9/9/01, P14C

Wellspring of Joyful Living

"I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your life,because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother."
(Philemon 1: 7, NSRV)

The New Testament thinks of joyfulness as one of God's gifts to His people. Jesus' birth was the cause of glad tidings and great joy. (Lk. 2: 10). Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit and natural results of the Christian walk. (Gal. 5: 22). Jesus envisioned a goal of His ministry that his follower's joy might be full and that it might always be a characteristic of His Church. (John 15: 11).

In today's text we see an early example of how Jesus' desire was being lived out among the first Christians. The Apostle Paul is writing to Philemon, and to his friends who would possibly read the personal letter. Paul speaks of several elements of their ongoing fellowship of joy and spiritual refreshing. The Holy Spirit was evidently being allowed to bond the community of faith in mutual love for Christ and for each other.

Paul's specific reason for writing the wealthy Philemon was to ask that he accept the runaway slave Onesimus back as a brother in Christ and not as a slave. Paul describes his love for Onesimus as that of a father to a son. Paul had won Onesimus to faith in Christ and had been his spiritual guide. They had shared a jail cell as prisoners because of their faith in a time when the cost of discipleship was high.

In Paul's encouragement for Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother he makes a revealing statement related to money, "If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account." (v.18). Haven't we all found it to be true that among our close friends money is not usually an issue. Indeed, any circle of friends with mutual interest, whether laborers or college professors, most of the time forget who paid last. Whenever one buddy is down on his/her luck the others naturally pitch in and help. If this is true of friends in general, whatever culture or religion, should it not be especially true among Christians who are mutually bonded to each other through their shared experience with the Living Christ?

You have heard of "The Inklings," C.S. Lewis' group of Oxford professors, and others, who met twice each week for years in Lewis' rooms at Magdalen College on Thursday evenings, and for lunch on Tuesday's at "The Eagle and Child," which was nicknamed "The Bird and the Baby." They had no specific agenda except for their comradeship. Often they just talked like boys at Scout Camp. Typically, on Thursdays several would share their current manuscripts in progress and receive honest criticism. Scores of wonderful books, including many by C.S. Lewis, came out of their fellowship, many of which would have never been attempted without this friendly encouragement. Some of the great authors of recent history were a part of the communion but they used nicknames. Professor J. R. R. Tolkien was called "Tollers." Lewis' physician, Dr. R. E. Harvard, was called "The Useless Quack." Lewis' older brother Major Warren Hamilton Lewis, who also penned seven books on French history, was known as "Warnie." The leader of the pack was Clive Staples Lewis, known affectionately as "Jack."

Although they held Christian faith in common, denominational lines seemed not to matter, except for the occasional pun. In fact, two of The Inklings that had been instrumental in leading Lewis to become a Christian believer at age 31, Prof. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, were Roman Catholics and Lewis a confirmed Irish Anglican.

You may be saying that this is not that unique, except for the scholarly writing. Indeed, we have many small groups like this within the membership of our church. I have been to your Sunday School Classes and Christmas parties and have felt your mutual love for each other. We have guys that play basketball in the gym during the week, some at noon, others at night, who are bonded in sweat. One group of Monday Money Counters all go out to brunch and it is a joy to watch them bouncing off like kids playing in new snow.

This is all symptomatic of a healthy church, bonded together in a shared obedience to Christ. I often hear the expression made around here, "I love my church!" Or, "She seems to be at home whenever she is in this miraculous place!"

Our mutual love is a great witness to our community, friends and families. Children growing up in a loving atmosphere like this will always feel that there is something genuine about church. The world will know we are Christians by our loving fellowship for each other and for the world. We can never reach them unless we first love each other.

The Church has to reach out beyond its walls. This may signal a difference in what we are about and what civic organizations and clubs, are doing. When folks visit us they sense that the folks are friendly, that we care about them, and that we want them to come inside the ring with us. Our friendly forces are not like the aggressive car salespersons waiting for their next victim at the curb.

As Christians, our joy is always linked to the Good News of Jesus taking hold of another precious human soul. Our "product line" includes: recovery from lostness, forgiveness for past wrongs, freedom from enslavement to sin, and most of all a new fellowship, and a new life in Christ.

One of the things that sometimes frightens perspective believers is the realization that they would alienate many of their friends. We offer new "birds of a feather" who will rally around new folks and bring them into the fold. No Christian Church or subgroup can ever get too many members. The ongoing essential ingredient is that people find people of like mind and come to find the Wellspring of Joyful new living for Christ.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

9/9/01, P14C