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  • Writer's pictureClay Burgess

Relational Evangelism (Sermon)


Have you ever had a car that was out of alignment? It would pull one way or the other, perhaps sometimes it was hard fought to keep your car between the lines. When I was in Seminary a family gave us their old minivan. It was old. It creaked and raddled and the A/C didn’t work. But it moved. It would get you from point A to point B, just not in style and in the summer, not in comfort!

It never really seemed to drive straight. It more crabbed down the road, kind of sideways if you can picture that, creaking and crabbing—with no A/C. One particular day it all seemed a little worse than normal, so I stopped in a shop to have it looked at. That turned out to be a good idea. Apparently, the rear passenger wheel was about to leave the vehicle! The mechanic went on something about a little carter key that was missing.

But without a check, disaster was coming. In this series, that’s was what we are trying to do, avoid disaster with proper checks. We are doing it in the form of diagnostic questions. Their purpose is to give you pause to evaluate if your life is aligned and moving safely in the right direction. To align something is to bring it into the correct position and regular evaluation is necessary to ensure life is operating properly. Evaluation can be uncomfortable, but ignoring warning signs can be devastating. I know this about you, you do not desire to train wreck your life. That is not part of your plan. No one ever plans to ruin their life, they just never plan NOT to…what steps are you taking to insure it ends well for you?

So far, we have looked at four topics and have asked four questions. Here they are just to bring you up to speed. You can catch up on these on our Website. Christ-Centered Worship: “Who or what is the object of your affections?” Persistent Prayer: “Are you confident that God will answer?” Biblical Authority: “Is the Bible the final authority for your behavior?” Servant Leadership: “Are you intentional in serving others?” In evaluating our church, we call these our directional values. Their purpose is to be diagnostic cues to insure we are doing the right things the right way. Churches need it and so do you.

Today we move to “Relational Evangelism” and the question is: “In whom are you investing?” There are two words in this directional value that have the potential to make someone uncomfortable. “Relational” and “Evangelism.” Either can be awkward or stressful.

In my background, Baptist, personal evangelism is a big deal. It is something you are expected to do if you love Jesus! In seminary, more than one class required us to make “evangelistic contacts.” Nothing, in my opinion, was more unnerving than approaching strangers and trying to convince them how not to end up in Hell! For me, it would usually end up with throwing a tract at them and running! Super NOT effective. Or—good old fashion “door to door.” Again, as a Baptist, it had to be done…every Tuesday night! We would gather, partner up, and get our assignment or assigned area and go.

One night I was partnered with Matt who was hired by the church to be in charge of such matters. He was in charge; I was just along for the spiritual credit in Heaven of course! He knocked on the door, a lady answered and once learning where we came from proceeded to let us hold it—all that was wrong with the church, etc. Exciting times! After a few moments of awkward silence, Matt apologized and we hurried back to the car. After we buckled up, he said: “Well, that went well.” I was thinking, there has to be a better way, because this too was super NOT effective.

If you have Good News, news that needs to be shared, how can you do it effectively? Do people who have been reconciled to God have a responsibility? If so, what does that look like?

If you have your Bible or electronic device, grab it and meet me in Philemon. A very short book found in the New Testament. Paul’s short letter by Bible letter standards, at 335 Greek words was the average length in Roman, Greek, and Jewish worlds of the 1st century. In it we will find some insights on how to engage with people for the sake of the Gospel.

Introduction: Thanksgiving and Prayer (1-7)

Philemon 1-2—Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our beloved fellow worker and Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier, and the church in your house.

Here we see that it was a personal letter from Paul to Philemon. Though personal, it was not private. Others were included—perhaps his family—wife and son, and it was likely that the letter was read in front of the entire church. Those gathered for instruction, prayer, worship, and fellowship. Notice that Paul is a prisoner because of his faith and thus is dependent on others for support, including food and water.

Philemon 3—Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

According to Scot McKnight: “Grace” refers to God the Father’s goodness and redemptive work showered upon unworthy, non-status humans who are transformed by that grace into saints.”[1] “Peace” refers to general well-being, including material flourishing as well as inner and relational wholeness of God’s people now that they have found themselves in Christ.[2] Likely meaning reconciliation as well.

Philemon 4-5—I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Notice the politeness and tact that Paul uses. He comes across as modest, humble, and genuine. He is not seeking what is best for him, but God’s best for Philemon. He personally has good memories and has heard good things about Philemon regarding his “love” and “faith.” “Love” is central to the Christian ethic. God’s example of love is selfless and sacrificial. Our love towards others is to be ongoing…for “all the saints”—those dedicated to God.

Philemon 6—and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.

The idea that Paul is expressing here is one of mutual participation or active association. N. T. Wright captures it this way: “Christians give to one another because they belong to one another.”[3] The goal for all—a deeper knowledge and perception of who God is. Perhaps Paul is reminding Philemon, refreshing his thinking, so we will be prepared to respond correctly to what he is going to ask.

Philemon 7—For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you.

Philemon is depicted as a man who cares, loves others, leads with grace, and extends mercy.

Paul’s Appeal (8-22)

Philemon 8—Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required

Paul gives up or yields his right to command or demand with authority. The authority that he has “in Christ.”

Philemon 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.

Here Paul gives up his preference and appeals to “love.” He speaks of himself as an “old man” and as a “prisoner,” thus identifying with the marginalized and powerless. He is seeking sympathy from Philemon.

Philemon 10—I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I became in my imprisonment.

Now Paul is coming to the point. He has an asked regarding “Onesimus” whose name means “useful.” The idea is “have some benefit.” Apparently, he was a runaway slave that came to faith in Christ by Paul’s leading.

Philemon 11— (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.

He has now actually become “useful” or really useful though his new birth in Christ.

Philemon 12-13—I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. 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.

Paul’s desire seems to be reconciliation between Philemon and Onesimus. To be clear, reconciliation is “The removal of enmity and the restoration of fellowship between two parties.”[4] He would have liked for Onesimus to stay and continue to work with him, but…

Philemon 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.

Paul wants Philemon to be part of the discussion, in on the decision-making process. N. T. Wright points out: “When God is at work, all the actors in the drama are important.”[5]

Philemon 15-16—For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Paul is saying that even if Onesimus returns to his post, he can never again be merely a slave. Now he is a brother in Christ, a dear brother!

Galatians 3:28 (ESV)—There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Philemon 17—So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me.

To “receive him” implies reconciliation, restoration, restitution, and reinstatement.

Philemon 18—If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Paul is willing to pick up the tab for anything owed. Perhaps Onesimus stole something to fund his flight.

Philemon 19—I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.

Even though you owe me, I’ll get it. Paul is asking this because he knows the One who has paid a greater cost to bring reconciliation. The cost is due to our sin and the price is death. Jesus willingly paid the price.

Christopher Wright reminds us: “…the consequences of sin in our individual lives have been dealt with by God through the cross of Christ. From being guilty, enslaved, enemies and unclean, the blood of Christ brings us righteousness, freedom, reconciliation and cleansing.”[6]

Followers of Christ have been reconciled to their Heavenly Father! Now what? THE RECONCILED STRIVE FOR THE RECONCILIATION OF OTHERS

To believers in Corinth, Paul states it this way.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (ESV)—All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

The church has a ministry and a message. Scot McKnight writes: “…the church is to be the first space of reconciliation in our communities, first among its own people and second as reconciled people who strive for reconciliation in society. Reconciled people become agents of reconciliation because they know no other way.”[7]

To let you know that Paul practices what he preaches, as he is signing off and listing names of people with him, in verse 24, he mentions a guy named Mark. This is not just any Mark, but the Mark who wrote the second book of the New Testament Mark. We also know they, Mark and Paul, had a past, a falling out at one point. They were on a mission journey together and for some reason Mark left in the middle of the trip (Acts 13:13). Later, when a guy named Barnabus wanted to bring Mark along on another mission journey, Paul said “no way” and it led to a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15:39). Clearly, they had issues and relational damage and in Acts, we are never told if or how the issue was resolved. But here, at the end of this short letter, we get a glimpse that painful, unresolved conflict can ultimately result in reconciliation. There is hope that former friends can unite again in repaired relationship. But it may take time…years in fact. But reconciliation is possible.

Maybe you are thinking, interesting, but what has that got to do with relational evangelism? Good question. Before you can be reconciled to others, you must be reconciled to God. Once you are reconciled to God, you recognize your need to be reconciled to others, and for others to be reconciled to God. But it can take time…years in fact.

My Dad acted and shared with his boss for years. When one day he, along with his wife, made the decision to accept Christ. Years of cultivating a relationship, of investing, of living out his faith. It takes time, it takes trust, it takes relationship.

So how do you do it? Let me give you some tips how not to do it. Be a jerk—a basher. Be political—a trasher.

D. A. Carson points out: “When you’re busy hating everybody and denouncing everybody and seeking political solutions to everything it’s very difficult to evangelize, isn’t it.”[8]

Another tip on how to not do it, have no compassion (don’t care). And finally, be judgmental (No way!).

I have found, if you are available and not obnoxious, God will surprise you. A young couple was over at our house one night to discuss God and a potential relationship with Him and what a commitment to Him and His Church looked like. The husband was friendly and open to the idea of committing to life of following Jesus and serving His Church, but his wife, no so much. She believed there was a God, but wasn’t so sure about Jesus, and didn’t really like the Church. She was a bit of a “tree-hugger” and was really into nature. He conversation eventually petered out and they left. I then turned to my wife and said, perhaps the husband will become a follower of Christ, but I doubt the wife ever will. Overtime and continued conversations, she surprised me and accepted Christ. What a great joy it was to celebrate in her baptism!

Here are a few tips on how to effectively build relationships and share your faith. The proper way—in attitude and actions.

First, in attitude. Here is how you should express yourself before the watching world.

  1. Be polite (be nice and gracious)

  2. Be a listener (Not thinking about what you’re going to say next)

  3. Be humble (Don’t be a know it all—minimize your rights and preferences.

With your attitude, you are aiming at being “winsome.”—Pleasant or charming or attractive.

Second, in action. Here are three actions you can start today for your neighbors.

  1. Pray

  2. Serve

  3. Invite

Who are you praying for? Who are you serving? Who are you inviting? You have a ministry and a message. Get after it!

Manuscript for sermon originally preached at Connect Church on 7/1/18.


[1]Scot McKnight, The Letter to Philemon in the NICNT series (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017), 61. [2]Ibid., 61. [3]N. T. Wright, Colossians and Philemon in TNTC series (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1986), 181. [4]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 1253. [5]Ibid., 190. [6]Christopher J. H. Wright, Salvation Belongs to Our God (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007), 184. [7]McKnight, 5. [8] accessed on 6/24/18.

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