Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy the brother, to Philemon the one loved by God and our fellow-worker...Therefore, although in Christ having frankness to direct you in what is fitting, through God’s love, rather, I urge such being as Paul, an elder now and also a prisoner of Christ Jesus; I call alongside you concerning my child, whom I begot in the prison, Onesimus, the once to you useless one, yet now to you and to me useful, whom I sent back to you, him, this one is my gut; whom I myself wanted to retain for myself, so that on your behalf a servant to me in the imprisonment of the gospel; yet without your knowledge, I wished to do nothing, so that not as according to compulsion your goodness be, but according to willingness. For perhaps through this he was separated a time, so that eternally you have him back, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother of God’s love, especially to me, and rather how much more to you also in the flesh and in the Lord. Then, if you have me in communion, receive him as me. And if anything unrighteous to you or owed, this is to me charged. I myself, Paul, write in my hand, I myself will repay; so that I not say to you that even yourself to me you owe. Yes, brother, I myself benefited you in the Lord; give me rest of my guts in Christ. Confident in your obedience I write you, having known that also beyond what I say you will do.
When we think of being a “disciple”, we often think of it in terms of what we do for God. We couldn’t be more wrong. We mistake Christian discipleship with being some sort of apprentice, performing the tasks Donald Trump gives us so that we won’t be fired in the boardroom at the end of the day. But being a disciple of Christ is not about what you do for Jesus. It’s about the cost to you. It’s about what is done to you, as you suffer for Christ’s sake, bearing your own cross as you are targeted by Satan.
You are to take up your cross, but don’t foolishly start boasting and bragging that you are an excellent cross-bearer. Even the Almighty Jesus couldn’t carry His Own cross to Calvary, as Simon of Cyrene had to carry it for Him. No, bearing your cross is not about your works of bearing up under burdens. Cross bearing is about suffering a loss. It’s about accepting the burdens, especially the ones you aren’t able to withstand, as Philemon suffered the loss of his runaway slave Onesimus.
Though you may suffer the loss of goods, fame, child, or wife, your losses pale in comparison to what Jesus lost for you at Calvary. Jesus bore His cross losing much more than you ever could. He Who knew no sin became your sin at Golgotha. The holy Father forsook His only-begotten Son on the cross, Jesus suffering the eternity of hell in those moments before His death. All this so that you would never be forsaken, but you remain as one who is loved by God’s Own agape love, now and for eternity!
The suffering God allows for you does indeed include your decisions and actions at times. Some sufferings you *could* avoid by choosing a path other than the one God has laid out for you. Just like Philemon had a choice to either severely punish Onesimus, or take him back as a brother in Christ. But don’t think that your cross bearing decisions are all about your obedience. They do not come from the compulsion of the Law and all its demands. Instead, they are of Christian freedom in Jesus.
For Jesus, however, it was about His obedience. His humanity prayed that the cup of suffering God’s wrath at the cross might pass from Him. But His divine understanding accepted the cross, praying, “not My will, but Thine be done”. All so that you too can pray that petition, that God’s will be done for you, His kingdom come to you, and His holy name be given to you in Holy Baptism. As Jesus took your place in death, He raises you up in your Baptism to walk a new life, an abundant life, life everlasting!
Your cross-bearing might seem to be all about you and what you must bear, but it really isn’t. Though your burdens seem unique to you, you know that you are not the only sufferer. Just like Paul reminds Philemon that they have a fellowship with each other in suffering, with Paul suffering in prison for preaching the gospel, while Philemon endures a lesser burden of temporary loss of a slave. So whether your burden is small or great, know that suffering is common for all believers in Christ.
For Jesus told His first disciples that they would suffer because He Himself suffered, as the prophets before Him suffered. Yet Jesus bears the greatest griefs of all on the cross of Calvary. There He gives up His body given unto death for all the world. There His holy, precious blood He sheds for you. So the communion fellowship you have with Jesus and your fellow disciples of Christ is not just one of sharing suffering. You also share His body and blood, eaten and drunk for your forgiveness, life and salvation.
Hymns for today from LSB:
#705 The Man is Ever Blessed
#853 How Clear is our Vocation, Lord
#851 Lord of Glory, You Have Bought Us