Sincere Gratitude for a Friend

Bible Book: Philemon  1 : 4-7
Subject: Friendship, Gratitude for

The spirit of thanksgiving runs against the temptation we face as human beings to assert our self- sufficiency. Few of us enjoy the feeling of indebtedness; a fact easily demonstrated by our oft- unsolicited readiness to return a favor once someone has expressed kindness to us. I owe you one, I will return the favor, and I am in your debt are some of the ways in which we express this attitude.

Such responses, together with the more modest one, please let me know what I can do for you, allow us to express gratitude without acknowledging the chronic shadow of dependence that so rudely dogs our entire threescore and ten.

Not only does this inability to express gratitude without our own autonomy stealing the show sometimes rob of us of the joy of affirming the contribution of others to our wellbeing, it also shrivels up our desire to worship God. An unexamined sense of self-sufficiency instills in us a subtle but false attitude of entitlement, thus making it difficult for us to accept the sense of vulnerability that is part of true gratitude. Ever since the tempter said to Adam and Eve in the Garden, “You will be like God,” human beings have never given up the temptation to either elevate ourselves to the level of God or pull God down to our level, so we can deal with Him as equals. We are always looking for a chance to say to God, “I can take it from here.”

Such an attitude of entitlement, I believe, occupies a central role in the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17. While all ten are healed by Jesus, only one of them returns to express gratitude. In his editorial comment, Luke informs us that the one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan, and Jesus refers to him as a foreigner. Undoubtedly, this implies that the other nine were Jews. Could it be that the Jewish lepers felt entitled to the services of this Jewish prophet and their God? If God were to begin to right wrongs in the world, wouldn’t the most logical place to begin be among his own chosen people? Judging by Jesus’ expression of surprise in the passage, it seems the only words one would have expected from the mouths of the nine lepers would have been, “It’s about time!” Without a clear sense of how little we are entitled to, we cannot really come to terms with the need for gratitude; for an attitude of entitlement is an effective impediment to gratitude.

But everything we know about ourselves and our world speaks loudly against this tendency to self-sufficiency. As human babies, we all begin our lives at the highest level of dependence, and none of us really outgrows all degrees of dependence. We depend on parents, teachers, peers, coaches, and others to open doors for us in life. Even in places where commitment to personal autonomy is likely to produce more martyrs than religious conviction, dependence on others is still a living reality whose attempted concealment is gradually unveiled by the onset of old age. From the inventions that give us comfort in this world to the young soldiers who give their lives in the battlefields to protect our livelihoods, an unobstructed view of our lives reveals the fact that we all owe debts that we can never repay. We will never begin to worship God until we recognize that we are bankrupt debtors, for an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship.

Like skilled gourmet chefs spicing up their delicacies, Scripture writers sprinkle their words with admonitions and exaltations regarding gratitude, frequently tying it together with worship. For example, in the midst of a dark catalogue of humanity’s journey away from God, the apostle Paul lays the blame on our unwillingness to glorify God or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). Similarly, the author of Hebrews grounds our worship of God in gratitude. He writes, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28). It is impossible to worship God without gratitude, and it is impossible to be grateful while clinging to self-sufficiency and entitlement at the same time. Yes, there is some vulnerability in gratitude sincerely expressed, but that is because we are relational beings whose deepest needs can only be met in partnership with others and ultimately with God.

While an attitude of entitlement is an impediment to gratitude, an attitude of gratitude is an indispensable impetus to worship. Show me a person whose life is characterized by gratitude, and I will show you a person whose soul is poised to worship God.”

Luke 14:12-14, “Then He also said to him who invited Him, ‘When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’"

What will happen at Christmas concerning gifts? “We need to get them something nice because of what they did for us or gave us last Christmas.”

Real gifts are given out of love, with no sense of return or benefit to the giver (no strings attached, period!)

I. The Commendation of Philemon 4-5

A. Seen In His Sincerity 4

 “I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers” – note prayer includes thanksgiving. Col 1:9a, 12

Philippians 4:6, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”

Paul is practicing what he teaches and preaches. The thanksgiving becomes a commendation of Philemon’s character and faith. Philemon embodied the good qualities of the Christian life.

This truth of praying with thankfulness emphasizes the fact that Paul remembered the Christian people who stood with him in ministry and the Christian life.

What reminded him?

Verse 23 – Epaphras (my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus): Shepherd Onesimus: Slave

Paul: Soul-winner

B. Seen In His Clarity 5
1. Paul’s Confidence 5a

“hearing” – present tense, suggests that Paul continues to hear good reports

2. Philemon’s Consistency

This is one of the greatest things that can be said of another.

3. Philemon’s Character 6
C. Seen in his trust in Christ.

“faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus” – he was genuinely Christian. His faith is described in present terms, “you have,” indicating a life of consistent with his faith in Christ. Echo (present tense) speaks of continuous nature of Philemon’s trust.

D. Seen in his love for Christians.

“love which you have toward all the saints” – he demonstrates love for everyone. He possessed qualities which made him exemplary as a Christian, and these qualities and attributed made him sensitive to Paul’s request.

Love is the word agape, which speaks of love of will and choice, of self-sacrifice and humility. Love is a fruit of the Spirit and a manifestation of a genuine saving faith.

1 Thessalonians 4:9, “But concerning brotherly love you have no need that I should write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another”

God the Father sheds this love through the Spirit of God.

Romans 5:5, “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Philemon’s faith was real, and it manifested itself in true biblical love. That love expressed itself in a concern for others. His concern for others gave him the ability to forgive.

II. The Participation of Philemon 6

A. His Promotion of Forgiveness 6a

“that the sharing of your faith may become effective” – “sharing” – is KOINONIA; fellowship or participation – “effective” – means powerful

1. Evangelization

He is not being encouraged here to be an evangelist, for that is far removed from the context. However, we should share our faith.

2. Contribution

The kindly deeds of charity which spring from your faith.

3. Internalization

Communion (with Christ) by faith

4. Participation

The faith in which you participate and the participation of other Christians in your faith. Christians not only belong to one another but actually become mutually identified. It means more than merely enjoying each other’s company. It refers to a mutual sharing of all life, and it could be translated “belonging.”

Again, “effective” – speaks of activity (active). The request was for Philemon’s Christian faith to become active in a particular area, namely forgiveness.

Philemon’s “participation in the faith” would mean that he also participated in the good things that promoted the cause of Christ.

B. His Provision For Forgiveness 6b

“by the acknowledgement of every good thing which is in you (us) in Christ Jesus”

“acknowledgement” (EPIGNOSIS); combines experiential and intellectual meaning, stressing a personal acquaintance with knowledge. Therefore, knowing how to apply the faith to the matter at hand comes from experiential knowledge. Speaks of how a Christian is to respond based on his knowledge and his experiences in life.

1 Peter 1:3, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue”

Again, epignosis refers to deep, rich, full, experiential knowledge. It is the knowledge that comes through personal acquaintances with the truth. Philemon could read of forgiveness or hear a sermon about it. But until he forgave, he could have no experiential knowledge. By forgiving Onesimus, Philemon would experience that good thing in him known as forgiveness. By walking in God’s will, believers experience the good things God has placed within them.

There is a vast difference in reading a book on forgiveness and actually forgiving. There is a certain flat, one-dimensional knowledge to be gained by a book, but it cannot compare to experiencing the peace of forgiving.

The same is so true in the spiritual realm. It is thrilling to grasp a truth from Scripture intellectually.

But it is far more exciting to live that truth out in practice. Practicing the truth of Scripture leads to the epignosis that brings spiritual maturity.

It is wonderful to understand what it means to trust God, but more wonderful to experience His power in the times when we trusted Him with no strength of our own.

You can resist your resources

You can provoke His provisions

1. Intellectually
2. Practically

The one is knowing what and how to do, the other is doing it.

Paul is praying that Philemon would use this knowledge to work out the implications of his faith in the matter of Onesimus.

Such a reconciliation would have far-reaching implications in the whole church. It watched this test case with great interest. If Christianity could work in such tension-filled relationships, it could work anywhere. Paul, Philemon, Onesimus, the church, and all of Christianity had much at stake in Philemon’s response. Paul prayed that Philemon would make the correct choice.

III. The Expectation Of Philemon 7

“in Christ Jesus” v.6, the Apologetics Study Bible says, “for (the glory of) Christ” (unto); Christ is the object of the good thing.

A. Based on His Reputation 7a

Truth here is both amplified and multiplied joy, great, encouragement.

Paul undoubtedly had a specific occasion in mind. Whatever it was, it brought Philemon great respect.

B. Based on His Refreshing 7b

“because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed by you, brother.” This identifies the action as past, but it had continuing emotional lift. The actions were over but Philemon gained the respect of all involved.

“refreshed” – a military term that speaks of an army resting from a march. Philemon brought troubled people rest and renewal; he was a peacemaker. He was a brother of fresh air.