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 have 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 such a long time, so 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 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. He would need an updated policy; a new contract; maybe even a covenant of brotherhood. Paul requests 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 has wronged him back into his home. Paul told Philemon him that while he could DEMAND that he do this, he wants to give Philemon the opportunity to make this decision for himself. He was allowing Philemon to review this situation, and choose for himself how to renew the contract he has with his slave.
In reality, Philemon had many reasons to NOT do this. Slaves made up about 1/3 of his population. Fear of insurrection and rebellion were 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 trusting Paul literally with his life, and yet he went anyway. That’s how important it was that Philemon be given this opportunity to review and renew this relationship on his own.
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 by accepting a little wafer, and then 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 contracts 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.
Imagine if you actively review and renew your covenant with God every day. What if you pause and meditate quietly after praying, giving God time to really speak to you, to touch your soul, comfort you, and make your path clear.
What if you think about the act of communion and EVERY TIME pray and meditate on that sacred act, and use that sacrament as an opportunity to search your relationship with God for weaknesses and rededicate yourself to a life of Christian ministry?
What if you talk to, work with, volunteer with, give to, pray for, and actually participate 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 God 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, 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.
8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an ambassador[a] and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Ones′imus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful[b] to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.
15 Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back for ever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. 18 If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand, I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self. 20 Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.
21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. 22 At the same time, prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be granted to you.