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If you listen to people when they are in the midst of ordinary conversation (that is, when they are not rehearsing something they have prepared or when they are not arguing a particular point of view), you can often tell what is near and dear to their heart. Given even a few moments of listening in, it becomes relatively clear that she really adores her children, he doesn’t like his work all that much, they are avid fans of a particular college sports team, they really miss where they used to live.

Given this, it’s not surprising that when we listen in on Paul’s thoughts as he shares them in his writings that we not only can hear the message he is seeking to communicate but we can also pick up on the things that are near and dear to his heart. Woven into the text, bleeding through what he says, we can find indicators of what is on his heart . . . not in contrast to what he is saying but enriching what he is writing.

Notice what he writes to Philemon:

For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. (Philemon 7)

Now a quick glance at these words might leave us with the sense that Paul is saying: “I am so appreciative of the love you have for me and others.” Certainly with the warm ways that Paul speaks of Philemon, he must have been on the receiving end of Philemon’s Christian affection. But if you notice, that is not what Paul actually says here.

Paul truly has joy and feels comforted in knowing Philemon’s love, but apparently not (at least in this moment) for the benefit that comes to him because of that love. Paul’s comfort and joy arises because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through Philemon.

Can you imagine? You are sitting at a banquet and there someone is serving the delicious food to all those around. Each one at your table receives a plate filled with delectable and enticing culinary delights. And not having yet been served yourself, you tap the shoulder of the passing servant who is dishing up the food and say, “I am so overjoyed and glad in the way that you are serving those at the table. It is a delight to see you provide such refreshment to them.”

It might be hard for that servant to not wonder if you were being sarcastic–subtly trying to call his attention to the fact that you had not yet been served. But this is not Paul’s heart.

Paul is saying in these few words that he has delight and joy in how Philemon loves on and cares for others. Seeing that we get a glimpse into the heart of the apostle.

Paul really does care for the saints. What really matters to him is the growth and health and spiritual well-being of others. He really is glad when someone is living out life in Jesus in such a way that others are benefitted. He is thankful for and appreciative of Philemon–but not for himself, not for the direct benefit that has come to him.

Not focused on quenching his own soul’s thirst in the love that others extend, like a fellow-traveller on a desert trek he is glad to see the thirst of others quenched. He himself feels joy when the soul of saint is refreshed by another.


One Comment

    • InPursuitOfGrace
    • Posted November 19, 2012 at 12:20 am
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    • Reply

    Thankfulness resonates with me through this…with the Thanksgiving holiday coming up, it is easy to thank God for our families for the basic staples of life,…food, clothing, shelter. Even to be thankful for salvation, love and protection. But, to be aware of the great need of many to hear the gospel and to experience gospel-shaped living as exemplified by others…to not only be grateful, but overjoyed at the humble service others share…how beautiful is this! This kind of service is God’s work in action in the hearts of men. To acknowledge what others do to further the gospel…to be Jesus to those in need…I want this perception!

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