This month we have gotten to look through Jude’s letter to believers in Jesus Christ. His challenge was for the church to contend for genuine faith in Christ. We learned that we contend by speaking in favor of the things that honor God according to His word, and we contend by constantly looking for how we can build ourselves up in good works and in our denial of sin. We’ve learned that God’s priorities are not the same as our preferences. We have learned that following Christ well often means that things will not go our way or that things will not be the way that we think they should be. This is a good thing because my desires and my reasonings are still impacted by sin in this world. God is the only one who knows what is best, so I don’t have to have my way.

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This brings up an interesting question when it comes to our participating in the faith of Christ. What does it mean for us to participate in the faith? Are we to just show up on Sunday morning, sing along, and listen to a preacher? Does this honor God? Does participating in the faith mean we choose to listen only to Christian music? Does it mean we speak Christianeze as often as we can? Does it mean we worship in this building or that? What does it really mean to participate in the faith?

Philemon 6-10

I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ. For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.

For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal to you, instead, on the basis of love. I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my son, Onesimus. I fathered him while I was in chains.

Background

This is a letter written from Paul to Philemon, who owned a slave that came to know Christ around A.D. 60. He writes encouraging Philemon to set his slave free so that he might be a true brother in the faith.

To participate is to refresh

Here is one of my greatest fears: that God’s people have made church a spectator event. So many people end up going to church and sitting through a sermon just to go home and continue life as it was. This is not the way that Paul described participation in the faith as he wrote this letter urging Philemon to free his slave. Paul claimed to have great joy and encouragement from Philemon’s love, because the hearts (or bowels in the Greek)1 of the saints were refreshed through Philemon.

Participating in the faith is something deeper than attending a church service. It is something deeper than singing. It is something deeper than passively listening to a sermon. Participating in the faith means that we constantly refresh one another in love. If we are not refreshing one another, then we are not participating in the faith. What in the world does it mean that we refresh one another?

This last week, my wife and I got to spend some time with family for Thanksgiving. I worked hard to get most of my work done before we went so that I wouldn’t have to worry about it over the holiday. Because I wasn’t stressed out or worried about getting work done, I got to rest and getting some rest allowed my body, mind and spirit to be refreshed.

We experience a great level of refreshment when we are served. If our goal is to provide constant refreshment to one another, then we ought to concern ourselves with serving one another. Paul also mentions specifically that Philemon’s participation in the faith led to the ‘bowels’ or the guts of the saints receiving refreshment through him. In Hebrew culture, the guts were considered to be the seat of the emotions. Modern translators insert the word heart in current english translations because we don’t consider our guts to be the seat of our emotions. We consider the seat of our emotions to be the heart.

We experience sadness. We experience doubt. We experience heartbreak. We experience stress. We experience emotional and physical strain. We experience hurt. We experience pain. These emotions are an unfortunate result of the imperfections in this world because of human sin. They are not feelings that we can escape while we are still on this earth. We can, though, experience rest as we come together. We can be refreshed so that we can continue to endure this world until Jesus Christ either returns or calls us home.

If our goal is to help provide this type of refreshment to one another as family, then there are some very important things we all need to realize about our participation in the faith:

  1. We strive not to be a burden on one another, but instead work to build one another up.

    1. This means that when we teach, we can’t just talk about rules and rules and rules and rules. The Christian faith is not a therapeutic moralism. We always ought to focus on the fact that Christ came to redeem us no matter what our insufficiencies might be. He offers to restore us and so we should be concerned with restoring one another.

    2. It means we don’t hold grudges, but forgive, move on, and become an encouragement so that our brothers and sisters can continue to grow well in Christ.

  2. We require less and give more.

    1. When it comes to things like time and money, we should always try to require less for ourselves so that we can spend it helping people in need and providing life refreshment to our brothers and sisters by volunteering, leading a ministry or contributing financially.

We are here to provide refreshment to one another. For me, that means being shepherd and not a dictator. For fathers and mothers, it means guiding and not punishing out of anger. For members of the workforce, it means working with joy and not contempt. While we are here together, it means we share the love of Christ constantly and positively with one another. This is not a place of burden; it is a place of life.

To participation effectively is to build equality

If we remember, Paul wrote this letter to Philemon urging him to free his slave. Onesimus was most likely a different ethnicity than both Paul and Philemon. He belonged to a different part of society. He was probably looked down on. According to the story, here, Onesimus had to run away from Philemon in order to meet Paul. Conditions could not have been that great for him. Yet, Paul urges Philemon to free Onesimus because he had become a brother.

When it comes to faith in Christ, we are all subject to the authority of Jesus Christ because Christ is King. This means that, even though we may have different roles, we are all equal subjects of Christ. The preacher is not more important than his congregation. Men are not more important than women. Women are not more important than men. Adults are not more important than youth and youth are not more important than children. Here, we are not measured by our skin color, native language, job or our wealth. We are equal and we should promote that equality because it helps us to serve one another well. When we serve one another well, we are all refreshed.

This, then, is the challenge for our lives: Let us live life to refresh one another. This is how we participate in the faith. It is not about filling a church seat. It is not about just listening to a preacher. If these words don’t impact your life, then what is the point? It is not about just singing along. It is not simply about following a certain set of rules. It is not about sounding spiritual. It is not about meeting in a building. It is about our constantly refreshing one another in the love of Christ. Our greatest act of worship to God is our service. If I was designing a brand to get this message out, the slogan would be: Participate, Precipitate. I would print the words on water bottles and hand them out, reminding God’s people to rain down blessings and acts of service in their churches and in the community. Let this be a slogan we live by: Participate, Precipitate!

1The greek word σπλαγχνα is translated as bowels, but translators have replaced the word with “heart” because 21st century Americans consider the heart to be the seat of the emotions whereas 1st Century Hebrews considered the bowels to be the seat of some emotions (at least the emotions related to angst).

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