Useless or Useful?

Last time we were together, we talked about the book of Philemon. This is a book that is not studied much in the corporate setting in the church but it has something very powerful to teach us about success in the kingdom of God.

Here’s a short recap.

This letter is written by Paul to a believer saved through Paul’s work in Colossae. This brother in the Lord had a slave working for him named Onesimus. At some point, Onesimus ran away and went to the area in which Paul was preaching the gospel. Upon hearing Paul, Onesimus was born again, giving his life to the Lord Jesus.

Paul could see that the young man had ministry gifts and would be of great benefit to Paul in the ministry. But, before proceeding any further in ministry, Onesimus has some things that he needed to take care of from the past.

To create a foundation for a successful future in the Lord, it is important to successfully handle the past. Even though we are new creations in Christ and we are not to live in the past once we are born again, we still must learn to successfully reconcile our past so that we can move forward in our lives with integrity.

We made an observation last time that reconciliation is not just a relational term but an accounting term as well. Auditors look at the books of a company and seek to ensure that the company is operating with financial integrity. Are funds received going where they are supposed to? Are accounts payable being taken care of lawfully and expeditiously?

These “audits” testify to financial integrity on the part of the owners of the business.

When we are saved, the Holy Spirit does an “audit” of our lives with the same intention: to ensure personal integrity for our lives. The Spirit will bring up things from the past in which we “owe” someone a debt so that we can get these “debts” taken care of in a biblical manner.

Taking care of these “debts” biblically become part of our testimony. They prove several things:

We are truly under Christ’s authority.

We are serious about living a righteous life.

We can be trusted with the things of God.

Onesimus had not been freed by Philemon, he was a runaway. That broke laws of the day and caused a rift between Philemon and Onesimus. Before God would use Onesimus further, Paul sent him back to take care of the debts of his past.

Here are a few things we can learn from this:

  1. God’s plan for progress includes closing out “open accounts”.

Most of us come to God with a lot of brokenness in our background. Some have broken relationships that have not been healed. Others have people they have stolen from. Others may have lies they have told others to benefit themselves. Whatever the case may be, for our testimony to carry any spiritual integrity, we must close our open accounts from the past. It is very easy to look back at the mess and say, “Oh man, that’s too much to dive into. I’ll just let bygones be bygones and move forward”. The problem with this is that God is concerned with the people we owe things to and He is also concerned with our integrity. How you respond to your past builds a foundation for your future. Ignoring things is not God’s way of reconciling them. To make them right, you make a decision to deal with them God’s way.

  1. Coercion leaves behind a poison that causes a situation to live on rather than healing it.

Paul was an authority over Philemon spiritually. He could have commanded Philemon to forgive Onesimus and to send him to Paul. But, Paul understood that a gift not given freely is a gift given in bondage. Philemon and Onesimus needed to truly deal with the issue before them scripturally. At that point, Philemon and Onesimus would be free from the past and would be able to move forward into God’s will. Paul’s integrity before Philemon was at stake – Paul’s love for Philemon was at stake – Onesimus’ integrity was at stake. Give no place to the devil to bring an accusation against you. Take care of past “debts” so that the future will not expose your lack of integrity.

  1. Use as your example God’s forgiveness and reconciliation to us.

Paul told Philemon, “If you count me as a partner, receive Onesimus as you would me. If he has wronged you or owes you anything, put it on my account. I will pay for it. Not to mention that you owe me your own self besides.”

We owe God our own being. We live because of His intervention. We are commanded to love one another as He loves us. We are commanded to forgive as He forgave us. We release forgiveness to others, not based upon their worth but based upon Christ’s forgiveness and acceptance of us! If you don’t feel as if the people you are going to with past debts “deserve” your forgiveness, keep this in mind!

  1. God will turn something useless into something useful.

Onesimus’ name meant “Useful or profitable”. Paul makes a play on words here to get his point to Philemon. Before Onesimus knew the Lord, he was useless to you in his behavior. But now, God is turning this into something useful to Philemon and profitable for the kingdom. God will do the same for you. Even things that appear to have no redeeming value, God can turn around and use is for good.

Have you dealt with the “debts” of the past? It takes a lot of humility and biblical focus to do so but God uses our actions to teach us obedience and integrity. And, He also uses our reconciliation of debts as a testimony to the reality of His existence and as a testimony to the reality of our change.

When a tornado goes through an area, it leaves destruction behind. Before rebuilding can start, clean up has to occur. If you past life has left destruction in its wake……to the best of your ability, clean up after yourself! Then, redemption becomes more than just a hope – it becomes a reality!


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