Let me tell you a story about a man named Steven. Steven was a wealthy business owner living in Waco, TX. He owned a chain of very popular restaurants and was very active in the community. Steven loved his family. He and his wife had now been married for 35 years. He treated his wife with love and as an equal partner, because he was not the Lord of his house. He had a great relationship with his kids. His kids were treated with love and respect. He loved spending quality time with his kids. He gave to charity and even helped his employees by paying higher wages than anyone else and also gave low interest loans to his employees. Steven helped start a church in their city. When the church was starting out he paid the pastor’s salary and the whole church met in his home. As you can imagine, Steven had a reputation. People knew him as kind, gracious, and very generous. But that’s not where this story started. You see, Steven had become a follower of Jesus and it changed everything about his life.
Many years before this, Steven’s life looked very different. He was wealthy, but he used his wealth to gain power over others and earn more and more money. He only cared about his employees as a means to an end. And his family, he treated like an arm of his business. He ran everything, and everyone had a job to do to move the business forward and gain more rewards. Then one day he was at one of his restaurants and met Pastor Dan who was eating with a few people starting a new church. Pastor Dan spent time talking to Steven. Discussions turned into coffee, and dinner with his family that weekend. Pastor Dan shared the love of Jesus and the new way of his kingdom with Steven. It didn’t take long before something was changing in Steven’s mind, heart and life. Jesus transformed his heart and over the next few years Jesus would change his desire for money to a desire for people and community. He changed his desire for power into a desire to see Jesus glorified in the world around him. He had left the citizenship of his old way of living for the Kingdom of God and it changed everything.
You may say, wow! What an awesome story. Steven is a man of God we all aspire to be. But that’s the thing with Christ’s mission in this world for us, Jesus is not interested in getting us to a place where we can coast. He is continually calling us to be people of His kingdom. And opportunities arise that will test our desire to live in the kingdom of God or in the Kingdom of power and wealth. This happened to Steven. You see Steven had a kitchen assistant in one of his restaurants who he had supported and helped many times. His name was Andy. Andy just couldn’t seem to make ends meet. He was so thankful for the job and even the low interest loan that his boss, Steven, had given him to help secure a place to live, but he just couldn’t seem to get ahead. Then it happened while working on his gutters, Andy slipped and fell off his roof. Thankfully he was alive, but he was going to need surgery on his arm. The medical bills started piling up. He wasn’t making it before this point, now with the medical bills, the loan from his boss, and his starting salary he felt like this world was caving in. “What should I do?” he thought. He didn’t feel like he could go to his boss and felt he was becoming too much of a burden. And then the moment arrived. The manager on duty had an emergency at closing and asked Andy to take the cash for the day to the bank. He was on his way to the bank and he just had this thought in his mind…run. And so he did. He didn’t go to the bank. He kept driving. He was running from his job, his bills, his debt, Steven. He was running from it all and stealing from Steven, the boss that had shown him kindness so many times. He found shelter in the next state and tried to figure out what to do next.
The next thing that happened we may see as a coincidence, but in God’s eyes there are no coincidences. Andy, the employee on the run, met Pastor Dan. Yup, the same pastor that helped Steven, our wealthy restaurant owner, turn to Jesus all those many years ago. Andy was confronted with Jesus and a new way of living, and he turned his life to Jesus and began to be transformed through His power working in him. He also went to work and was discipled by Pastor Dan. He helped with things around the church and in exchange, Pastor Dan allowed him to stay in the missionary house attached to the church. Slowly but surely, Christ was calling Andy to be led by His spirit and convicting Him of what he had done. Andy began to tell Pastor Dan about his past and the pieces began to fall into place in Pastor Dan’s mind. He knew both men in this story. Pastor Dan knew that living out the kingdom of God was not just about being nice to people, but about reconciliation. He had seen the change in Andy’s life. He knew that if he told him to go back and turn himself in that he would do it, but he also knew that this meant that poverty and even jail time would be waiting for Andy. He also knew that he couldn’t truly live as a part of the kingdom of God without repenting and confessing of his crimes. But Pastor Dan thought this could be a transformational moment for Steven as well. So Pastor Dan told Andy to be prepared to wait two days and drive back to see his old boss, knowing full well that this meant that Andy would surely go to jail for a long time.
But that night Pastor Dan sat down at his computer and wrote an email to his old friend and the man He called out of sin and welcomed into the Kingdom of God. The email said this:
I pray this letter finds you well. I pray for peace and love would flow through your entire family and the church that meets in your house. Steven, I thank God for you all the time, I’ve heard of your love and generosity, which you have for Christ Jesus and everyone you meet. It is so good to know that we are on the same team! Your actions in the community are a beautiful example of who we are called to be as people of the Kingdom of God.
God sometimes surprises us with chances to grow in our faith and I believe he has given you one of those opportunities. Because of your reputation, I’m sure you will do what is right with this situation, but I wanted to talk to you about a former employee of yours, Andy. You may or may not believe this, but he became a follower of Jesus and over the last few years I have personally been discipling him. When he left you he was broken, hurting, angry, and in a word useless, but now he is a beloved member of God’s family and I believe incredibly useful to us both.
Long story short, he will be at your house in two days, and honestly I’m so sad to see him go. I would have loved for him to stay here, but I didn’t want to rob Andy of an opportunity to confess and seek forgiveness and give you the opportunity to see Andy and hopefully show him kindness. Who knows, maybe this is why he ran away, so that he might find the love of Jesus Christ and then be given back to you, but no longer as a thief and one in debt, but as a loved brother in Christ Jesus. He has become such a great friend, I think he will become a friend to you.
So, I have a BIG ask, if you really consider me a partner in the Kingdom of God, welcome Andy back as if you were welcoming me. I know he has stolen from you. Bill me. I will pay for it if you need someone to pay! Just remember there was a time when you needed grace and it was given to you!
Just think about what it means to be a follower of Christ. What would it look like to give him his job back, forgive the crimes against you, and maybe do more than I am asking regarding the debt he personally owes you?
Your friend and partner in ministry,
And that’s where I will end this story.
I hope you have a lot of questions, like:
What happened to Andy? Did He go to jail? Did Steven forgive his debts? Did he really give him his job back?
We have no idea because this has been a modern retelling of everything we know about the one chapter book of the Bible called Philemon.
Philemon was a wealthy follower of Christ who had a slave, (the equal in modern days to having a low paid individual with massive debts) who ran away and stole from him. The information we have of this story is what Paul asked of Philemon,. We don’t know what he actually did after that.
But maybe that’s best, because now we can put ourselves in Philemon’s place.
We can choose radical reconciliation.
- Where in your life does reconciliation need to happen today?
- What social barriers stand in the way of you showing love, grace and compassion?
- How is God calling you to radical reconciliation?
And finally, Pastor Dan (Paul) did not need to send that letter. It wasn’t his job to get involved, but he saw an opportunity to help restore and make a broken relationship whole. It’s interesting that the book of Philemon is the only letter of Paul where he doesn’t mention the death and resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because he didn’t need to mention it. He was showing Andy and Steven what the cross did in his very life. Not only begging them to reconcile, but also taking on the debt so that relationship could be restored.
Today we have seen what it means for Jesus to reclaim humanity.
So I leave you with these final questions:
- Where is the restoration of God most badly needed in the people you know?
- How can you stand in the middle, holding out your arms to people on either side, bringing together those divided by large and small gulfs, ready to be a peacemaker and reconciler in the name of Jesus?