I did not expect to get a lot out of a missions conference. After all, I listen to a lot of talks and I read a lot of Bible. Not so easy to impress me, I thought to myself. But I dutifully downloaded the Cross Con mp3s having waited for them to come out and I put them on my ipod and went on my business.
The first talk by Piper was helpful, and I found myself impressed by his sharing (yet again) of how he modified the Westminster Catechism to clarify the singular, chief end of man and also haha switching the conjunction and for the verb is he designed a clearer statement that highlights how God is glorified and the Piperian dynamic of the chief end of it all being the joy of the worshipper so that in so doing God is most glorified in our satisfaction in Him. Always refreshing to hear Piper talk as a father, and to hear his heartfelt genuine pleading and thanksgiving for a dream come true.
But it was listening to Mack Stiles and Matt Chandler that God used these men to slap my face. Mack spoke about the false dependence upon feelings and other faulty motivations for missions as well as misconceptions about missions and missionaries. He challenged and sharpened my understanding of calling. Mack rebuked me for thinking that parachurch work can get the job done without the local church. He rebuked me for speaking ill of the bride of Christ for whom Jesus gave His lifeblood. He reminded me of the need for confirmation in the local church. He reminded me of the passion for local healthy churches- maintaining and reforming the sick churches and helping out. And in his sharing and storytelling I was reminded of a younger me, a simpler me, a more convicted me eager to do the work of the gospel in hard places. I was reminded of the zeal with which I once thought about the gospel and now my slack, half hearted, compromised approach to ministry. God spoke to me about my hypocrisy, my mixed motives, my worldliness and lovelessness. Very simply, Mack said, “come to Dubai, we need people like you there. They need you guys. They need you guys”. And I broke down in shame sobbing up myself as I remembered those favored hours with which I used to commune with God and burst with ambition and passion for His name. Now I am tired, divided, older and cynical. I am less enthused, wary, distrustful and full of doubt. He was so simple so genuine and so much like my old prof Dr F who reminded me that God is not a god of demand and law, He is a God of supply. The God of supply. And that graciousness broke me
Then I heard Matt Chandler go up and speak about the sovereign power of God to save whomever He wants and yet He chose to allow us to participate. Chandler reminded me not to think God smaller than He is since He saved the apostle Paul from a life of being Saul— a criminal and hater of God. He reminded me to cling to the power of the gospel I profess and put my faith in it’s power not just to save me but in it’s power to save others even the hardest ppl. Chandler reminded me of the need to treasure and put Jesus first because that’s the only way we find our truest satisfaction out highest joy. In so doing we become immune to the world and they can’t do anything to us since to live is Christ as die is gain.
As I sat there in that carpark listening to this familiar truth wash over me I remembered the gospel. I remembered that tremendous call to seek and save the lost for the glory of God. As piper said we ought not to separate the rescue of the souls of man from the glory of God. To seek one is to seek the other.
- Martin Luther called Paul’s language in Philemon “holy flattery”.
- John G Nordling argues that instead of being a random, unrelated epistle, one can easily find the “Gospel in Philemon” when he writes,
"Paul’s specific repayment of Onesimus’ debt (Phlm 18-19a) was founded upon and intentionally reflects the payment for all sin which the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished for the world (for example, Isa 53:ll; Matt 1:21; Rom 3:25; 1 John 2:2)."
- John Calvin explained that Paul’s theology elevated such a practical everyday subject to the heights of theological genius and loftiness:
The singular loftiness of the mind of Paul, though it may be seen to greater advantage in his other writings which treat of weightier matters, is also attested by this Epistle, in which, while he handles a subject otherwise low and mean, he rises to God with his wonted elevation
- In his introduction to his three week series in Philemon, Bible teacher Alistair Begg says, “Through their experience, we will see that the Road of Reconciliation begins in a restored relationship with God offered to us by Christ’s death on the cross.”
- Great preacher John Macarthur has described Philemon as “Scripture’s clearest real-life example of human forgiveness in action.”
- Acknowledging Philemon’s powerful treatment of the slave phenomenon, John Piper writes,
The upshot of all this is that, without explicitly prohibiting slavery, Paul has pointed the church away from slavery because it is an institution which is incompatible with the way the gospel works in people’s lives. Whether the slavery is economic, racial, sexual, mild, or brutal, Paul’s way of dealing with Philemon works to undermine the institution across its various manifestations. To walk “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14) is to walk away from slavery.
- Church historian and pastor Mark Dever has preached a sermon series on Philemon dealing with prayer, grace and repentance and friendship here