How You Know the King is on His Throne

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I know you know this statement. You heard this when you were a child. When the cat is away, the mice will…PLAY.

That’s right. When the cat leaves the barn, the mice get a chance to do whatever they want. That’s the idea we’re going to talk about today from the book of Philemon. 

Philemon is a Bible book. If you’re not familiar with the Bible, flip almost all the way back to the very last part of the Bible, and then flip back just a couple of chapters, and you’ll find yourself in this really short Bible book called Philemon.

First, let me tell you a true story about one of the most successful turnarounds in corporate history. If you’re rocking an Apple iPhone, you’ve got an iPad, an iWatch, iEars, iEyes, or whatever it is that they’re making today, when Apple first began many years ago, there were two guys by the name of Steve who started a computer company in a garage: Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. Steve Jobs became the face for Apple. Steve Wozniak was the brain for Apple.

Steve Jobs was an incredibly successful businessman. He understood a little bit about computers, but in Steve Wozniak’s own words, “Jobs didn’t really know computers as well as he understood design, and he understood how to sell.” He could sell better than just about anybody.”

Steve Jobs led Apple for many years, and then the corporation started to get a little bit complex, and people started to decide, “Maybe we don’t want Steve Jobs in charge anymore.” In fact, in 1985 (true story) the board of directors from Apple voted Steve Jobs off the island (in Survivor language). They thought, “We can do better without Jobs in charge.”

Let me tell you what happened. When Steve Jobs left in 1985, Apple was a corporation worth $800 million. Then Apple started to chew through CEOs one after another. Apple started to burn through money like water through a fire hose. For 11 years, Steve Jobs was doing other stuff, starting his own corporation, starting his own movie studio (Maybe you’ve heard about it. It’s called Pixar).

Then in 1996, it got so bad that the people who voted Steve Jobs away said, “We need this guy back. We desperately need this guy back.” You can’t really argue with the math. 11 years after voting him out, Steve Jobs came back to take back over the Apple corporation and eventually led it to become the world’s first $1 trillion company. That’s trillion with a T. This past year in the month of August, Apple stock collectively became worth $2 trillion. If you’re not sure how much money that is, all of the gross domestic product from the Philippines, from South Africa and from Australia for an entire year combined equals $2 trillion. That’s how valuable the corporation is.

You see, when Steve Jobs was gone, the corporation got off track. Then when Jobs came back, he helped put it right back on track and get stuff heading back in the right direction. If you watch the movie, Steve Jobs, I want you to pay close attention to the fanfare and just how many people were waiting and celebrating when Steve Jobs came back to the Apple corporation.

When Steve Jobs took back over the Apple corporation, they were in such dire financial straits, they went to their competitors, Microsoft, and said, “Will you loan us some money? If you don’t, we’re going to go bankrupt.” Michael Dell, the number one competitor to Steve Jobs said, “If I were in Steve Jobs’ shoes in 1996, I would sell the corporation and give all of the money to the stockholders. There’s no way you can turn this thing around.” Today, that company is worth the entire gross domestic product of South Africa, Philippines, and Australia combined, because the king came back to Apple computers.

I want to use this as a set up to what we’re going to read from the book of Philemon. There are four things that we’re going to see today from the Bible. These four things are like heralds back in King Arthur’s court that announce the king has come back to his throne.

4 heralds that announce the King is on his throne

Now, the king that I am referring to today, every time you hear that word, it refers to King Jesus. That’s how I like to refer to him. The throne that I’m talking about is the throne of your heart.

Really, what I want to do from the book of Philemon is, I want you to understand, what does it look like when Jesus really is on the throne of my heart? I’m going to show you from just four verses what this looks like. And we’re going to look at four things, four heralds, or four ways to measure this in your own life.

Philemon 4-7  I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, 5 because I hear of your love for all the saints and the faith that you have in the Lord Jesus. 6 I pray that your participation in the faith may become effective through knowing every good thing that is in us for the glory of Christ. 7 For I have great joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother. 

The “I” at the beginning of verse 4 is a guy by the name of Paul. The brother at the end of verse 7 is a guy by the name of Philemon, the guy that this book is written to. 

Here’s what Paul is telling us today: I want you to think about this like you’ve started to feel ill. You’re not really sure what’s going on. I don’t know if I have the flu. I don’t know if it’s just a bug that’s going to pass. I don’t know if I have COVID. So, I’m going to go get tested. The medical professionals are going to test something that’s inside of me that you can’t see on the outside, and they’re going to use four tests to say, “Yes, this is COVID. No, this is just the flu.” Or, “You just have a simple bug that you’re going to pass in just a day or two.”

A love for Jesus

Well, the first test they would use to check whether or not Jesus really is the king of your heart is test number one. This is a love for Jesus. If you are struggling with self doubt and keep hearing the enemy of your soul, Satan, tell you, “You’re not really a Christian, because a Christian wouldn’t do what you just did. A Christian would do this, and you’re not doing this. So, you’re not really a Christian.” If that’s you, I hope by the end of this sermon, you’re not wrestling with doubt anymore.

This love for Jesus, I use this as number one in importance, not number one in chronology. It’s not the first thing that shows up, but what we’re going to look at just comes very naturally from these eight verses in the Bible. You see, what Paul is telling this guy, Philemon is, “Hey, Philemon, my life radically changed when I met Jesus.” Then Paul introduced this guy, Philemon, to Jesus and Philemon’s life has radically changed.

I’m just going to say something that everybody already knows to be true. You can’t fake love. You can act like it for a little while, but over time, you really ain’t fooling anybody. People know whether you really love them or not. What Paul is saying is, “Philemon, I’ve been watching you, Brother. I’ve been praying for you. What I see when I see the way that you live out your faith is this genuine love for Jesus.”

Paul met Philemon when he was just a regular dude, living life, working hard and earning a paycheck to take care of his family. Then Paul introduced Philemon to Jesus. Jesus radically changed him and changed Philemon at the heart level. Now, Philemon has this same love for Jesus that Paul has.

This love is the probably the most important measure that you and I are going to have for our relationship with Jesus. Is the King really on the throne of your heart? Well, one of the first and maybe the most important measure is, do I really have this love for Jesus? Is this love for Jesus real? Is it sincere?

I’m going to tell you a little bit about my story. When I was 13 years old, my next door neighbors came by and explained who Jesus was. Now, y’all just need to know that I had heard the stories about Jesus before. People told me a little bit about this Jesus of the Bible, and I heard people talk about him. But this was the first night that anybody really ever said to me, “Jeff, do you know what Jesus did for you? Do you know how much Jesus loves you? Do you know what he was willing to sacrifice for you?” 

That night at 13 years old, I knelt by the side of my bed, and I understood, I think maybe for the first time ever, the love of Jesus. I just prayed a very simple prayer, and he met me and radically changed me that night at 13 years old.

I’m telling you this, because before that night, I didn’t have a problem with Jesus. I didn’t think that Jesus was a bad guy. I just quite frankly didn’t think about Jesus at all. Then after that night, I started to think about him more. Pretty soon, I started to think about Jesus a lot. Pretty soon, my heart started to change, and he really became the center of my world. He did that for me. I didn’t do that for myself. He radically, totally changed the way that I look at me, the way that I look at society, the way that I look at him, the way that I look at everything around me. He changed it by putting love in my heart for him, a love that wasn’t there before he met me.

An active faith

Paul says, “Philemon, I’ve been watching you, and I can see love in your heart. I can see that love for Jesus, and I can see love for other people. Philemon, when I look at you, you know what else I see in your heart? I see an active faith.” I use this phrase, active faith, on purpose. Actually, what I’m trying to do is describe for you what verse 6 is saying to us. You see, when Paul is talking about faith here, he’s talking about a faith that shows itself in the way that you live. Paul does not say in verse 6 that you have received faith and you sit on that faith. 

In other words, faith for Paul isn’t a passive thing. It’s not something that happens to you. For Paul, faith is something that happens through you. It is an active thing. It’s not something that just happens inside of you. It’s something that goes from inside of you, through you, and to other people.

Paul says, “You participated in the faith, Philemon. Your faith was active, and it has made a big difference. It has made a big difference on your family, and now your wife shares your faith. Now your son not only shares your faith. Now he’s leading others as a pastor of your house church in the faith.” Paul is really saying in this one verse what James said in James 2:19. 

But for those of you who your first language is a different language, maybe you speak Afrikaans, maybe you speak Tegalu, maybe you speak Hindi… in English we have a challenge with the word belief or the word faith. For many people who are English speakers, we think belief just simply means knowledge in the head. But that’s not the kind of faith or the belief that James is describing in James 2:19. That’s not the kind of belief or faith that Paul is describing in verse 6.

James is so different with his definition of the word faith that he says it this way (James 2:19): ”You believe in God, or you have faith in God. You believe that God is one. Good for you. Even the demons believe that, and they shudder.” James would say that kind of belief, that kind of faith, whatever it is, as good as it is, we certainly wouldn’t call that really active faith, participating in the faith, saving faith, the kind of faith or the kind of belief that would radically change your life.

No, the kind of belief that we’re describing here, Jesus refers to it as loving God and showing that you love God by loving your neighbor as yourself. At 2 Cities Church, we refer to that second greatest commandment as “engaging your community” or engaging your neighbors. We say that it’s when God’s people just get up and go across the street in Connecticut, or in Illinois, or New York and minister to and love their next door neighbors who can’t do anything, don’t have anything to give in return. You just go do it because you care about them and because you want them to see the God who has captured your heart. An active faith is the Holy Spirit quite literally of the living God living his life out through us, doing ministry through his people.

A passion for God’s glory

Is Jesus really the King of my heart? Well, do you have love for Jesus, and do you have the kind of faith that actually does something, not just says, “I believe,” but shows that I believe? Here’s the third herald or the third measure. Do you have a passion for God’s glory? As Paul writes about it in these verses, “For the glory of Jesus Christ.” Is that something that absolutely consumes you, and you have a passion for it?

This phrase that’s found in verse 6 is Paul’s way of saying, “Philemon, I saw something when I was on the road to Damascus. I was a terrorist going to kill Christians, and then Jesus showed up. His glory was so bright that it out-shined the light on a desert road. When he met me, he radically, totally changed my life. I have seen the glory of God, Philemon, and I can’t sit on it. I have to share this with other people. Philemon, I wanted you to see the glory of God.”

“Philemon, now that you’ve seen the glory of God, you should be sharing the glory of God that you’ve seen with other people, the glory of Jesus Christ, because how could you possibly sit on news this good? Philemon, you have been changed by the glory of God. You’ve seen something that I’ve had a chance to see and that billions of people over thousands of years have seen. You have seen just how good our God is. He has showed you his glory. Philemon, you have a choice to make now, because I’m about to ask something of you.”

Spoiler alert. You really need to tune in for Sermon 3 in this series, because Paul is about to make a very big, very bold request of Philemon. “Philemon, you’re going to have a chance to put your faith on display, to actually show that you live out what you believe and demonstrate that you really have seen the glory of God.”

Can I say something to all of us in this room? When you get up tomorrow morning, you have the same kind of choice to make. I can choose to live for my glory, or I can live for God’s glory. But you cannot live for both at the same time. You can make decisions about what’s best for you, or you can make decisions about what will bring the King the most glory. Most of us are confronted with decisions like this all of the time.

Paul is challenging Philemon to be the kind of guy who, even if it means sacrifice, would be willing to do that, because he wants the King to get the glory and not you. Paul realized what it looks like when the wrong person is in the driver’s seat. In fact, for the rest of his life, he will go on to tell people, “I was a persecutor of Christians when I was in the driver’s seat. Then when Jesus stepped in and took over the driver’s seat of my life, my life radically, totally changed me to the point that my name even changed. I believe in it, I’ve bought into it so much that I would be willing to give my life for this gospel, for the glory of God.”

Have you ever been in a car that somebody else owns? Maybe you had a rental, or maybe you were borrowing a friend’s car. When you get in the car and you fire it up for the first time, you know what most of us do even without even thinking through it? Before you do anything else, most of us immediately change the mirrors, the rear view mirrors, to make sure that we can see what’s around us and beside us better. The person who was driving the car that you’re using, my guess is, they custom set those mirrors for them. Even if you’re kind of similar in size, chances are those mirrors may show you some of the picture, even a lot of the picture that they see. But they don’t show you the whole picture.

I’m trying to use this as an example to say God really created human beings in the Garden of Eden to have this intimate relationship with him. He was actually supposed to be in the driver’s seat all along. Then our first parents decided, “I think I can do a better job of driving this car than he can do,” and so they violated the one and only command. They committed the first sin, and every human being since them (myself and you included) have done the exact same thing and have basically said, “I think I can do a better job driving my life, steering the car and making decisions than you can, God.”

The problem is that the rear view mirrors are mounted for Jesus’ view, not for mine or not for yours. This means I can see part of the picture, some of the picture some of the time, or a lot of the picture a little bit of the time. But I never get a chance to see what Jesus sees when he’s piloting the airplane, when he’s in the driver’s seat of my life.

Paul wants Philemon to be the kind of guy who says, “Jesus, here are the keys. You decide where we go next. You decide what it looks like.” Paul wants Philemon to be the kind of guy who is living for God’s glory. That’s the challenge that you have in front of you tomorrow when you wake up and the decisions that you make, are you going to make them for your glory, or are you going to make them for God’s glory?

A heart for others

The fourth and final measure is, has your heart changed so much that now you really do want to serve other people? Paul calls this the participation in the faith that has become so well known, Philemon, that the way that you live and the actions that you do, they have encouraged others when they look at your life.

Jesus said it this way: He said, “I could summarize the entire Bible for you in basically two statements. Actually I could summarize it for you in one, but I’m going to give you the second one free charge. Here it is. You want to know how to fulfill all of the commandments written everywhere in the Bible? It’s very easy. Just love the Lord your God with all of your heart.” That was measure number one that we looked at today. Then Jesus adds this free number two commandment, this free second greatest commandment to the equation. He says, “And the second commandment is just like it in order of importance. Love your neighbor as yourself.” You can’t fake love of God and you really can’t fake loving neighbors.

It is contrary to human nature for you to place yourself as a subordinate or in second place to other people. In fact, when this has happened to you, my guess is, this has stuck with you for a long time. When a man proposes to a woman, when a woman falls head over heels for a guy, he will start to place her and her needs above his own. When a parent has a child, all of a sudden that parent will make whatever sacrifices they need to for that other human being. You get a chance to see this very rarely when a business leader decides, “I have no choice but to reduce my paycheck so that I don’t have to lay people off that work at this company, because I love those people so much that I would rather sacrifice personally so that the people around me don’t lose their livelihood.”

Maybe you’ve been on a rugby team, or maybe you’ve been on a cricket team or a football team when some star player made a huge sacrifice. We call it “taking one for the team” so that everybody’s life is better. That sticks with us because this is contrary to human nature.

According to the great Swiss reformer, a guy who lived many centuries ago by the name of John Calvin, when he was teaching his church in Geneva, Switzerland about the book of Genesis and people started to ask John Calvin, “Why are humans so quick to create false gods and to worship false gods? Why why do idols appear so quickly in the book Genesis?” John Calvin put it this way: “The human mind is a perpetual forge of idols.” We habitually, perpetually put something thing else in the place of God. And the number one idol that we perpetually place in God’s role is us.

It sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s pretty amazing, when you see someone who sacrifices just for another person. I’m saying this because this whole month, we’re studying about society and the dysfunction in society, not just in America, but around the world. Society starts to break down when everybody lives for me and only for me.

I’ll wrap up with this true story. I spent this last week in North Carolina teaching a group of church leaders. In the course of that conversation (there were just about a dozen or so of us in this room), one of the guys in the room asked a question not just of me, but ask some advice from everybody in the room. He said, “Things in the church that I serve on, the church staff that I serve on, are not good. Things in the church are really, really struggling.” I can’t tell you his name. I won’t tell you the church, because he didn’t give me permission to, but he said, “It’s so bad that we had an outside company come in and survey the church. They kind of looked all over the church, and they asked some really hard questions. People showed up, and I believe they gave some really honest advice.”

Now, I wish you could hear the pain in this guy’s voice. I wish you could see the struggle in his eyes that I could see and everybody else’s in the room could see when he said, “Here’s what happened next. When the results were finished and when they came back to let us know, ‘Here’s what it looks like in your church right now,’ this is what they said. ‘Roughly half of your church said everything is awesome. Five out of five stars. This is exactly where our church should be and exactly where we should be headed. We’re totally happy with what’s going on around us.’ Almost exactly half of the church said, ‘One out of one stars, and if I could give zero, I would have given zero. We think things are really, really bad right now, and we think if things don’t change, we won’t have a church in the future.’”

His question was, how can one church have two groups of people that are that wildly different from one another? How can you have somebody say, “Five out of five stars,” and another ,”One out of one stars”? The answer that the students in the room gave (I didn’t even really have to say this. It was beautiful to listen to the way that they ministered to this guy), one of the first answers was, “Well, obviously at least one and perhaps both groups of people in your church are wrong, because you can’t have both at the same time.”

Then his next question was, “Does this mean that our church is going to die? Is it a foregone conclusion that we won’t have a church in the future? I love this church, and I don’t want to see that happen. But how can God’s people be this divided and come up with these wildly different answers and almost nobody in the middle?”

I said, “Well, that question is actually a pretty easy question to answer. -Not whether or not your church will die. God in heaven alone knows the answer to that one. But I could tell you how they came up with two different answers, two different groups of people.” They are looking at the same problem from two very different angles. I can almost assure you, one group of people in your church wants my church to be about me, and to do this for me, and act like this on my behalf. And one group of people in your church wants your church to be about those that are not in your church and passionate about engaging those that are not in your church. That’s how you have two people saying five stars or one star. They’re looking at it from two very different angles.”

In other words, one of them is looking at it from the perspective of others, and one of them is looking at it exclusively from their own selfish viewpoint. That’s why you have two churches in the same building at the same time.

It is a miracle of God when somebody has love for Jesus, because you can’t fake love, and that’s not something that we do for ourselves. God starts to work inside our hearts, and then our hearts start to long for and love the work that God is doing in our hearts, starts to long for and love the one who’s working in our hearts. It’s a miracle of God.

If you’re struggling with doubt, every time you see somebody who is really active in their faith, and not just uses the word believe as a passive thing that happens to you, but it is actually something that happens through you for other people, it’s a miracle of God. Every time somebody cares more about God’s glory than they do their own glory, that’s contrary to human nature. That’s against the way most of us are wired. It is a miracle of God every single time you see people that genuinely love others and want to serve other people.

If you’re sitting right now and Satan occasionally puts this little thought in the back of your mind, “You’re not really a Christian, because a real Christian wouldn’t do those things, say those things, would act different than you act,” I need you to, every time you hear that little voice in the back of your mind, start to measure yourself against these four things.