Philemon 10 “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds:”
Everyone needs an advocate.
Everyone has, at some point in their life, needed someone to advocate for them. Let us understand the most real sense of the term. Webster’s defines to advocate this way:
AD’VOCATE, v.t. To plead in favor of; to defend by argument, before a tribunal; to support or vindicate.
The apostle Paul was in prison. Not an uncommon thing for him. But while he was there, he began to witness to the prisoners along with him. In Philippi, he and Silas were put into the inner prison. Archeologists have found that in the lowest parts of that prison, the men were right where the sewers of the city ran. The levels of the sewerage must have gone to their waist or even higher.
At the time of this letter, Paul was in Rome. In that prison, he met a friend’s servant, Onesimus. I am sure as time was aplenty, they shared many a testimony of how they arrived at that place, better times had and decided what to do when they got out.
The Apostle Paul was the model missionary. He would tell the gospel to all that would listen and how he came to know Him personally. In this prison, he met a man who had been a servant for a friend. From what Paul relates, he left on less than amicable terms with his master.
But now Onesimus is saved. He was daily mentored and discipled by the best teacher around. He began to grow and learn of the forgiveness and reparations that needed to take place in his life. He may have felt a deep conviction to make things right with his master, Philemon.
All of us have wronged someone in our lifetime. Some ignorantly; some intentionally. Salvation adds an element to the natural man’s life that was nonexistent previously – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God. He is known as the Comforter; One who bears witness to the truth, who convicts us of sin, and is the direct communicator to us from the Father.
Onesimus now sees the error of his ways and things he has done in the past that amounted to his sin debt.
It is one thing to be forgiven. Quite another to restore the broken relationships because of that sin.
I work with people who have stubborn habits and addictions. In almost every case, there is a wake of destruction; a line of people wronged who would never want that to say a word to that person, let alone be in their presence. They have been lied to, stolen from, and betrayed. They have been made to look the fool more than once by someone they loved, someone once trusted and possibly even family.
Hearing that that one has “turned over a new leaf,” or “found Jesus” (He wasn’t the one who was lost by the way), usually is met with a scoff and such skepticism that they keep and remain distant.
For some, their love for such a one became an enabler to their behavior. The gap between them is wide because the hurt went even deeper; knowing they contributed to their demise, instead of helping them.
The Apostle Paul is now reaching out to advocate for his new convert, Onesimus. Paul goes beyond the social structure of the day to mend the relationship not just of a servant to his master, but as brother to brother. He, Paul, is looking to vindicate Onesimus, and not so much restore the relationship, but, remake it again with Christ at the center.
Some have sinned that we wonder how they could have ever done such a thing. Whether it was the position they held, the family they came from, or the sin that captivated them. There is a sense of loathing in us that causes us to distance ourselves from that one.
We treat them as a pariah instead of lovingly, drawing them back to the Savior. We practice shunning; even today. We pull back fellowship we once had. We decline to talk to them for we become ‘too busy.’
In another single chapter book of the Bible, we read:
Jude 22-23 “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.”
Are we so lacking in compassion today?
Is it that we do not want to dirty ourselves to save another? Whether to see them saved or to help release them from the bondage of their sin, we utterly miss the opportunity to be Jesus to one in need of our help.
How soon we forget the muck and mire of our sin. How helpless we were before Jesus found us. How ungrateful we are to that one who reached down to lend a hand to pull us up – and we so unwilling to help one just like us?
Paul was an advocate for Onesimus because he could never forget the One that reached out to save his very soul. Paul remembered vividly the voice that called out to him:
Acts 9:3-5 “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.“
We are given and Advocate; Jesus Christ the righteous. He bore our sins to Calvary in love and paid a debt that we could never pay. When I think of the sins against those I hurt and abused with my selfish behavior, I am ashamed.
But, I also want them to know the forgiveness I received from the Savior can also repair our relationship and possibly our fellowship. Sometimes that is not possible. The other may be dead, or unforgiving because the hurts are too many and too deep.
That should never stop us from advocating for another.
To be an advocate does not necessarily mean direct confrontation. Most of us fear the very thought of it. But, we can come before God’s throne for them.
Hebrews 4:16 “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
We are to come to gain two things to do one for others.
We obtain mercy and find grace — mercy for the one who offended us and for us.
We are finding that grace to be given to the one who offended us.
This verse is often misapplied with ourselves as the focus.
One simple preposition turns that thought on it’s ear. “To”.
“…to find help in time of need.”
We learn from Philippians that I do not need to pray for my needs.
Philippians 4:19 “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
We have so little faith to think that ‘all our need’ does not include the pressing needs of the day, or the catastrophic failure that caused a gaping hole in our finances, or the deep wound sustained at the hand of a friend or brother.
Trusting God to meet our needs, we can focus our attention, and have compassion for those in bondage to their sin. We all fail at this, and yet, it is the extreme need of the day!
It becomes commonplace to take up opinions, express preferences, and prejudices of those around us; but, we fail to come to that very throne of grace with their name on our lips to advocate for them.
We can have roast preacher on the way home from service, but utterly fail to say one word to God on his behalf. We tell others how a brother or a sister have wronged us, yet fail miserably in bringing our petitions before the One who can truly make a difference. I am not talking about a one-line prayer request we read like a grocery list we take to the store.
I am talking about heartfelt pleading and agonizing over their soul before God.
Compassion is the ability to place ourselves in the other’s shoes and pray their way clear back into fellowship with the Savior and to us.
It is easy for us to bask in the love and fellowship when all is right in our world. But it not always “sunshine and rainbows.” A fiery dart flies from Satan’s bow and strikes one close to us: a brother or sister in Christ; a friend of many years, or maybe even a staff member or the pastor.
None of us are immune. None of us are so much better or worse than the other. Sin is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Let us not be like the Levite, or the Pharisee that passed that one wounded along the roadside.
May we be the ‘Good Samaritan’ to those around us and let them see Christ in and through us today.