The Practicalities of Life
The Gospel is powerful and life changing.
Jesus gives us eternal life and forgives our sins. The eternal benefit is of utmost importance. However, until we go to heaven, there are practical considerations that go along with life. Our mission to make disciples cannot move forward without confronting the practicalities of life. We see this in Paul’s letter to Philemon. Today, we are going to see three ways in which Paul’s letter confronts the practicalities of life. These three ways are materially, in prayer, and in caring.
First, as we consider how the material practicalities of life are confronted, we must realize that Paul was aging. In Philemon 9, he says, “Consider this as a request from me-Paul, an old man and now also a prisoner for the sake of Christ Jesus.” NLT
We believe this letter was written during Paul’s first imprisonment in Rome, where he spent two years under house arrest. Paul wrote to Philemon approximately 26 or 27 years after the stoning of Stephen recorded in Acts 7. Therefore, we calculate him to be in his 50s. Writing five years before he wrote Philemon, in 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of some of the things he went through during the intervening years. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27, he says:
23Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.1
“Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned.” Think about these events. Taken in the context of a life of travel, danger and endless toil, they are almost beyond belief. By today’s standards, where the life expectancy in the United States is 79 years, 50 something is not an old man.2 50 something is not a young man, but Paul used the term, “an old man.” I would suggest that Paul’s body was well used. For the man whipped times without number, there was a lot of life in his years.
Paul was aware that his life was being spent. In Philippians 2:17 he says, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.” (ESV) And again in 2 Corinthians 12:15 he says, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls.” (ESV) This aging and spending address the physical and material aspect of the practicalities of life.
Are you willing to pay any price as Paul was? What price are you willing to pay for your faith in Jesus Christ?
In Luke 14:26-29, Jesus said:
26“If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. 27And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.
28“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? 29Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you.
In Philemon 22 Paul says, “One more thing—please prepare a guest room for me…” (NLT) This statement immediately made me think of the practicalities of life. There are things that just have to be taken care of, as in, the practical things of life. These practicalities are all a part of the cost that must be counted.
We have in Paul’s example a person who was willing to pay any price to be Jesus’s disciple. He was a prisoner at the time of writing and anticipated being dependent on Philemon’s hospitality when he arrived. In fact, Paul was dependent on the generosity of the churches for his support while in prison. There were times when he worked as a tentmaker in order to provide for his personal needs, but whenever possible, he devoted himself full-time to the ministry of the Word, depending on the Body of Christ to meet his financial and physical needs. In 2 Corinthians 11:8, Paul says, “I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you.” (ESV)3 In addition to financial support, Paul depended on the Church for other matters as well. While he was in prison he was not alone. We will see in the close of his letter to Philemon that Paul had a number of people with him.
In Philemon 21, Paul says, “I am confident as I write this letter that you will do what I ask and even more.” Paul’s confidence is based on his knowledge of Philemon’s character. Philemon’s character had been displayed in kindness and generosity toward other believers. Paul mentions this in Philemon 7 when he says:
Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people. NLT
Philemon was one of the people that Paul depended on. Non-Biblical tradition has it that later on Philemon also proved that he was willing to pay any price to be Jesus’s disciple. However, at the time that Paul wrote to him, Philemon had a nice house with the ability to host a church and provide a guest room. Philemon was not being called upon to leave his house for Kingdom purposes. However, it is clear that Philemon was already using it for kingdom purposes. Paul was able to call upon Philemon with confidence that Philemon would do the right thing, because Philemon already was living with Kingdom values.
How are you using what God has given you? Are you using it for Kingdom values? The mission that Jesus has called us to requires the resources of the whole Body. For every Paul that is called upon to serve in a full-time capacity, it takes a number of Philemons who run households, and/or give and prepare guest rooms. It only makes sense that if ten families give 10 percent, then the total giving adds up to the average of what each family is producing. Some give more than 10 percent and some give less. Paul addresses the amount of giving in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8, when he says:
6Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.
In addition to using his resources to cover the practicalities of life, Philemon gave up time in another consideration of the practicalities of life. He prayed for Paul. Paul says, “...for I am hoping that God will answer your prayers and let me return to you soon.” (Philemon 22)
From this, I gather that it was the habit of believers to pray for each other. Of course, Paul said:
I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. (2 Timothy 2:1)
And also, in Ephesians 6:18, he says:
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.
In a number of places, Paul mentions being helped by the prayers of the churches and his hope of deliverance by their prayers.
Acts 12 gives the account of Peter’s deliverance from prison by an angel. He went to the house where the believers were gathered praying for him. The girl that answered the door was so surprised that Peter was at the door that she forgot to open the door. The prayers of other believers had a part in Peter’s deliverance. In the same way, Paul was confident that the prayers of other believers would work to his deliverance.
We have examples in our lives every day whereby we are reminded of our need to pray for each other. Sickness, disease, hardship and accidents happen to all of us. This is another of the practicalities of life. Jesus has called us to make disciples, and as disciples we walk with Him and with each other in a broken and sinful world. Part of the journey of discipleship is praying for and bearing each others’ burdens.
Besides material support and prayer support, we see a caring that was part of Paul’s life and ministry. This caring was necessitated by the practicalities of life.
As I mentioned, Paul was aging. Perhaps this is why Luke traveled with him. At the close of the letter, we see that Luke was with Paul. I make special note of Luke because he was a physician, and I suspect that because of all his beatings, travel and hardship that Paul needed some help. However, I do not want to downplay the significance of the others that are listed as being with Paul. Epaphras, Mark, Aristarchus and Demas are all named. We do not know what they were all doing, but they were all with Paul and involved in ministry with him.
We often know ministry by the names of leaders. John MacArthur, Chuck Swindoll, John Piper, Matt Chandler and the list could go on and on. However, not one of these people ministers alone. There are hundreds and thousands of Epaphrases, Marks and Demases working tirelessly and namelessly behind the scenes helping, supporting, caring and sacrificing.
Every Sunday morning, every Youth group meeting and every children’s program is a group effort. I say caring for this practicality because I believe Paul needed physical care. But then again, so does anyone in ministry. No one can carry the ministry alone. We were not meant to.
We have a mission to fulfill, and we are all called upon to participate in it materially, in our prayers and in our activities. Are you a part of it, or are you a spectator?
1. Unless otherwise noted Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation. Copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Steam, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
2. https://www.google.com/search?q=what+is+the+average+age+of+death+in+the+united+states&oq=what+is+the+average+age+of+death Accessed September 30,2017.
3. Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The ESV Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version) copyright 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.