessings and gifts but salvation which we found in our relationship with him. And so the place of suffering becomes a place where we meet God more closely and grow in our relationship with him. Jacob, lying in the dessert with a stone under his head for a pillow, wakes up from his dream with a realization of God’s close presence, and the purpose of his own life. The cross is the greatest manifestation of who God is, and no matter how great and significant were the miracles and teachings of Jesus, it is on the cross, the place of unimaginable pain and suffering, that the Son reveals Father’s love towards us in the most perfect and clear way.
There is brokenness and pain caused by the separation of Onesimus from Philemon, but Paul knows so well, that this is the place where they can meet God more closely and experience the transformation of their relationship on a much greater level – ‘better than a slave, as a dear brother’. When we see God’s love that precedes all that we do, we can start seeing others as dear brothers and sisters, seeing beyond what they are based on their actions and identity in the world, and build our relationships based on who we are in Christ Jesus. Our main goal then remains to protect and grow our relationship with God and trust in him who always works out our salvation no matter what situation we are in.