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Spiritual Warfare (3)

Developing the Mind of Christ

Philemon 1:1-25

Jim Davis

Spiritual conflict requires knowing how to use God's powerful weapons available to us. It doesn't matter how useful a tool may be if you don't know how to use it. The tool becomes powerless to do what it was designed to do. No less is true in the spiritual realm. Knowledge is powerless without the wisdom to use it. Authority is a powerless agent to correct a situation without the wisdom to use it correctly. Our God given role becomes impotent without knowing how to fill it. Without the wisdom to know how to use what God has given each of us we will lead a life of destruction.

The thought of spiritual battles leave us feeling that somehow we must discover a secret powerful arsenal to have victory. We assume that there is a secret power formula that will liberate us from our circumstances. We may think that power is the only thing we need to make our lives work.

Our concept of power only complicates our ideas about how to use the tools God has given us. Some believe that power is authority. Others believe power is relative to the position they hold. Many believe power is the ability to force others to respond to their authority. Many think of power as a coercive force by which they seek their own self-interest. These definitions of power lead many to think of power as something to be grabbed as they jockey for position for personal power for spiritual and personal development.

It is amazing how we look to those in powerful positions as our role models. It seems to matter little to us that their personal lives are in shambles. Their lives are in shambles because their philosophy for success and attaining power isolates them from those closest to them.

Society's model for success and power is insensitive to the needs of those around us. The television show "Survivor" has captured a huge audience. I understand that there is a new show "Weakest Link." One show reveals the competitive nature of our society to survive at all cost. The other show revolves around exposing the weakest link. The survivor is praised and the weakest link is abhorred. The thinking of our society is, if you are not on top you are nobody. It seems we must be willing to pay the price to be on top no matter the cost.

I saw a sign on the church down on the corner that said, "Rule yourself with your head. Rule others with your heart." There is wisdom and power in those words.

Seeking Equality and Liberation

True equality and liberation is not found in the pursuit of positional power. When we contemplate the word "equality," we usually think of position we must attain to be equal. We often confuse the positions we hold with equality. If equality is based upon everyone attaining the same position equality is impossible. How can we all occupy the same position?

We confuse the role God is asking us to fill with equality. (Read 1 Corinthians 12:13-31.) It is how each of us fills his/her God given role that results in equality. This is difficult to accept in a world where we believe the weakest link should be sacrificed for the survival of the fittest. The philosophy evolution espouses is destructive.

God’s power and authority was exerted through submission and service. When God chose to exert his power in our lives he entered this world giving up his position in heaven and became a servant of servants. He came to influence us to do what is right by encouraging each of us to become the least in his kingdom. He is encouraging us to become what he became for us--a lowly servant. His motto was "The least shall become the greatest!" He was eventually exalted back to heaven's throne because he was the most submissive person on earth.

Philippians 2:1-10
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (NIV)

Christ’s influence has permeated earth since his birth. It was his willingness to submit himself to the needs of his followers that gave him a powerful influence. Influence is a far superior model for power. Influence is persuasive because it has the interest of others at heart. Influence must submit to the interest of others. Influence is not only persuasive; it is pervasive.

The idea laid out in Scripture is servant leadership--that those who would lead and have power and authority should do so through submission to those being lead. It is often difficult for those in authority to understand how those under their authority are equal to them. This is because we do not understand the concept of servant leadership. The paradox of Godly authority is that we must be under those we are over. Those under a person's authority dictate the decisions the one in authority must make. It is impossible for a person to exercise authority properly in any realm without first considering what is best for those it will affect.

The amazing thing about being baptized into the body of Christ is that it makes every person equal regardless of position. This is true because ideally it makes each person equally submissive to the other regardless of position. This makes equality a matter of disposition rather than a matter of position.

The Bible does not teach that husbands are to have power over wives, nor wives power over husbands. In fact in the physical realm they are to be submitted to each other in such a way that their body belong to the other (1 Corinthians 7:1-5). It teaches mutual submission and love. This is true with every biblical concept of authority.

Submission requires sensitivity, openness, self-examination, flexibility and interest in others. It requires treating others, as we want to be treated. If we would treat those under our authority as we treat those we are in authority too, we would see a big change in relationships.

The biblical concept of love is to seek the highest good of the other person. When we can give up our positions, our possessions, and ourselves to seek the good of others, we become powerful servants in the army of God.

I have always noticed that for those who want to serve there is always a position to be filled. If you want to work you want have to ask anyone to get out of your way to fill the spot. However, those jockeying for position never seem able to find a place of service. I have also noticed that those willing to serve--in the end are the ones with the most power.

The Power to Solve Conflicts

The power and dignity by which the first century Christians solved their problems is astounding. Nowhere is the dignity of Christ's love to solve problems expounded more profoundly than it is in Paul's short letter to Philemon.

Philemon 1:1-7
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints. (NIV)

There are three prominent characters in the book of Philemon: Onesimus a runaway slave and perhaps a thief, Philemon who was his slave master and the apostle Paul. As we read the book we understand the duty of each to submit to each other as they seek the attitude and mind of Christ to solve the problem.

The problem is the runaway slave and his master's relationship now that they are both in Christ. What is this Christian runaway slave to do now that Christ has entered his life? What is the Christian slave master going to do as he deals with this runaway slave? How is the authority of an apostle going to enter in to the situation to bring peace?

Paul's use of his authority demonstrates an attitude of submission. Paul makes his appeal to this slave master as his servant not as an apostle. He does not seek to use his position of authority, but rather his submission to the love of Christ to solve the problem.

His submission to Christ and others gave him a powerful influence concerning the problems a slave and his master faced.

The real power Paul exerted was through his willingness to actively share his faith with them by actively entering into their lives for the purpose of sharing the burdens they carried. When Paul wrote to Philemon about the problems that faced both a slave master and a slave recently converted to Christianity, he wrote the letter as he sat in a jail cell. However, it wasn't his position that made what he wrote powerful. It wasn't his authority that made him a powerful influence. He was powerful because he was willing to fulfill his God given role regardless of his role as a prisoner of Rome. It was his willingness to serve regardless of circumstances that gave him his powerful influence.

Philemon 1:8-14
Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul-- an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus--I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him-- who is my very heart-- back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced. (NIV)

The intriguing thing is that regardless of what Philemon owed Paul, Paul left Philemon free to make his decision out of whatever his love for Christ led him to do. Paul writes, "Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love . . . But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced." Paul understood that he could not force anyone to do the loving thing. Love must be free to make its own choice regardless of the sacrifices that have been made on its behalf.

Paul was a person who submitted himself to the needs of others out of his love of Christ. Paul was sitting in jail because he had given himself up to preach the gospel to the church that met in Philemon's home. The jail cell demonstrated his submissive willingness to sacrifice himself on their behalf. He could give himself for them because of his willingness to become the prisoner of Christ. Paul was in submission to their needs because Christ had captured his mind and heart.

Paul's submission to them was for their benefit. It is obvious that Paul's willingness to share in their problems was not self-seeking. He had given up everything that had previously mattered to him to share the gospel with them. Speaking from this world’s point of view he had gained nothing and had nothing to gain in sharing their burdens.

Philippians 3:7-11
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. (NIV)

Onesimus' actions demonstrate an understanding of the true appeal of the gospel of Christ. As I read the book of Philemon, I realize that perhaps Onesimus is the most submissive person in the story. He is not being sent back to his master in chains or as one brow beaten into submission. It is of his free will. He is a slave and equal with his master. But what about the slave's responsibilities to his master back in Colossae? Did equality in Christ alter Onesimus' legal position as a slave, or cancel his debt to the law or to his master? Should he stay with Paul to minister to his needs or should he return to his master? What will be his master's attitude toward him? Regardless, he returns in silent voluntary humility as he seeks to serve Christ. He is making no demands on Philemon as his master. The only thing that is requested in the letter is that he be received through the love of Christ.

Paul and Onesimus have submitted themselves to the love of Christ. The only question is what will Philemon do. It is important to note that the book of Colossians and the book of Philemon were written at the same time. Philemon was a man of influence in the city of Colossae, as the church met in his own home. Both letters were delivered to their perspective recipients simultaneously. Notice the verses Paul penned in Colossians.

Colossians 3:11-13
Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (NIV)

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus will tell you all the news about me. He is a dear brother, a faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I am sending him to you for the express purpose that you may know about our circumstances and that he may encourage your hearts. He is coming with Onesimus, our faithful and dear brother, who is one of you. They will tell you everything that is happening here. (NIV)

We don't know how the story about Philemon and Onesimus ends. However, we do know what submission to the love of Christ required of him. It required him to receive Onesimus as a brother and as an equal even though he was his master. We can only wonder if he fulfilled the role God was calling him to fill as a slave master?

The real value of the book of Philemon may be found in the questions it raises rather than the questions we want answered. There are much larger questions that the story of Philemon and Onesimus raises. How do you define authority and submission? Where does authority begin and submission end? How will each be used to compliment the other? Does real equality come from the position we hold or the God given role we are expected to fulfill regardless of the position or circumstances we find ourselves in?

To find certain answers to all of these questions you must develop the mind of Christ. Only the love of Christ can lead you to discover the answer to these questions for yourself. No one can force you to see what he or she sees. In fact, no one has a right to. Sometimes we must play God's role in our relationships with other Christians. We must submit ourselves to what we may believe is the ignorance of others out of love for Christ.

It Is A Matter of Personal Growth

Paul prays for Philemon, "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (Philemon 1:4-6). This prayer seems to indicate that we can only understand the good things we have in Christ as we share the reality of those good things with others. If you fail to share the good things that faith in Christ offers you with others, you will limit your understanding of the good things you have in Christ. Your failure could lead to your own self-destruction.

Understanding how God has submitted himself to you in spite of your ignorance is the only true means to submission to others. If you fail to submit to others, you will never gain a full understanding of God's submission to your needs.

What the Bible says in the area of personal relations is not hard to understand. The difficulty comes in using its teaching in the crucial areas of our lives. The initial appeal of Christianity is to the individual and not to the church or society at large. It lays down principles profoundly affecting our relationship to those around us. It never encourages or demands our rights. It never encourages those in authority to disregard the needs of those under their authority. It never encourages those under authority to rebel against those in authority. But it does encourage a respect for the rights of others. It leaves it to the individual that is influenced to influence the church and society at large.

Too often, the love of Christ is forgotten as we compartmentalize our lives. It seems as though religion, prayer and worship have little to do with our everyday relationships with each other. We separate worship from real life. However, Jesus promised us the abundant life. This means that you can't separate life from worship for life permeates all of life. Christ's spirit enters our lives to shape the whole of our lives as it brings us into submission to his love.

Christ's love appeals to each of us to do the right thing!!! The right thing is seldom found through demanding our rights. Solving such conflicts comes only through allowing the mind and heart of Christ to be developed within us.

Conclusion:

The difficulty with the church is that it has become nothing more than a reflection of the philosophy of society at large. We must remember that God's kingdom is not built upon the survival of the fittest through the expulsion of those we believe to be weak and ignorant. Today the philosophy of the world is ripping the church to pieces.

"A little learning is a dangerous thing." I have discovered that a little knowledge leads many to be opinionated in their beliefs without any wisdom to resolve conflicts. It is not the opinion of men that we need in spiritual conflicts. We must have the mind of Christ.

 

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