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. Operation Onesimus - Mercy ministry

OPERATION ONESIMUS - MERCY MINISTRY

PRISON TO PRAISE

 

I mentioned last week that today I will be sharing a glorious opportunity the Lord has given us to be involved in a mercy ministry. For the past many months Mark has been jumping through all the hoops to be registered with the department of Correctional Services to be a spiritual worker there to the vast amount of people in need of the gospel. I will not say more about it now, as Mark will do a 20 minute presentation as soon as I am through here. But before we get to our text for today, let me just remind you again of the purpose statement of Logos Community Church which is “to know God and to make Him known”. We are committed to that, but while we are committed to that we cannot do everything, but as the Lord gives us the right opportunities we will embrace it. I have often said that if you want to know what the spiritual gifts are in the life of the body, simply open your eyes and see it in action. When God’s people do what they are supposed to do even without reward, then we take note. One of my frustration over the years has been what I call professional missionaries, and I know many of them. They will evangelise simply when they are paid, or when they are on a short term missionary trip and somebody else is paying. Sadly professional missionaries hardly ever share their faith when they are at home. What we need is not more ‘professional missionaries’, but ‘missionaries at heart’. A missionary at heart shares the gospel wherever he is, whether he or she is at home or abroad, in season and out of season.  By the way, you get professional pastors as well, who lose their zeal for the Kingdom as soon as the salary drops.

Now today we want to introduce you to ‘Prison 2 Praise’ which will be the name of our prison ministry.  Turn with me in your Bibles to Philemon. I want to read for you verse 1 and then verse 8 -16.

“1 Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker.”

8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus— 10 I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment. 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) 12 I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 13 I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, 14 but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. 15 For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Let me give you the context of this story. Paul is in prison in Rome and he writes this letter to Philemon and the rest of the church of Colossae that met in his home. Now it is interesting that Paul introduces himself as a prisoner for Jesus Christ. He is making a point. For some reason one of the slaves of Philemon ended in prison with Paul and Paul had the privilege of leading him to Christ. He actual calls him his child born in imprisonment. Now it is interesting to note that the name Onesimus meant ‘useful’ and was quite a common name amongst slaves. Paul actually plays with his name when he says to Philemon in verse 11 that 11 (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) So for a time, because of his criminal activity, he was useless, he was not fit for his name, but now he is useful both as a slave in Philemon’s household and as a brother in the gospel. Paul actually challenges Philemon in verse 16 to accept him back now as more than a slave, but a brother. This is a clear indication that God saves people in all circumstances. Where do you want to find more people together in need of the gospel than in prison? Think about it. Their general criminal activity is either a sign that they have never met God or that they might be a Christian who sinned and committed a crime that is now being punished. If they are a Christian, they are brothers who need to be reached out to and if they are not Christians then they are in need of the Gospel and a relationship with Christ.

 

Now, we know that Paul was often in prison. For time sake I am not going to quote you all the verses. Let me give you one quotation and I will mention another one. In 2 Corinthians 11:23 Paul compares himself with the so called Super Apostles who had everything going for them. Paul says he must be speaking like a mad man as he boasts in his weaknesses rather than his strengths:  23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.”

 

Now we all remember the story of Paul and Silas in prison where they were singing praises at midnight when an earthquake struck and their blocks that they were fastened to broke away and they could escape. But Paul must be the greatest idiot or he is a ‘missionary at heart’ as he does not use this opportunity to escape but rather to lead the jailer to Christ. He leaves prison, ministers to the jailer’s family, baptises them and goes back to prison. So Paul shared the gospel with both inmates and jailers. Even when he stood before Agrippa on trial he shared the gospel.

 

I present to you today more than a prison ministry. I present to you ‘mercy ministries’. Our mercy ministries is called ‘touching hearts, mercy ministry’Our aim is “to relieve the suffering of people, now and forever through the gospel and deeds of mercy in a practical, Christ-dependent, Christ-exalting way”. Now, is it Christ exalting to be involved in these kinds of ministries.

 

The best way to answer this is by answering a second question namely: what was the purpose for Christ coming to earth? We know that He came to destroy the work of the devil but look further what Jesus says in Luke 4:18 (ESV) “18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…”

Now, sure He is talking about Spiritual captives, but did Christ care for those who are in physical captivity. We sometimes think that God is showing mercy because Jesus died, but Jesus died because God is showing mercy.

 

Let me take you to the judgment throne where Christ separates the sheep from the goats.

 

Instead of reading it together, let’s listen to Keith Green as he in song dramatizes this section. Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

These people are all experiencing miseries, and if we do not reach out to them in their miseries, then Christ says, we have not reached out to Him.

Now, let me just say this.  All mercy ministries that we will support, whether we partner with others of whether we do it alone or whether others partner with us, will be Bible based. I agree with John Piper who says that “A true passion for God can only be arrived at through a Bible-based, Bible-saturated, doctrinally rigorous, joy-pursuing vision of God. Biblical truth—truth about God and truth about Christ and truth about the way of salvation and the spiritual life—is what we mean to spread, because passion for God without it is vague and unstable and in the end, not God-exalting.”

 

There are many opportunities for mercy ministry. We will partner with people like Emanuel Gemeente where Chris Meyer is the pastor and use our puppet ministry to reach out to those little children growing up in major poverty. Mike told you about it last week. We will do the same to help Rhona to minister to the children where she is at. We will join hands from time to time with people like Bobby Were in reaching out to cancer children. Louise Page has taken over the ministry at the Samaritan House from Mark. There are opportunities for you to join, to provide and to show that you care.

 

Even though all of us will not be hands on, we all can play a part. John reminds us in 1 John 3:18 (ESV) 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” Do we realise that mercy ministry by God’s people is nothing new and is actually commanded in the Old Testament. Listen to what God says to His people in Deuteronomy 15:11 (ESV) 11 For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”

 

Now, one might ask the question. Is it not our responsibility then to only reach out to our brothers? I will give you an answer from Scripture. But, let me say this. There is always two angles to ministry, otherwise nobody will be saved. One is that we are drawn to show mercy to some people because they are Christians. The other is that we are drawn to show mercy to some people because they are not Christians. We are drawn to show mercy to Christians because we see Christ in them, and we are drawn to show mercy to unbelievers because we want to see Christ in them. We help suffering believers because they bear the name of Christ. And we help suffering unbelievers in the hope that they will come to bear the name of Christ.

We are told in Galatians 6:10 (ESV) 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” The word ‘especially’ obviously indicates that the greater weight of ministry is at home, but ‘everyone’ is our goal.

So, it is both. On the one hand we desire to confirm and honour the Christ-exalting faith of a brother or sister who is suffering by giving them relief and help; and on the other hand, we have the desire to waken Christ-exalting faith in suffering unbelievers by giving them relief and help in Jesus’ name and with Jesus’ gospel. May the words of Christ in Matthew 25 not escape us: “whatever you have done to the least of my bretheren, so you have done unto me.”

How do we respond to this sermon? The message is clear, and I can re-affirm it and re-affirm it. Let me give you one more Scriptural injunction. James 2:15-17 (ESV) 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

Can I invite us today as we embark on our ‘Operation Onesimus’ to have the attitude and character of Philemon. Look at Paul’s estimation of him. Paul says that he can actually command Philemon regarding Onesimus, but look what he does in Philemon verse 8-9 (ESV) “8 Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, 9 yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—“ Paul appeals to Philemon on the basis of love, and what do you think Paul thinks about how Philemon will respond. Look at it in Philemon 21 (ESV) 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.”

Conclusion

If we are a true church, if we are true disciples of Jesus, then we will be drawn to show mercy to some suffering people precisely because they are Christians. And we will be drawn to show mercy to other suffering people because they are not Christians. We will be like our Heavenly Father, when we love his children and we will love our enemies and we know that love seeks, at whatever cost, to spread into the hearts of people a joyful passion for God’s supreme value in all things through Jesus Christ.

 

Amen!

Soli Deo Gloria

Logos Community Church: 18 May 2014