Speaking of Life 4041 | Refresh the Hearts of the Saints
Have you ever had friends who have hurt one another deeply and who are unable or unwilling to work together to heal the rift? Perhaps you have a deep desire for them to reconcile, and it hurts that it has not happened.
That’s what the Apostle Paul faced in his shortest letter, which he wrote to his friend, Philemon. Philemon was the previous master of Onesimus, who had been recently converted, and who now worked with Paul. Paul wanted slave and master to reconcile, so he sent Onesimus on a perilous journey to return to Philemon. Paul’s message of reconciliation is there for us to read, where he condenses his desire for their relationship to be restored by a simple phrase:
“Refresh my heart in Christ.”
Paul’s heart, along with others who loved both Philemon and Onesimus, longed for healing. Paul’s appeal to Philemon was not something that could be easily ignored because, as Paul had pointed out earlier in the letter, Philemon enjoyed refreshing the hearts of others. Note Paul’s words to his friend:
For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you. Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you…
Philemon 1: 7-9 (ESV)
For the apostle Paul, the healing of relational rifts was a core part of the Gospel ministry – so much so that he reminded Philemon that he could be “bold enough in Christ to demand it.” Paul knew Christ had given everything to enact reconciliation between God and man, and he often emphasized that we too ought to make every effort to bring reconciliation wherever we go. Yet here Paul chooses a path of loving guidance, knowing full well what was at stake for each person.
As a runaway slave, Onesimus put himself in great peril by returning to Philemon. Under Roman law he had no protection against Philemon’s wrath should Philemon not heed Paul’s plea. For Philemon, accepting Onesimus back and relinquishing his ownership of him would have had social ramifications that might lead to a loss of status and influence in his community. What Paul wanted from each was contrary to their own self-interest. Why risk it?
Because it would refresh the heart of Paul, and certainly the heart of God. That’s what reconciliation does; it refreshes the heart.
Sometimes our friends who need reconciliation might be like Onesimus and Philemon, and they need a prod. Sometimes it’s not our friends, and we need a prod. The road to reconciliation is fraught with challenges and calls for a depth of humility that we often struggle to muster. It often seems easier to simply cut a relationship loose and play the tired game of pretending the problem doesn’t exist.
Yet, for those on the outside, their hearts are grieved by the lack of restoration, and they eagerly wait for us as their friends to walk the often painful path of reconciliation that Jesus has laid out for us.
Through the great reconciler, we can have the courage and wisdom to take such a bold step. Do not shy away from the pain and struggle this will bring, for in so doing we refresh the heart of God, our hearts within, and the hearts of those around us.
I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.