A few years ago, I was driving through south Arkansas in the early morning, making my way home from a three day business trip. Right outside of Eudora, the biggest deer I had ever seen picked a fight with my 1986 Ford Taurus and the Ford lost. It was the only time I have ever totaled a car. The next day when my insurance agent was getting the details from me, he realized that even though my car was old and normally they wouldn’t allow full coverage insurance on it, my plan had not been reviewed in a long time, and apparently I was still covered for a complete replacement. The insurance company was not thrilled about having to pay out for full replacement on a car that was so old, but since the contract had not been updated, they had no choice.
Philemon had a renegade slave. We don’t know exactly what happened, but apparently Onnesimus the slave stole from his master and then ran away. Through a series of events that we also do not know, Onnesimus the slave met up with Paul and was converted to Christianity. This story that we have in scripture is Paul’s letter to Philemon, attempting to intercede on behalf of Onnesimus, asking that Philemon not only forgive Onnesimus but that he review, renew, and update, actually UPGRADE, his contract with this slave.
In his letter to Philemon, Paul said that Onnesimus had repented and been converted. He was a newer model, no longer just a useful slave, but now a beloved brother in Christ, which would mean he needed an updated policy. A new contract. Maybe even a covenant of brotherhood.
Paul requested that Philemon, out of his own sense of Christian fellowship, and in honor of his own covenant with God, forgive and welcome this man who had wronged him back into his home. Paul tells Philemon that while he could DEMAND that he do this, he wants to give him the opportunity to make this decision for himself. He allowed Philemon to review this situation and choose for himself how to renew the contract he had with his slave.
In reality, Philemon has many reasons to NOT do this. Slaves made up about 1/3 of his population. Fear of insurrection and rebellion was real, and many cities had laws, whether in tradition or actually on record, against freeing slaves. Therefore, there was a sense of fear and trepidation at the combined power that slaves might have if they gained any sense of freedom or independence. Philemon could be seen as weak by his peers and other slaves, it could affect his social status in the city, he could be known as the master who couldn’t control his slaves, and of course freeing Onnesimus would lessen his personal wealth by the price of the slave.
Onnesimus knew this…he knew that for stealing and running away, he could have been whipped or even crucified. So for him to be willing to return to his master is an indication of the faith he had in Paul’s ability to intercede and convince Philemon to be lenient. He was literally trusting Paul with his life, and yet he went anyway.
We have these same excuses not to pay attention to ongoing obligations in our own lives. I forgot. I am busy. I can’t afford it. I don’t understand it. If I openly talk about my relationship, if I publicly embrace my covenant with Christ, people will think I am one of “those religious people; that I am weird. I don’t want to alienate my non-religious business contacts by making them think I am preachy or simple or superstitious. I will be ostracized from some groups. I don’t want to stand out.
Every time I sent in my payment, the insurance company had an opportunity to review and renew my contract. But they were getting my money; it was coming in automatically, there were no problems, so they filed it away and went about business as usual. Kind of like God’s Sanctifying Grace. We have it available all around us. We hurriedly whisper our prayers in the morning and list off what we need of God every night. We see our Bible on our nightstand and plan to read it when we have time. We sign up for small group Bible study or to work in Sunday school but are physically present rarely and emotionally present even less. We line up once a month and swallow the body of Christ and go about business as usual. We file it away and move on.
But imagine if we didn’t…imagine if we purposefully reviewed and renewed our covenant every day.
My insurance company would have saved a lot of money.Philemon would gain the blessing of Christian fellowship and support by accepting a new brother in Christ. He would also be renewing his covenant with God by forgiving, showing mercy, and being more Christ like. Plus his relationship with Paul would be strengthened, and Paul can return the favor by paying off Onnesimus’s debts and befriending him. The difference in the old and new covenant between these men would simply be beneficial for all involved.
Imagine if you actively reviewed and renewed your covenant with God every day. What if you paused and meditated quietly after praying, giving God time to really speak to you, to touch your soul, to comfort you, and make your path clear.
What if you thought about the act of communion and EVERY TIME prayed and meditated on that sacred act, and used that sacrament as an opportunity to search your relationship with God for weaknesses and rededicated yourself to a life of Christian ministry?
What if you talked to, worked with, volunteered with, gave to, prayed for, and actually participated in the Body of Christ …daily…with joy… instead of just sitting in a pew once a week.
Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
God WANTS to give you the BEST plan he has. All the no smoker, over 25, multi-car, student driver school discounts. All the best coverage that He has to offer.
We gain much by regularly renewing our relationship with God. When we purposefully live out our covenant with Him, we find ourselves continually surrounded by a supportive, loving Christian community. Through prayer we have peace and guidance always available, comfort, a sense of belonging and love are always there for us. God’s plan to prosper us can be revealed, and ultimately, we can experience fully God’s Grace and salvation.
We don’t know the end of the story. We don’t know if Philemon forgave Onnesimus. We don’t know if he did as Paul asked and set Onnesimus free. We don’t know if he took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade his contract with Onnesimus by living out his covenant with God.
Friends, today I challenge you to review your covenant with God. Actively and purposefully RENEW your covenant with God, and see what upgrades he has waiting for you.