Jesus is the piece that makes the whole human puzzle ONE

Pastor Jeff Struecker

There’s always that one puzzle piece. You know what I’m talking about, right? You just got a brand new puzzle. You’ve taken it out of the box. You’ve spent hours working on it. And now you’re five or six pieces away from completing the puzzle when you start to look down and notice, wait a second. There are five more empty spaces on this puzzle, and I only see four pieces in front of me. Where on earth did the other puzzle piece go? 

You’ve been there, right? You’re searching frantically. It’s a brand new puzzle out of a brand new box. Where on earth did this puzzle piece go? And you start to look all over the house. Pretty soon, you find the puzzle piece, three rooms away, buried in a sofa cushion. How did it go from a brand new box to a sofa cushion underneath a half-eaten peanut butter and jelly sandwich? How is that even possible? 

I’m one of those guys that if I look at a puzzle and it’s got one piece missing, I want to go bonkers. I don’t think I have obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m just looking at this blank hole in a puzzle, and I start to fill like Ben Affleck from the movie, The Accountant. I’m going to smash stuff, and I’m going to have to kill somebody if I can’t find this last puzzle piece. 

When I was thinking about, I started to wonder, why am I so worked up about this puzzle piece? Why is it such a big deal to me? And then it dawns on me; this puzzle is kind of like a metaphor for life. You see, life is incomplete. Life is messy sometimes, and I’m one of those guys who wants to see everything in its proper place and everything put together. Don’t act like you’re not one of those people too. 

So, I’m going to use a puzzle today as an analogy, we’re going to talk from the Book of Philemon. Today, we wrap up a four-week study through this Bible book called Philemon. I want you to think about life. I wanted you to think about the Christian life, like a puzzle with lots and lots of different pieces. In fact, here’s what I want you to understand from the last few verses from this Bible book today:

Jesus is the piece that makes

the whole human puzzle ONE

Notice, that word one is all caps, because that word refers to completeness. He makes the picture come to fruition; it becomes complete when Jesus is in the equation. Without Jesus in the equation, life, society, even a church feels a lot like a puzzle with a glaring hole in the middle of it, a huge piece missing.

You see puzzle pieces come in all different shapes and sizes. Some of them have straight edges; some of them don’t. Some of them have male edges; some of them have female edges. Some of them are darker; some of them are lighter. And if you look at puzzle pieces, they start to feel a little bit like society in general.

When you start to put the pieces together, you start to notice that they fit perfectly together, that God has created us in such a way that some of the puzzle pieces in His church are taller, shorter, bigger, or smaller. Some have female edges; some have male edges. Some of them are darker in color; some of them are lighter. Some of God’s puzzle pieces are on the Trump train and some of them are riding with Biden. And there may even be a puzzle piece or two going for Kanye.

All different kinds of puzzle pieces, all different shapes and sizes. And God has created human society in such a way that when you snap all of these puzzle pieces together, it makes something amazing, something beautiful. 

When you snap all of these puzzle pieces together, you have this beautiful framework for society. You have what I believe, God intended His church to be. You have a picture of different cultures, different races, different genders, different ages, different ethnicities, all coming together with one goal of worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. And only when all of these puzzle pieces come together, do you have a church in a multi-ethnic, multi-gender, multi-racial community that really brings glory to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

You’re going to see from the book of Philemon today how the puzzle pieces start to snap together. You’re going to see how society itself is radically changed when Jesus Christ is interjected into the middle of very different kinds of people from very different backgrounds. So, go ahead and roll up your sleeves with us because we’re going to jump right into the end of the book of Philemon.

We’re going to start in verse 17. This is a one-chapter book, so it only has verse numbers and no chapter numbers, Philemon verse 17 and following tells us this: Onesimus (the guy that this book is written about) is a runaway slave. And here’s what the first part of this passage today says:

Onesimus became Paul’s equal through the gospel.

Onesimus became Paul’s equal, not because Onesimus was a good man and not because Onesimus worked really hard and became a really religious person. Onesimus became an equal to the great Apostle Paul in the Bible through the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want you to notice something from the Bible with me. When the Onesimus piece of the puzzle is missing, he is every bit as valuable to God as Paul is.

When the Philemon piece of the puzzle is missing, that piece is every bit as valuable as the great Apostle Paul and as you are, or as your friends or your neighbors are. So, let’s pick up in the book of Philemon. We’ll start at verse 17, and we’ll just cruise through to the end of the book today. 

Phil 17-18 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would me. 18 And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

Now just think through with me for a second what Paul is saying here, because he’s really laying it on pretty thick for for Philemon. He’s sending this runaway slave back to his slave master, and he knows that there are going to be some hurt feelings. There’s going to be some bad blood between these two. And so Paul is trying to smooth things over when Onesimus gets back. Most Bible scholars, by the way, believe that this letter is being carried to Philemon, the slave owner, by Onesimus the runaway slave.

And Paul’s saying, “Listen man, when he gets back to you, Philemon, I want you to treat this runaway slave like he’s your own brother. I want you to treat him like you would treat me. We are in the Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you see what this book is doing with social order? When Paul uses this partner language, Paul is really describing what we would consider today in the United States like those law firms that have five last names on the door. There are 30 lawyers working there, but five of those lawyers that have different last names, they all become equal partners, which means equal in pay, equal in honor, equal in respect, equal in decision-making authority.

And that’s the exact word that Paul is using to refer to this runaway slave. “Treat him like my partner; treat him like an equal. I want you to view him, slave master, like he is your equal.” That kind of language radically changes society if Paul is saying that the Lord Jesus Christ can take a slave and make him a son, make him equal with the slave master. If you’ve missed it, you really need to go back and watch last week’s sermon because in last week’s sermon, you see vividly from this Bible book, how God takes a slave and turns a slave into a son.

And by doing that he makes all of us equal at the foot of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s saying that if there’s anything going wrong out there between you and him, I want you to put that off to the side, Philemon, and I want you to welcome this brother back in like he is your own brother, like he is your partner in the law firm and treat him like an equal. Yeah, he’s still your slave and you’re still the slave master, but I want you to treat this brother like an equal. 

What Paul is saying here in this Bible book, he’s already said in a couple of other places in the Bible. He said this in the Book of Galatians when he was talking about the difference that the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes in my life or in your life. 

Here’s what he said to the church in Galatia: “Because of what Jesus did on the cross for you, there is no more Jew or Greek. There are no more ethnic boundaries. There is no slave or free anymore because of what Jesus did on the cross. There is no more male or female.” And he makes it vividly clear in this one Bible verse from Galatians 3:28, since all of us are now one in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you weren’t born into a great family with a high social status, you need to hear that verse, and you need to get excited.

For some of you ladies who have been giving it everything that you’ve got at work, but you notice I’m not getting the same pay that the guys are getting at work, you need to hear this Bible verse, and you need to get fired up because in the church, you’re treated as an equal. You may not be making equal pay for equal work in the workforce, but in the church, the Bible makes it abundantly clear, there’s no one better or worse than somebody else. All of us are equal in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the heart of 2 Cities Church. We were founded on this principle right here. 

In fact, next week, we’ll start telling you about our core values, and we’ll tell you how big of a deal this is that we treat people as equals before the cross of Jesus Christ. And one person, just because they have an ordination or a title behind their name, it doesn’t make them better than you.

That’s why when we talk about producing leaders, we say you don’t have to be a pastor or have a PhD to lead around here. You just have to be a follower of Jesus who is serious about advancing the Kingdom and pushing back darkness. And if that’s you, we want to help you learn how to lead. However, it is whatever it is that God has gifted you to do. We want to turn that loose and help you become a leader. 

Never let anything come between brothers.

Onesimus, a runaway slave, becomes equal in stature, equal in social status with one of the greatest missionaries of all time, a guy by the name of the Apostle Paul. And here’s the second thing that you see from this Bible book: Never let anything (and I’m talking about power or money or problems or family issues), come between two brothers or two sisters in the faith.

You see, sometimes you say something, you did something that hurt somebody else’s feelings; sometimes they did something to you. And if that’s what’s going on right now in your heart, I don’t want it to stay that way. Paul doesn’t want things to stay that way between these two brothers in the faith, between Onesimus and Philemon. And so Paul is going to go to the extreme to make sure that these two brothers come back together and they don’t let anything come between them. The book of Philemon picks up for us now in verse 19. 

19-21  I, Paul, write this with my own hand:t I will repay it—not to mention to you that you owe me even your very self. 20 Yes, brother, may I benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

Paul knows there are some problems here between these two brothers, and now he’s going to step in and try to help solve some of the problems. He may come to the point that he’s going to have to physically sacrifice. He might have to sacrifice some money because there’s a huge debt that’s owed. A slave in Bible times was the value of a brand new car in our society today. And when a slave runs away, Philemon just lost a lot of money, and not just the slave himself. All of the work that Onesimus would have done for him, now somebody else has to do that work. And now the debt starts to rack up. Philemon, if he’s looking at the books is saying, “When that guy ran from me, he cost me a ton of money.”

So get what Paul is saying for us, because Paul is a broke pastor. I mean, he’s a tent maker, and he’s just barely paying the bills. He’s not living large off of the tithes of the church. I know what this guy feels like. And he’s saying, “Hey listen, man, if you’re out something and if it’s really hard for you to accept, do this: Send me the bill, and I will pay the bill for Onesimus because he can’t pay it himself. I am so concerned about your relationship with this brother in the faith, that I would rather sacrifice what little I have to make sure that you two guys connect back with one another.”

If we’re honest, if we could just be real for a second, you don’t go to the kind of extreme that Paul is going to in this Bible book if you don’t love Jesus and if you don’t love these two brothers, Philemon and Onesimus. Paul is saying, “I know that there’s going to be some weirdness when Onesimus, the runaway slave, goes back to his master. I don’t want it to stay like that. So if I have to, I will dig deep into my wallet to make sure that it doesn’t stay that way. I won’t let two brothers remain at odds with one another.” 

Paul is basically writing an IOU here, putting a blank line on it and saying, “I don’t know how much this costs you, Philemon, but whatever it costs you, if this is what it takes for you two brothers to be reunited, then I will pay what it costs you. But I think I want to remind you of something, Philemon. I think I want to remind you that I was the reason that somebody introduced you to Jesus Christ. I was the one who shared the gospel with you. It is because I was faithful to the gospel that you were introduced to Jesus Christ and your sin debt was paid for… So there’s that. And if he owes you something, I just kind of want to remind you that you kind of owe me.” 

The English Bible doesn’t say this, but it kind of refers or infers this. “You kind of owe me the condition of your soul right now. So let’s just keep those things in mind. Yeah, he might owe you something, and I’ll pay that for you. But you kind of owe me big time as well, Philemon.” What he’s basically saying is, “Philemon, I know you’ve been hurt, and I don’t want you to stay hurt. So if I have to, I’ll reach in there, and I will try to make a difference.” 

My guess is a brother or sister in the faith has hurt you. They’ve done you wrong.They said something. Maybe they meant it; maybe they didn’t even know that it was offensive, but they offended you by what they said. Or, they did something or were supposed to do something, and they didn’t do it. And now you’re hurting really bad like Philemon is hurting. Paul doesn’t want these two brothers to stay that way. I don’t want you and another brother or sister in the faith to stay that way. Non-Christians live that way, but you and I, we’re not supposed to live that way. 

So now I’m going to ask something big of you. I’m going to ask you that if somebody has done you wrong, if somebody has hurt you and you’re sitting there waiting for them to come back to you and to tell you, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry,” (and maybe they were wrong and they deserve to tell you that) Why don’t you reach out? Why don’t you try to close the gap between two brothers, two sisters, a brother and a sister in the faith that are hurting because somebody or something was done or said, and you go to them and start to work on reconciling?

Jesus says it this way: “If you’re about to go to the Temple and to present your gift before God, you’re coming to church and you’re about to worship, and you realize that there’s something wrong between you and your brother, leave your gift at the temple, run back and go fix the thing between you and your brother. And then come back and present your gift to God.” 

If the first and the greatest Commandment is to love the Lord, your God, and the second is like it to love your neighbor as yourself, and there’s some weirdness, some issues, some pain between you and a brother or sister in the faith, and they’re not taking the first step, then will you?

It’s not worth it. Don’t let politics, don’t let money, don’t let something stupid that they said come between you. Just never let anything come between two brothers and sisters in the faith. 

Engage in hospitality.

My third and final thing from the book of Philemon is what Paul is going to ask of this brother today. He’s going to ask Philemon to show some hospitality. And I want to challenge you; this is a lost art. If you live in America today, very few of us are comfortable with being hospitable. It’s just become difficult, especially during COVID, for us to open our heart up, open our home up, open our lives up to one another. 

I want you to hear how Paul ends this book because Paul wants to come and to make sure that these two brothers have reunited again. Here’s how the Bible book ends for us today. It starts at verse 22 and Paul says:

22-25  Meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, since I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you. 23 Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings, and so do 24 Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers. 25 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

When Paul ends this Bible book in this passage today, he’s doing a play on words. The word Onesimus in the original language (we miss this in English) means useful. And Paul is now asking Philemon, “Would you be useful to me, Philemon?” In other words, would you be Onesimus to me? -because I’m going to travel, and I’m plan to come back to your hometown. I’m going to need a place to stay. 

Now, you probably know that in Bible days, they didn’t have hotels like we do today. So when you’re traveling around and going from town to town, you need to find a friend or somebody you know who has a spare room who will open their house up to you and allow you to stay in their home. If you can’t find that kind of room, then like Mary and Joseph, you’re going to end up sleeping with the animals out in the barn, if you can’t find somebody who’s willing to graciously open their home up.

Paul is saying, “Hey Philemon, I plan to travel to your town again, and when I pass back through there, would you prepare a room and let me stay with you? Would you be hospitable to me? Would you engage in hospitality with me?” Did you know that the word hospitality in English is the same root word where we get hospice from? Hospice is the kind of house that takes care of somebody, that makes them comfortable and gives them a peaceful place to stay before they pass from this life onto the next. Paul is saying, “Would you be hospitable? Would you be gracious to me? And would you provide a place for me to stay? -because I’m just a Pilgrim passing through.

This is what we mean by the name, 2 Cities. We are people who ultimately belong to the city of God. We’re living here on the city of man. It’s all temporary, and we’re just passing through. But our ultimate resting place is the city of God. “While I’m passing through your town, Philemon, I’m going to need a place to stay. Would you open your home up? Would you be hospitable to me?”

I saw a vivid example of this when I was in Switzerland a few years ago. Andreas and his wife, Corrine, built a house. Andreas, with his own hands, him and his father-in-law, built a Swiss chalet. His in-laws live on the first floor. Andreas and his family live on the second floor. And he has a third floor of his house. 

He said, “Jeff, I built this house larger than we’ll ever need so that people who are struggling, people who are having difficulties, specifically people who don’t know Jesus and need a place to stay, can come move into my house and live on the third floor, and we’re going to minister to them. We’re going to love on them. We’re going to take care of them. And we’re going to try to introduce Jesus to them in the way that we live our lives. And in the words that come out of our mouth, we’re going to practice hospitality with this house. And that’s why we built the house this way so that I could move people into the top floor of my home and let them live there for weeks, months, years if necessary, for the purposes of introducing them to Jesus Christ.”

And now, brace yourself, because I’m going to ask you to do something similar. I realize you have to be careful in our society today. I realize all over the world, the coronavirus is starting to uptick again, and people all over the world are starting to get really concerned about their health. I’m not asking you to do anything unsafe or unhealthy, but I am asking you today, would you pray through hospitality? 

Would you pray through what it would look like to open your heart and your home (or maybe better said, your heart and your life) up to somebody specifically who is not a Christian, let them in and start to love on them and start to serve them until they look you in the eyes and say, “Why are you doing this for me? Why are you treating me this way? I have nothing that I can give you in return.” 

And when that day happens, God has just given you the perfect opportunity. He’s just placed the ball on the tee for you and given you the perfect opportunity to explain to that person what Jesus did for you and how they can be born again, how they can be made new by the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s what biblical hospitality can do for somebody. It can totally disarm them to the point that they look you in the eyes and say, “I don’t understand you. Why are you doing this for me? I don’t deserve it.” And you can say, “Yeah, and Jesus did something for me that I don’t deserve, as well.”