What’s the first thing people think about when they hear your name? What kind of thoughts does your name evoke in the minds of those around you? Are you known for your outgoing personality? Your love of sports? Your stamp collection? What are you known for?
I work as a river guide on the New River in West Virginia. This summer, I got married at the beginning of the river season (which runs through August), so I missed the first few weeks of training. When I got back and met one of the newly hired guides, one of the first things she said to me was, “Oh, you’re Caleb! The Calvinist guy, right?”
Before I had even arrived, the rest of my co-workers had told her I loved to talk about Calvinism – to them, that’s what I was known for! While there are worse things to be known for than what kind of theological system you ascribe to, it got me thinking. What do other people think about when they think of me? Furthermore, what would I want them to think? If I could be known for one thing, what would it be?
And then I came across the book of Philemon. Often an overlooked book, Philemon was a rich source of devotional material for me this summer. It also caused me to engage in some deep introspection. The verse that kept grabbing my attention over and over again was Philemon 4.
Philemon 4: “I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.” [ESV]
This little letter is only 25 verses long and the bulk of it deals with Paul’s plea for Onesimus, Philemon’s runaway slave. Of the 25 verses, only one gives us any real insight into the character of Philemon. That verse is verse 4.
Paul only had one verse to talk about Philemon’s character and he talked about his love. That tells me that the first thing that came to Paul’s mind when he thought of Philemon was, “This guy really loves Christ. And he really loves Christ’s church.” And he commends him for it!
Philemon was somebody known by his love for Christ. More than likely, the church this letter is indirectly addressed to met in Philemon’s home. Philemon, who was almost surely well-off financially, opened up his home to people who were of a lower class than him. He welcomed them into his home and ministered to them. Because he let the love of Christ influence his treatment of others.
When people thought of Philemon, they thought of his love for Christ and his ministry to the church.
I want to be someone that is known for love. Do you?
Is love one of the first things that comes to people’s minds when they think of you? Or do they immediately think about your less than desirable traits? Your short temper with people. Your criticisms of their faults. Your sarcastic remarks directed at them. Your unwillingness to devote time to them.
Sadly, I know that love isn’t always the first thing people think of when they think of me. You might know that about yourself too. So let us strive together to change that.
Let us learn to love like Philemon.
Let us serve Christ’s church with vigor, let us take the time to invest in relationships, let us commit to discipling young believers, let us open up our homes to those in need, and let us love our brothers and sisters in Christ like Philemon loved his!
It was Christ Himself that said in John 13:35 that, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” [ESV]
If we aren’t known for our love, can we really be known as Christians at all? I pray that we will grow deeper in our knowledge of Christ so that our love for Him will increase and spur us on to love our brothers and sisters like Philemon did!
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