Real Faith in a Real World

Reading: Philemon

The English language gives us some very picturesque ways of describing things.

We sometimes say that doing something is "as easy as falling off a log". Now, I know that some of you as children were so good at walking on a log that you would never fall off. Have you ever been in one of those picnic areas that are surrounded by a fence of logs? Have you gone all the way around, jumping the gaps, without falling off? Still... even if you can do it, you still know that falling off is very easy. Remember riding your bike on a bitumen road that wasn't sealed all the way to the gutter. Do you remember? That broken edge drew you over like a magnet! Getting off into the rough - not very good for your tyres! - was just so easy.

On the other hand, we may say that doing something is "as easy as pi (or pie)". Where does that saying come from? the cook or the mathematician? Is the humble pie an easy recipe - compared with the sponge cake? The other Pi, of course, is the ratio between the circumference and diameter of a circle. As you are aware, its value is 3.313592653589793 to fifteen decimal places. If we could keep on going, it never repeats itself. As easy as Pi?

The Christian Life is Natural

Walking on a log is tricky because it is rounded and our feet don't have anything to hold on with. Have you ever seen birds staying upright on a power line? We wonder how ever they manage it! Yet they are designed to hold on and can manage a wire much better than we can manage a log!

We were designed to know, to love and to trust God. Living in this way is natural for us. Sharing our lives with God in prayer is natural for us. Listening for what God is saying to us in his Word is natural for us. Living an unselfish life and being kind to others is natural for us. Obeying God at all times with understanding, integrity and cheerfulness is natural for us.

Do you believe that? Too often we get tricked into believing otherwise! We think that being a Christian is a bit odd - like learning to go around the house doing hand-stands all the time! No! The Christian life is natural!

To say that, of course, is to suggest that so much of what we accept as normal human life and behaviour is unnatural. It may well be common, habitual or even universal - but that doesn't make it "natural".

Yes, there is something wrong! It has to do with what we call "sin". On the one hand, it is the rebel in us that chooses to disobey God. On the other, it is our failure - even with our best intentions - to be what God designed us to be.

Sin affects us in a number of ways. We are guilty and need to be forgiven - that's why Jesus died for our sins. Our habits of thinking, willing and acting are warped and twisted by sin and need the cleansing and empowering work of the Holy Spirit. And we have to learn over again to walk with God - sharing our life with him in listening to his Word, praying and acting.

If we find the Christian life is difficult, there are probably two reasons. First, we have to unlearn our wrong ways of thinking and acting. Second, we live in a world which continues to live either ignoring God or actively hostile to him.


Today we have shared the letter Paul wrote to his friend Philemon who lived in Colossae. We don't know much about Philemon's story. Paul says to him, "you owe your very self to me" (v.19b). He had probably become a Christian because of Paul. Now his home is open to other believers and they meet as a church in his house.

Philemon has a slave by the name of Onesimus. A Christian keeping a slave? No, Philemon didn't understand that he shouldn't be keeping a slave now that he was a Christian. I am sure that Onesimus would have noticed that he was treated differently by his master now. But no, Christians didn't understand that being a Christian automatically meant freeing slaves, even though all people were now viewed differently. I suppose in a way they saw it as employing someone.

But Onesimus ran away. He didn't like being a slave. He knew that Roman law applied very severe penalties for slaves who escaped.

Why would Onesimus run away from a master who was kinder now? Perhaps the new kindness of his master gave an opportunity to escape that had not existed before.

But now Onesimus had found his way to Rome where Paul was in prison for his faith. Through Paul, Onesimus had become a Christian.

The Christians at Colossae had sent Tychicus to Rome to see how Paul was getting on. Now Paul was sending Tychicus and Onesimus back to Colossae. This is what Paul writes in Colossians 4.7 and 9 - "Our dear brother Tychicus, who is a faithful worker and fellow-servant in the Lord's work, will give you all the news about me... With him goes Onesimus, that dear and faithful brother, who belongs to your group. They will tell you everything that is happening here."

Did you hear that? "Onesimus, that dear and faithful brother, who belongs to your group"! He had been an unbelieving slave before he ran away, but now he is a brother in Christ and belongs to your group!

And what a beautiful letter to Philemon himself! How is Philemon going to receive his run-away slave? Paul appeals to him to receive Onesimus as a Christian brother and offers personally to pay any money that might be owed to Philemon.

Real Faith in a Real World

The point is that we have to live out a real faith within the real world - a world that is far from ideal and in which we, though redeemed, are still far from ideal.

The Christian life is natural, but not easy - because there is so much about us on which the Lord is still working and because there is so much of the world's life that is distanced from the Lord.

Jesus said, "Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple". We have to count the cost. It will take all that we have (Lk.14.25-33).

Discipleship is costly. But in the community of faith we can support one another as together we seek to be whole people and to bring wholeness to our world.

(c) Peter J. Blackburn, Maroochydore Uniting Church, 19 July 1998
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, (c) American Bible Society, 1992.
Back to Sermons