|Volume 23 Number 12 December 2021
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV). In all too many instances, kindness is something sorely missing from our world today. The word Paul chose to convey this Christian attitude in Ephesians 4:32 is chrestos, which means profitable, fit for any good use. It can be used of both things and people, but when used of us, it carries the idea of being useful toward others, good-natured, good, gentle and kind. By showing this trait, we reveal ourselves to be children of God, “For He is kind to the unthankful and evil” (Luke 6:35).
Everyone who comes in obedience to the Gospel experiences the kindness of God. Our sins should condemn us, but God is rich in His love and mercy for us (Ephesians 2:4). He sent His Son to die so that our sins could be forgiven, and the Son freely and willingly offered Himself as a sacrifice so forgiveness could occur (Hebrews 9:26). We must never forget how we have experienced God’s kindness (1 Peter 2:3) and how we continue to enjoy it every day (Ephesians 2:7).
An example of such caring and forgiveness was recently seen during the Amber Guyger trial, who was found guilty of murdering Botham Jean a year ago, in a case some have called the “wrong apartment” murder. The details of what happened have been much discussed since then, but what transpired after she received the verdict is newsworthy as well. After the jury left the courtroom, Botham’s brother, Brandt, was allowed to address Guyger directly from the witness stand. He told her he forgave her for fatally shooting his brother. He then begged Judge Kemp to hug her, asking to do so twice, which she finally allowed after a long pause. What an act of compassion this was.
This thought, however, brings us back to where we began. Kindness – compassion – is sorely missing in our world, and unfortunately, missing in the lives of many who have experienced it themselves from Jesus Christ. How sad it is, that we who have been so richly blessed in Christ can reflect more of the world in us than we do of our Lord. Surely, it is selfishness that motivates unkind, uncaring, harsh and bitter words and deeds. How can the child of God act in such a way, when God bids us to “walk in love, as Christ also has loved us” (Ephesians 5:2)? We must remember the admonition of Paul to the Galatians, “But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:15). In His love, God showed compassion to others – to us – by sending Christ to die for our sins. What kind of love and compassion should we have toward others? “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do” (Colossians 3:12-13).
It’s too easy to say, “Well, that’s just the way I am!” The call of the Gospel, however, isn’t to stay the way it found us – lost in sin, worldly-minded and behaving badly. The Gospel bids us to be more like our Lord today so we may be like Him eternally (1 John 3:2-3). When Paul said to be kind to one another, it’s given as a command – not as an option. What a difference the world would find if Christians took imitating Christ seriously. What a difference we as Christians would find for ourselves – in peace, joy and love – if we took it seriously. How do we respond to others? Can we say of ourselves, “God’s kindness is alive in me”? Help make your part of the world a more compassionate place by practicing kindness. Who knows the difference it might make, now and eternally?
“I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten while in my chains, who once was unprofitable to you, but now is profitable to you and to me” (Philemon 1:10-11 NKJV). While Paul was under house arrest in Rome and awaiting trial, incredibly, he had opportunities to teach others the Gospel of Christ. To the church in Philippi, he spoke of the saints of Caesar’s household (4:22). The phrase could indicate the Imperial family, but it could also refer to some employed in the service of the emperor, such as staff and slaves. It very well might be used here of the praetorian or imperial guards who took shifts watching Paul. No doubt Paul took the opportunity to speak to them about the hope of salvation in Christ, and as each shift came to guard him, there would be another opportunity to preach the Truth to them. Luke concluded the Book of Acts by speaking of this time by saying, “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31).
One of those who came to Paul was a runaway slave named Onesimus. He is mentioned as belonging to Philemon, a Christian who hosted a congregation of God’s people in his home (Philemon 1:1). For whatever reason, Onesimus ran away from Philemon and wound up in Rome. We don’t have the details of why Onesimus left or how he came to be with Paul. However, it is possible he sought him out, since Paul spoke of the relationship he had with Philemon, and may have known about Paul’s situation. For whatever reason, he and Paul came together.
Onesimus means “useful,” although Paul said he was more useless than useful (Philemon 1:11). It isn’t hard for one to imagine Philemon asking Apphia, possibly his wife, “Where is Onesimus?” “I don’t know where Useful is,” she might say. “Useful,” Philemon could respond, “more like useless.” All that changed when Onesimus obeyed the Gospel and truly lived up to his name, becoming a great help to Paul, even to the point Paul said sending him back to Philemon was like sending his own heart (Philemon 1:12). What a change the Gospel had made in his life, not only in reconciling him to Philemon but changing his very view of life.
What great things God can accomplish through the power of the Gospel! As one person said, “Christianity knows nothing of hopeless cases.” Experiencing the forgiveness of his sins, and gaining a better, positive life that offers hope instead of despair, would have been a breath of fresh air for Onesimus and for Philemon as well. No matter what had happened between the two before, now, in Christ, something special could happen, something that couldn’t be experienced without both of them being united in Christ. “For perhaps he departed for a while for this purpose, that you might receive him forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16).
Sin distorts the image of God in us. It reflects itself instead, which is dark, void of what is good. Sins prevents souls from reaching their potential and being right with God. In other words, sin makes us useless! God offers us His best – Christ, who offered His best in His life and in His death for us. Now, we are useful, pleasing to God, and as Christians, we practice a better way to live, knowing eternal life awaits us.
While Paul didn’t let us know how the events associated with Onesimus and Philemon ended, in Christ we know it was much better than if nothing had changed. So it is for us. In Christ, we are better able to be children of God, cleansed of sin, kind and loving, filled with hope, and anticipating being with our Lord forever. May we all seek to be an Onesimus – useful to each other and to God. This is what an abundant life is all about.