September 8, 2019 Sermon
"The Difficulty of Giving (And Hearing) Advice"
Old Testament Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 18:1-11
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: "Come, go down to the potter's house, and there I will let you hear my words." So I went down to the potter's house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter's hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
Then the word of the LORD came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LORD. Just like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.
And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.
Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.
New Testament Scripture Reading: Philemon 1:1-21
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,
To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.
For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced.
Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother-especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.
Sermon: "The Difficulty of Giving (And Hearing) Advice"
It’s not easy to give advice. Wait, scratch that. It’s easy to give advice. It’s hard to give advice that is followed. You know, the sort of advice that makes a difference. It’s hard to give that kind of advice.
Mostly because it’s not easy to accept advice. It’s especially not easy to accept advice that is unsolicited. And, really that’s the most common kind isn’t it?
Unsolicited advice? The kind where you really weren’t hoping for or expecting the unwelcome benefit of someone’s superior knowledge? That kind of advice? Yeah, that kind of advice is never easy to accept. But there is plenty of that kind of advice floating around.
Now, one would think that being a pastor would make it easier to give advice. But no. I’m in the same boat as anybody else when it comes to giving unsolicited advice. It bounces right off. It doesn’t matter that I have an actual diploma in my office that states plainly that I am a Master of the Divine, when I give advice that has not been requested, I might as well be talking to a fence post.
And really, that’s the way it should be. Too often, we are quick to judge the circumstances of other people’s lives. We are quick to assume we know all the ins and outs, the problems and the solutions, and with the benefit of our clear eyes and wise understanding, we are ready to jump right in and fix the problem.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t really work that way. Not for me, anyway. Maybe it works for you. That’s great. But the reality is, we can’t know all the angles of another person’s difficulty. We can’t know everything that’s going on, and yet, we presume to give advice anyway.
It’s no wonder the advice falls on deaf ears.
In our text today, the Apostle Paul is writing to an acquaintance of his, Philemon, from a prison cell. And he is not necessarily giving advice. He’s not even giving orders, the way we are used to Paul doing when he writes to the church. Rather, he is pleading. He is appealing to the angels of Philemon's better nature. He is asking Philemon to take an extraordinary spiritual leap of faith. And there is no guarantee his request will be honored.
And it’s quite a request. Paul is asking Philemon to free Onesimus, Philemon’s former servant. A servant who had run away from Phileman. Paul is asking him to welcome him home as a brother, and free him from his bondage. It’s a spectacular request.