Sunday Message at AgapeDominion on November 20, 2016
We’ve all heard about intercession. Many churches dedicate entire ministries to intercessory prayer. Likewise, we’ve all heard about reconciliation. Today, I want to talk about what these things are and what they are not — and when and why we should do them and when and why we should not. I also want to talk about why we are no longer in bondage as slaves but we are in liberty as sons and daughters.
Let’s consider the case of Onesimus. He was a slave of Philemon. Apparently he was a cellmate of the Apostle Paul while in prison. During this time, Paul ministered Jesus to Onesimus and he was saved. Paul also knew Philemon as a Brother in Christ and, putting two-and-two together, realized that Onesimus had escaped from Philemon and probably stole some money, to boot.
Paul concluded that the right thing to do was for Onesimus to return to Philemon. The important point, though, is that Onesimus would not return as a slave but as a Brother in Christ.
Philemon 1:8-20 (ESV) 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 old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful 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 accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, 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.
The first thing we see here is intercession on behalf of Paul. He is making this appeal in love. He is appealing to Philemon to receive Onesimus gladly. Intercession is literally standing in the gap for someone. In John 15:13 Jesus said there is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for a friend. Paul is literally laying his reputation on the line for a runaway slave who has become a believer.
Paul also reminds Philemon that though he may see Onesimus as useless (a thief and a runaway slave), through Christ, he is useful. Indeed, the name “Onesimus” means “useful” in Greek! We need to understand that there is no human being who is useless! We are all “onesimus” in the sight of God. We are all created with a specific purpose.
The important thing to note here is that Paul is pleading to and interceding on behalf of a man. This is a spiritual principle applied to a natural circumstance. Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede before God on our behalf; it is not necessary to intercede to God for people. In other words, we pray for people but we don’t stand in the gap for them. We can pray that God send ministers of salvation for the unsaved but we cannot pray for their salvation. We have to allow God to do His ministry and keep our focus on our own.
Romans 8:26-24 speaks of the ministry of intercession performed by the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This is reinforced by Hebrews 7:25:
Hebrews 7:25 (ESV) Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
We can, however, intercede with men on behalf of men. We can use our ability, influence, and favor to help someone in need. This is what Jesus was illustrating in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); the Samaritan interceded on behalf of the man left by the roadside to die. When we see our brothers and sisters in a downtrodden condition, it is incumbent upon us to bring our resources to bear on their behalf.
Now, Romans 13:8 tells us to owe no man anything except to love each other. Paul, himself, wrote this. But here, it looks like he is “calling a marker” on Philemon. In verse 19, he reminds Philemon that either he saved his life once or that he introduced Jesus to him — or, possibly, both. Note, though, that Paul isn’t doing this to collect a debt but to show Philemon that he should not only spare Onesimus’ life (runaway slaves could be punished by death) but recognize him as a Brother in Christ.
This is where the reconciliation comes in. Just as we were reconciled unto God through Christ, Paul is interceding on behalf of Onesimus — a runaway slave and possibly a thief — to Philemon for reconciliation. In other words, Paul is imploring Philemon to forgive Onesimus’ trespasses as Paul forgave Philemon for trespassing against him!
Romans 13:8-10 (ESV) 8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
One important thing to keep in mind here is that we should not be busybodies, meddling in the affairs of others. However, in this case, Paul was a mutual acquaintance of both Philemon and Onesimus. Onesimus was the servant of Philemon and, according to the law of the time, was obligated to return. However, Paul intercedes on behalf of Onesimus for reconciliation with Philemon and for Onesimus’ liberty.
The ultimate lesson here is that while Jesus and the Holy Spirit intercede with God on our behalf, we are to intercede with men on behalf of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to urge reconciliation with others as Christ reconciled us unto God:
2 Corinthians 5:18-20 (ESV) 8 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
But, in the process of this, we need to let God be God and let God do God. He handles the ministry of intercession to His throne and the reconciliation of His Children unto Himself. We handle the ministry of intercession and reconciliation to one another.
How powerful would the church be if we stood in the gap for one another against the world? And how strong would the Body of Christ become if we all ministered reconciliation to one another!
© 2016 – Derrick Day (www.derrickday.com)