Pastor Wayne Moore
High Point Baptist Church, Stuart
The short letter to Philemon, tucked away in the New Testament between Titus and Hebrews, is a great illustration of the transforming power of the gospel. The gospel transformed the circumstances of the author of the letter, the Apostle Paul. It transformed the life of the subject of the letter, a servant named Onesimus. It also transformed the relationship between the recipient of the letter, Philemon and his servant, Onesimus. Just for clarification, the gospel is the good news that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us from our sins and make us right with God by His death, burial, and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4; Romans 1:16-17; John 3:16).
As it did for Paul, the gospel transforms our circumstances. Paul was in Rome, under house arrest, waiting for a trial before Caesar. It was actually because of the gospel that he was there. You can read the full story in Acts, chapters 21-28. If Paul had been arrested for any other reason than the gospel, like for crime or sin, he would have had a much different outlook on his circumstances. But because he was confined for the sake of the gospel, Paul did not allow his circumstances to change his focus on his mission to disciple believers and keep spreading the gospel. He continued to disciple believers by writing letters to churches and individuals. He wrote at least four letters during this imprisonment: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. He continued sharing the gospel with his guards and those who came to visit him. Somehow, a runaway slave named Onesimus came to visit him, heard the gospel, and was saved, and his life was completely transformed.
As it did for Onesimus, the gospel transforms our lives. At the time of Paul’s writing, Onesimus was finally living up to his name, which means “profitable.” Before Christ, he did not live up to his name. He was unprofitable. Christ transforms lives. Because of the change Christ made in Onesimus’ life, Paul could boldly recommend that Philemon receive him as he would receive Paul himself. Paul personally testified to how useful Onesimus was since he was saved. From the moment we are saved, God starts transforming our lives to look like His Son, Jesus. Although we are completely forgiven of our sins, the process of becoming more like Christ is not complete until we enter heaven. Nevertheless, our salvation should be evident to others. Then, the change that takes place in our lives will naturally change our relationship with others.
As it did for Philemon, the gospel transforms our relationships. Philemon was already a believer. He was also the master of Onesimus. This is a contradiction that can only be explained by the curse of sin. What Jesus said about divorce also applies to slavery: it was not so from the beginning. God did not create masters and slaves. That was an invention of sinful man. Sin complicates our relationships in innumerable ways. This is why the world needs the gospel. The gospel transforms our relationships. Paul asked Philemon to receive Onesimus back, not as a slave, but as a beloved brother in Christ (Philemon 1:16). Onesimus was not the only one transformed by the gospel. Philemon, a citizen of Colossae, was transformed from sins like Paul listed in Colossians 3:5-9. Because both Philemon and Onesimus were transformed, their relationship to each other was also transformed. But why was the institution of slavery not immediately transformed? That could be what Paul was hinting at in verse 21 where he said, “I wrote unto thee, knowing that thou wilt also do more than I say.” God created man and transforms each person when he or she is saved. Man created sinful institutions and is responsible to transform them.
Has your life been transformed by the gospel? If not, repent of your sins and trust Christ. He will change you in ways you cannot change yourself. He will also change your relationships and your outlook on circumstances. The way to change societal sins is through the gospel. As our lives, relationships, and circumstances are changed, we can work together as brothers and sisters in Christ to transform society.