A Biblical model for rural church planting in Philemon 1 -3

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These slides accompany the audio (mp3) file at https://archive.org/details/Philemon13ABiblicalModelForRuralChurchPlanting

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  • Philemon is perhaps one of the least well known and possibly less well-understood books of the NT.It’s written by Paul who is in gaol – probably duringhis first Roman imprisonment under Nero and therefore dates from The picture here is a portion of the ancient text of Philemon known as Papyrus 87 and dates from the late 2nd century AD.
  • Philemon has the form of a letter written to Philemon, a leading Christian in the church at Colossae, a man known to Paul who didn’t ever get to Colossae but preached the Gospel at Ephesus the port at the base of the Lycus Valley, where Colossae was located.It wasn’t just Colossae, it was a load of other churches too that sprang up along the trade routes leading into that city during Paul’s tempestuous but highly effective three year ministry at Ephesus.Philemon had obviously travelled down to Ephesus at some point and met Paul for Paul to be able to express himself as he does in this letter.
  • All sorts of reasons for the writing of this book have been suggested.It was a very heavily studied text during the American Civil War when the issue of slavery was a very hot potato … even hotter than its become in our news media in the last few weeks with stories of human trafficking abounding.In mission studies it has been cited frequently as being all about the way Christianity impacts local culture … so slavery was really an engrained part of Roman society, but Philemon challenges slavery.(I’m not at all sure it does that directly at all, by the way – as we’ll see).There have been loads of people who’ve cited the prominence of first person constructions in the body of this letter to argue that it is ‘just’ a personal letter to Philemon asking him to free a runaway slave (Onesimus).I (on the other hand) want to suggest to you that what we have here is Paul writing to an individual WHILE THE CHURCH IS WATCHING … demonstrating the authentic life of the early church as it engages in world mission whilst working out the implications of the Gospel of Grace AS IT GOES ALONG!There are five emphases and priorities of the early church in the Pauline mission evident in the introduction to this epistle which I want to touch on and unpack a bit today …Here are five things that made the early, missional, grace-dependant church tick.I’m majoring on these because I think our emerging Towy, Teifi and Cothi valley mission centres have a good bit to learn from these.Other important things about this letter should emerge as we work through these five emphases in the epistle.Here they come …
  • The first emphasis of the Pauline mission that emerges here is the fundamental role of apostolic teams in taking forward the Kingdom of God.Even in prison Paul is not alone.Timothy had been his pretty constant companion since they had set out together into the province of Asia in Acts 16 … Silas had come along for a while.Aquila and Priscilla too.There was no fixed elite, just a bit of a rolling ruck gaining pioneer missionary experience and finding usefulness in the Kingdom of God alongside the Apostolic ministry of the Apostle Paul.But alongside this apostolic band there are people being drawn alongside and released into local church ministries too …
  • The first emphasis of the Pauline mission that emerges here is the fundamental role of apostolic teams in taking forward the Kingdom of God.But alongside that you have to recognise that by sharing ministry with local people as they are converted and as their potential begins to emerge, that apostolic team of serial church planters shares ministry with others that it draws into its fellowship …Paul therefore writes: “To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, 2 to Apphia our sister,[a] to Archippus(E) our fellow soldier,(F)and to the church that meets in your home.”And Philemon in particular is addressed warmly in this role he is ‘the’ beloved one.He is the co-worker … with the Apostle Paul!Ministry is grown amongst people who are converted through the ministry of the apostolic team … obviously, according to their calling, their growth in grace and the ability they develop to serve the Lord.That’s the first characteristic of this work here, the first window opened on the way the early church worked.It was team work, growing teams.
  • The second characteristic is that they were never far from trouble with the authorities, because they were seeking first the Kingdom of God.The Kingdoms of this world can take that pretty much amiss!Look - Paul introduces himself in this epistle in pretty unusual terms.Elsewhere he starts letters by describing himself as ‘a servant of Jesus Christ’ (e.g. Romans 1), or ‘called to be an apostle’ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:1) …But here he describes himself as δέσμιος Χριστοῦ ἸησοῦPaul is in prison for the Gospel.It’s a bit of a strange construction here with the genitive which shows Christ is the owner of Paul the prisoner, which most commentators make sense of by making Paul a prisoner ‘for the sake of Christ Jesus’.However, it seems quite plausible that Paul rationalises his imprisonment in terms of the Sovereignty of God.Paul is GOD’s servant, and if in His all wise providence God ordains that Paul should be locked up in a Roman gaol, then Paul is not Nero’s but CHRIST’s prisoner, and will continue his apostolic mission from there!We ARE, of course, being shown that Paul’s gospel gets you in trouble with the authorities who are determined to misappropriate GOD’s authority to themselves, legislating in areas they have no right to, but we are always being shown how to relate to their persecutions WHEN they befall us because they all come to us with and to some strange extent from the hand of God.This is NOT some abstract, theoretical idea.This church at Colossae whose members Paul is addressing sprang into being out of a time of great trouble at Ephesus from vested interests and from the authorities …He turned up at Ephesus in Acts 19 and found disciples of the decapitated John the Baptist there who believed, were baptised and received the Holy Spirit.Then Paul went into the synagogue and preached there for three months: “when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them and met separately with the disciples, conducting discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.(G) 10 And this went on for two years, so that all the inhabitants of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the message about the Lord”There were extraordinary miracles done there, demons were driven out and the seven sons of Sceva received a lesson they would never forget and the fear of the Lord came on everyone so that occult practitioners came and burned their scrolls and paraphernalia in costly repentance and faith.And then a silver smith named Demetrius caused a riot because of all the money this Christian revival was costing him … the young Christians of Ephesus were all caught up in it, Paul’s traveling companions were dragged in before the crowd in the threatening surroundings of the amphitheatre … the heat was getting turned right up.So here we are in the context of the current government’s ‘big society’ – the current government that like governments which have gone before and which no doubt will follow has produced legislation that is not consistent with God’s revealed plans and purposes – trying to cosy up to government and get it to fund us in return for (perhaps) just some small compromises government requires us to make …And all the while the apostolic model is to stand apart from that for the cause of GOD’s Kingdom and to take the trouble this brings you into as from the hand of God.Mebbe we are making a mistake and need to relearn this early church perspective on dealing with the trouble standing out for this persecuted Saviour brings.Mebbe?
  • It’s not just that, though.Look at how Paul describes this other chap in the church at Colossae … “to Archippus our fellow soldier”συστρατιώτης  - Paul doesn’t speak of Christians generally as ‘soldiers’He reserves the term for himself and his fellow workers.It’s a term for men like Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25) who had played an important part in the battles of the Kingdom of God and faithfully stood by his side through persecutions and trials.Gospel preaching brought trouble from the authorities, not a reliably cosy relationship with the REALLY important people in society.
  • Well, we’ve noted already that ministry was grown, but once its grown … and to some extent of course WHILE it is grown … ministry gets shared.Philemon is not ‘our worker’.He is not treated like the person who starts as an apprentice pushing a broom who graduates to being allowed to make the tea then held down to preserve deference and maintain the status quo.Paul is Paul, that is never in doubt, but Philemon is Paul’s co-worker not his skivvy.
  • Then there is Apphia, described as ‘our sister’.Colossae lies at pretty much the head of the Lycus Valley … a bit like Cynghordy in the Bran Valley … and then up over the top of the Sugar Loaf it drops down into Llanwrtyd Wells?Well, in Lycus Valley terms Colossae was at the head of the Lycus Valley the way Cynghordy is at the head of the Bran Valley and Phrygia was up over the top and down the other side like Llanwrtyd Wells.And Apphia is a distinctively Phrygian name.She’s the girl from over the mountain pass.The suggestion is that she’s come over to Colossae to marry Philemon.
  • We’ve said a bit already about Archippus.There are lots suggestions that he is their son … or the preacher for this congregation … but there’s nothing to back any of it up.The ministry, for our purposes arises out of an apostolic team and different people in the church each play their different part.Now the next characteristic of this and many other New Testament churches is actually a bit revolutionary.
  • The Colossian church – or part of it – clearly meets in Philemon’s HOME.House churches are OFTEN mentioned in the New Testament letters.Sometimes the whole body of Christians in a city might be small enough to meet in the home of one of its members.Sometimes the whole body of Christians in a place might gather in a whole set of house church meetings … smaller circles of fellowship within a larger church.It looks as if Epaphras was the planter in Colossae, but the house church was hosted by Philemon … possibly a wealthy guy whose house could hld quite a few people.
  • Paul writes to Philemon, the leaders whose names he’s mentioned and (consciously) to the whole church meeting gathering in that place.It is noteworthy that it was not until about the middle of the third century AD that Christians began to own property for purposes of worship, so …
  • The Lycus Valley church of Laodicea met in the house of Nympha … so Colossians 4:15 says “Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her home.”
  • In Philippi the believers Paul found down by the river on the sabbath trying to hold a Jewish ‘place of prayer’ were found after their conversion meeting in Lydia’s house: Acts 16:15,“After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.”(N) And she persuaded us.”Acts 16:40, “After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house where they saw and encouraged the brothers, and departed.”
  • Anotherexample from Paul’s letters is that of Gaius who is described as host to the Corinthian church as Paul writes in Romans 16:23, “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you.”Smaller groups also appear to have met in Corinth … 1 Cor. 14:23
  • And my final example from the Pauline mission would be that of Aquila & Priscilla who (as they moved around sharing to some extent in the role of the Apostolic team, nonetheless) extended hospitality to home groups in the cities to which they went.We know very little about how these home groups worked, but we d know that this is what was done … and the practice is elabrated from the start f the era of the church immediately after Pentecost as it is described for us in Acts 2 …“Brothers, what must we do?”(AD)38 “Repent,”(AE) Peter said to them, “and be baptized,(AF) each of you, in the name(AG) of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children, and for all who are far off,[n](AH) as many as the Lord our God will call.”40 And with many other words he testified and strongly urged them, saying, “Be saved from this corrupt[o] generation!”“41 So those who accepted his message were baptized, and that day about 3,000 people were added to them. 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching,(AJ) to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.(AK)43 Then fear came over everyone, and many wonders and signs were being performed through the apostles.(AL) 44 Now all the believers were together and held all things in common.(AM) 45 They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as anyone had a need.”“46 Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple complex, and broke bread from house to house. They ate their food with a joyful and humble attitude,(AN) 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to them[q] those who were being saved.”Public outreach in the Temple Courts (later in the Pauline mission it would be synagogue, market and on one occasion a hired hall (the lecture hall of Tyrannus at Ephesus).Private teaching, fellowship and agape meal/ breaking of bread in their homes (and it must have been MULTIPLE homes because there were three thousand converts on the day of Pentecost, and soon there were 5,000 believers in Jerusalem).
  • Paul takes a standard greeting and by modifying it, invests it with good Christian theology …He expresses a deep, prayerful concern for Philemon, Apphia, Archippus and the church that meets in that house …He wants grace to be big with them, and he wants peace to be big with them.That’s the right order.Grace comes first.You cannot know the peace without first knowing the grace.But peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ comes along with it … right behind it.Paul needs these guys at Colossae … and particularly Philemon … to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the grace of God in which they stand and the peace from God it brings to them as the result of the new relationship they’ve entered into with God as their sins have been forgiven.Why, particularly?Because it is the grace of God that has paid the price of Philemon’s sin and set him free that will be the basis of Paul’s appeal to Philemon to remit Onesimus the escaped slave’s debt to Philemon and set him free to return to Rome and serve Paul in the role not of a slave but as a brother … set free to serve the God Whose grace both Onesimus and Philemon are thankful for.
  • So what we have in the Pauline mission is apostolic teams, seeking first the Kingdom of God therefore often in trouble with the Kingdoms of men, sharing and developing ministry, sharing the faith publicly but meeting as the church in homes and utterly focussed on the grace that brings peace with God – and working it out in a culture far from and hostile to God in situations like this awkward one that arises with Onesimus and Philemon when a runaway slave is converted.How does what WE do measure up to that pattern, to that model of Biblical ministry, and what would we need to do to adopt it?
  • A Biblical model for rural church planting in Philemon 1 -3

    1. 1. Welcome to Grace All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
    2. 2. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction
    3. 3. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction
    4. 4. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction Just a personal request? Christianity & slavery? What is it about? Open window on early church? Demonstration Christianity challenges culture?
    5. 5. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction • Apostolic teams – Serial pioneers
    6. 6. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction • Apostolic teams – Serial pioneers – Growing ministry “To Philemon our dear friend and coworker, 2 to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your home.”
    7. 7. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction • Apostolic teams • In trouble with the authorities δέσμιος Χριστοῦ Ἰησοῦ
    8. 8. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction • Apostolic teams • In trouble with the authorities – Prisoner of Christ Jesus – Archippus our fellow soldier “… to Archippus our fellow soldier …”
    9. 9. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry
    10. 10. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry – Philemon our co-worker
    11. 11. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry – Philemon our co-worker – Apphia our sister
    12. 12. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry – Philemon our co-worker – Apphia our sister – Archippus our fellow soldier
    13. 13. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes
    14. 14. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – “… and to the church that meets in your home.”
    15. 15. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – “… and to the church that meets in your home.” – Laodicea – Nympha’s house
    16. 16. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – “… and to the church that meets in your home.” – Laodicea – Nympha’s house – Philippi – Lydia’s house
    17. 17. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – “… and to the church that meets in your home.” – Laodicea – Nympha’s house – Philippi – Lydia’s house – Corinth – Gaius’s house
    18. 18. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – “… and to the church that meets in your home.” – Laodicea – Nympha’s house – Philippi – Lydia’s house – Corinth – Gaius’s house – Ephesus & Rome – Priscilla & Aquila’s homes
    19. 19. • • • • • Philemon 1:1-3 Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes – – – – – “… and to the church that meets in your home.” Laodicea – Nympha’s house Philippi – Lydia’s house Corinth – Gaius’s house Ephesus & Rome – Priscilla & Aquila’s homes • Conclusion: What do we need to CHANGE?
    20. 20. Philemon 1:1-3 • Introduction • Apostolic teams • In trouble with the authorities • Shared ministry • Church meets in homes • Focused on grace “3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    21. 21. Philemon 1:1-3 • • • • • • Introduction Apostolic teams In trouble with the authorities Shared ministry Church meets in homes Focused on grace

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