I was having a conversation with someone in my church family the other day. We discussed some of the circumstances leading to us being at this church and he was visibly moved. One thing he said really stood out to me.
He said, “When I had tried to talk to you several times, there was a wall there. I knew something was going on.”
Little did I know that I had created a wall between myself and this person. Did I know something was there? Yes, but not consciously. I stopped and thought about it for a minute and realized that for nine years I had let a wall build between the two of us.
We live near each other and I would see him drive by on a regular basis. Each time the wall grew thicker and taller. I guess Pink Floyd was right, “All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.”
For two months now we have been attending our new church and this person has been there and greeted us warmly. The wall has been chipped at by both us during that time.
That conversation? We both tore down the wall between us. It took both of us making the effort.
That’s part of our job description as followers of Christ.
In Christ’s name, we are to tear the walls down that separate us from each other. Why? Because He tore down the walls that separated us from the Father.
Paul calls it a ministry of reconciliation. Paul emphasizes that God is reconciling man to Himself. Implied in that is that we must be reconciled to each other.
Jesus might have said that if your brother has something against you, then you should be reconciled to him over attempting to worship.
A ministry of reconciliation.
Breaking down those walls.
Do you practice a ministry of reconciliation? Do you try to break down the walls in front of you?
About eleven years ago, I walked in to my 8 a.m. Greek class during my one and only year in seminary. The professor was a Ph. D. student from Cameroon with a very thick accent. He introduced himself this way: “My name is Philemon Yong.” Say his name real fast a time or two and you will realize why we all, including the professor, had a good laugh to start off our class.
I lead off with that because we were studying Philemon in Sunday School recently. What I saw were two things that truly stood out to me. One I had seen before, but hadn’t thought of in a long time. The other is relatively new.
Both came near the end of the epistle and had absolutely nothing to do with the lesson.
The first is contained in one word. Mark. Paul just kind of slides it in there very nonchalantly. Mark. He includes him in a list of other guys that he describes as fellow workers. This might not sound terribly important if we didn’t know what happened a few years before.
Mark had gone on a trip with Paul and Barnabas, but ended up abandoning them. As Paul and Barnabas began making plans for another trip, Barnabas wanted to take Mark along again. Paul said no. They disagreed so much that they ended their partnership. They went their separate ways.
Yet, here is Mark with Paul years later. What happened? I don’t know all of the details, but one word had to have happened.
Somewhere along the way, Paul and Mark reconciled. We don’t know if Paul and Barnabas did, but I hope so. We do know that Mark became one of Paul’s fellow workers. In the end, what the Gospel is about was lived out in Paul’s and Mark’s life. They reconciled their differences. Forgiveness happened. Work ensued.
The other thing I noticed was the list in general. Epaphras. Mark. Aristarchus. Demas. Luke. These guys were part of what these days we call a tribe. They joined together with Paul. He invested in them. He poured himself into them. He nurtured them in the faith.
This is just a small list of people who were part of Paul’s tribe. Read his letters and you will find others. What we see is that Paul, the super apostle, was not in it by himself. He wasn’t off flying solo. He had a team. He had a group. He had helpers. Another way to put it is like this.
No matter what we are involved in, we can’t do it all by ourselves. We have to have help. That’s why it’s important to be connected to the Body of Christ. We each have our role and purpose. Without the others, we can’t function.
Are these all of the lessons that we can learn from Paul or his letter to Philemon? Hardly. But reconciliation and community will go a long way.
Reconciliation and Community. Two great lessons we learn from Paul.
Do you need to reconcile with anyone in the Body of Christ? Do you have a community of fellow believers to help you with your relationship with the Lord?
Here in the area I live in we have an event called Boomsday. It takes place on the Sunday before Labor Day and consists of a huge fireworks show. This year’s Boomsday had some added excitement. The bridge which the fireworks were being shot of caught on fire. Literally, the bridge was burning.
Usually when we think of burning bridges, we think of it in a negative context. Many times it is in reference to a relationship. We burn our bridges with someone and it usually destroys the relationship we had with them. I was thinking about this in terms of following Christ and realized that we should be both bridge burners and bridge builders.
We should build bridges when it comes to relationships with people. It’s easy to tear relationships apart. It’s hard to build true relationships. Some find it easier than others, but it still takes hard work to have a good relationship. Me? It’s harder for me than most. I have to work at it harder. It has to be intentional for me. Otherwise, I will decide to chuck the whole thing and move on. I think that is part of what Paul was talking about when he said that we have been given a ministry of reconciliation. Sure, that is primarily for people to reconcile with God through Christ. However, the means for us to do that is through relationship building or bridge building.
However, we also need to be bridge burners. Where did this term come from? It was a military term. After troops would pass over a bridge, the leaders would burn the bridge so that they would not return that way to their ships or homes. It left them no choice but to move forward. We need to do that. When we follow Paul’s encouragement to flee sin, we should set fire to the bridges as we go so that we do not return to that sin. As we press forward, not looking back, we need to burn our bridges and keep our eyes focused on Christ. We don’t need to return to where we came from. We need to move forward on our way to the home He is preparing for us with His Father.
What about your bridges? Are you building the ones you need to build and burning those you need to burn?