(continued from yesterday)
I am a hiker. In warm or cold weather I love to put on my boots and a pack and climb steep ridges on paths that weave in and around rocks and roots. Depending on the temperature and my pace I am quite capable of exhausting myself to the point of dehydration. If you participate in any sort of rigorous exercise for fitness or for work, you may be familiar with that point in the activity where it seems you just cannot take one more step. Everything in you feels weak and fatigued. Maybe you even feel like you’ve failed. This is what Paul is talking about when he says that Philemon refreshes the saints. His description leads me to think that Philemon has a way of showing up to encourage others in moments where they feel they cannot keep going. In their work or mission for Christ – either without seeing the fruits of their labor or not being remembered in crucial times, he brings them love in such a way that they feel refreshed and find a renewed energy to keep going. Maybe Philemon is able to bring this sort of love into their lives because he knows what it feels like to need that boost, a spiritual pep talk, but I’m sure that his gift to refresh is meant to teach us another approach to living in love.
There is another aspect to this refreshment that appears in Philemon. Near the end, in verse 20, Paul tells Philemon of his present wish; “I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ.” As a stand-alone verse, without context, it might not make much sense to us. It must be possible for Philemon to refresh Paul’s heart in Christ, but how?
Recently I was talking with some girlfriends about a situation where a young man went out of his way to make our kids feel special and appreciated. One by one our kids lit up with beaming glows across their faces. I remember one of the other moms saying, “it’s so refreshing to see such kindness from a stranger.” The young man who stopped by our kiddos to pay them some special attention took us by surprise with his actions. He could have ignored them or he could have been indifferent altogether, but instead he offered a gift of refreshment to all of us just by taking a moment to notice and to participate. From my perspective living in the same exhausting world as you do, I see that notice and participation can go a very long way in refreshing the heart of another person. It can grab the attention and interest of an unbeliever and it can be the boost of energy a saint needs on her mission with Jesus. Are we finding or are we making opportunities to be a source of refreshment for someone who is exhausted?
When Paul asked Philemon to be a benefit to him by refreshing him in Christ, there is a relevant back-story that we also need to process. Philemon had been a slave owner. Onesimus was a young man that Paul met in prison and while together, Paul led him to be a follower of Christ and in their time together they became like father and son. Paul loved Onesimus dearly and knew that he had once been a slave to Philemon. What little there is to read about this situation suggests that Onesimus had “escaped” slavery and that Philemon no longer held mastery over him. (As a reminder, Paul and Onesimus have now become like father and son.) Paul could have kept him close and continued in their friendship but he felt that in all fairness to Philemon, Onesimus needed to be returned. In the letter, Paul informs Philemon that he is sending Onesimus back to him but with that he issues Philemon a challenge. Instead of taking him back as a slave, Paul encourages Philemon to receive Onesimus as a brother in Christ. More specifically, Paul asks Philemon to view Onesimus the same way as he would view Paul, as a friend and as a partner. At the point that Paul asks Philemon for the benefit of refreshing his heart, Paul is asking Philemon to do the right thing and suggests that for Philemon to receive Onesimus as friend rather than a slave, would be the very refreshment that Paul needs.
The implications of being a source of refreshment in this way would be easy to miss but I see many details in this tiny book. We can be a source of refreshment when we welcome a slave (a slave to sin) because we each have been slave to some form of sin in our own lives. We refresh when we do the right thing, as in accepting a former slave, loving them and in helping them face their pasts for the purpose of maturing to usefulness.
God’s love is so refreshing.
Merriam Webster defines “refresh” as to restore strength. Refreshing is defined in this way: (adj.) Pleasantly new, different or interesting. Making you feel more rested, energetic, etc.
Keeping this definition in mind, how do you perceive the following verse in Acts 3 vs 19? “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”. If I look at this against my own life, I see that if I repent (turn away from MY will and walk IN God’s will for my life), I will experience times of refreshing. Awesome – I’ll be pleasantly new, more rested and energetic. That’s pretty cool but there is more. I will experience times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. In what way might the Lord be present for me? I believe it is through other Christians. He will send someone else to refresh me through acts of love, acceptance and kindness or through good deeds done unto me.
This must also mean that I will be used by God to refresh others, that He will be present in me and use me to carry out acts of love, acceptance, kindness and good deeds unto others.
According to John in the book of Acts and to Paul in the book of Philemon, there is a call to be refreshed and to be a refresher.
Sweet Jesus, do we miss the gift of your refreshment? Are our eyes so cloudy that we fail to see every way that you give us new breath and hope to take one more step? Lord help us know the ways You keep us going. Give us courage and determination to refresh others as they need it, because we all need it. That your love would encourage us to pour out every mercy you have poured in. Jesus, help us love like you. Amen.