The Christian Family: a people of giving, not of taking

Together, in our minds, let’s go out to eat. One of my favorite restaurants is Chili’s. So, we walk into Chili’s and we are seated. We basically have the whole restaurant to ourselves. There are plenty of servers cleaning tables and talking with one another and they all saw us come in. After all, we are the only customers. After five minutes, we try and get someone’s attention, and after being ignored for fifteen minutes, anyone would stand up and leave. This describes a real experience in my life.

We might experience any level of bad service at any restaurant we go to. Though it is acceptable to tip fifteen percent, we may tip more or less depending on the level of service. Our generosity is conditional when we go out to eat most of the time. Society tells us to be this way. I have to wonder whether or not generosity should ever be conditional.

As we close in our current study of Paul’s letter to Philemon, we get to witness how the grace of Christ influences Paul’s generosity, especially toward his brothers and coworkers in Christ.

Philemon 17-25 (HCSB)

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me. And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it — not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self. Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.

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

Paul’s authority

                  As we read this, we might realize something that we haven’t pointed out yet. Paul makes the claim that Philemon owes himself to Paul. There was some type of authority that Paul had over Philemon in this world. This authority was such that Philemon owed himself to Paul. We can remember that Paul wrote this letter urging Philemon to let Onesimus go free. Here, he states that he could simply command Philemon to do this, but desired that Philemon choose to do this of his own free will.

Furthermore, Paul, at this point, was one of the foremost authorities of the church. He was an apostle and had planted churches in most of the regions in the eastern world. He is the human agent responsible for writing most of what was included in the New Testament. If any human person was ever in a commanding position in God’s church on this earth, it was certainly Paul.

Paul’s generosity

                  After describing his own authority, Paul then says that he wants Philemon to make this choice on his own and trusts Philemon to make the right choice. This is an amazing portrayal of grace and generosity. In fact, Paul’s generosity toward Philemon is unconditional.

The first thing I learn is something about having positions of authority in this world. Though these authoritative positions may be necessary for someone to fill in a fallen world, those who are in authoritative positions ought to be very generous as they lead. Class teachers then, according to Scripture and the grace of Christ, do not teach forcibly but graciously: allowing their students to think through issues and come to their own conclusions. Paul shared his thoughts with and even provided an argument for Philemon, then said, “Make your own decision.” God gave us the Scriptures that pointed to eternal life, offered us eternal life as a gift, and said, “Make your own decision. Either accept this gift or don’t.” God does not force us to come to Him. This is grace through generosity. Paul showed this grace to Philemon. Anyone with any degree of authority in this world ought to show this grace to those under him or her.

The Christian fellowship is about giving, not of taking. We simply cannot take freedom from someone because God has provided that eternal freedom. We cannot live well for Christ and horde our authority over anyone. We cannot force others to accept our viewpoints. All we can do is share the truth and trust people to make a good decision. This forces us to actually trust that the Holy Spirit is working in the lives of others just as He works in our lives. So, we are able to give more freedom, despite the fact that society tells us that we have to make others believe what we believe. Being a part of God’s family is not about taking. It is entirely and utterly about giving.

What if we are not in a position of authority, though? What if we are the student, the person sitting in the audience listening to a sermon, the child at home, the youth in a youth group, the employee or the citizen?

We do not have to look any further than the slave, Onesimus. Let’s look together at verse 12: “I am sending him back to you as a part of myself” (HCSB). Onesimus carried this letter back to Philemon even before he received his freedom. In fact. We don’t get to know whether or not Onesimus was ever set free. Yet, he was just as gracious toward his human master as Paul was, and even more generous.

The grace of Christ

With this, I will return to the question I posed earlier: Should our generosity ever be conditional? I think the resounding answer is: No! We should be a people devoted to unconditional generosity no matter our circumstances in this world. It is only by the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that we can be so generous.

This is a mentality that we only get when we receive generously the grace we have in Christ.

  1. The world tells us not to tip bad servers; in Christ we are driven to true generosity.
  2. The world tells us we do not have the freedom to hold certain conviction; in Christ we are driven to let others think and make decisions for themselves.
    1. For example, we are expected to support homosexuality and transgenderism; but the message in Scripture is clear: present the evidence and let people choose whether or not they will honor God.
      1. We can show more grace.
    2. Islam forces others into submission while Scripture commands that we be generous because of grace in Christ.
    3. We must not be like the world in this regard and we must not be like other belief systems. The Christian fellowship is about unadulterated generosity.
  3. The world tells us that we ought to prove our authority and rule harshly; in Christ we are driven to show true generosity to those under us in this world.
    1. This mentality can be seen in television shows like The Walking Dead, House of Cards, Game of Thrones, and in the very real political world today.
    2. This is how our society raises us, while Christ implores us to be more generous.
  4. The world also raises us to buck authority, rebel against the system and to not be followers; in Christ we are driven to be generous even to those who are in power over us in this world.
    1. While the world screams, “Be a leader, never a follower!” Scripture urges generosity.

This may be one of the most difficult ways to live in the world. That is why we need the direction of the Holy Spirit. I am convinced that this sort of lifestyle is only possible with Christ. Furthermore, if we are a part of a good local body of believers, we can trust that God will lead us to be overly generous to one another. This means we are not only truly generous, but we are also receivers of genuine generosity from others. The Christian fellowship is about giving, not taking.

Perhaps you find yourself living without generosity. You expect to receive or are a leech in your church or in your community. It may be time to ask God’s forgiveness and begin living generously in the giving of yourself, your time, and your finances. Perhaps you are already generous. I’d just like to thank you for representing the grace we have received through Christ well. I will leave you with this proverb, “A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water” (Proverbs 11:25 HCSB). God was first generous to us even in our rebellion, let us be generous to others.

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