Church should focus on power of God

Published 3:54 pm Thursday, May 6, 2010

A salesman demonstrated the “On Star” system to me a few weeks ago. He pushed the button and told the operator we were hungry.

“Is there a McDonald’s nearby?” he asked.

The operator gave us directions to the nearest restaurant and asked what else she could do to be helpful.

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Since the radio commercials I hear for “On Star” are mostly “I’ve been in an accident” or “my child is locked in the car,” I thought calling for a Big Mac was a bit frivolous.

Life is all about priorities, and the church isn’t immune from making hard choices. Ron Lewis popularized the motto, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” In other words, there’s no shortage of good things, but the church must focus on the best things.

The little book of Philemon in the New Testament is a case study in priorities.

The story is interesting. Onesimus was a runaway slave. In the providence of God, he met Paul while a fugitive. The apostle won him to Christ, discipled him in the faith and sent him home!

Modern critics have savaged Paul over this, suggesting he could’ve sponsored a first-century underground railroad for Onesimus and others.

Paul knew slavery was an evil thing, but he was single-minded. He knew that if he committed himself to abolition, it would’ve radically altered his life. First, the full power of Rome would crush him for daring to question the institution. The empire dealt harshly with rebellious slaves, and most certainly would’ve dealt harshly with anyone calling the practice into question.

And second, abolition would’ve taken Paul away from his calling from God; namely, to bring people to Christ and to plant churches throughout the Mediterranean world.

The new Christian faith was fragile, and the apostle gave himself unreservedly to its protection and nurture. He knew the greater good was to gain a foothold for the gospel and to start churches to perpetuate the faith for generations to come.

But Paul did plant a seed for abolition when he told Philemon, “for perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave—as a dearly loved brother” (Philemon 1: 15-16, HCSB).

These words were often used in the northern pulpits in the days prior to the American Civil War. Paul’s words were used in the fight to rid the world of slavery.

The church today is tempted to get involved in many things, and most of them are worthy. But we, like Paul, must commit ourselves to the main thing. It is the power of God that changes people, and people change society.