When George Whitfield died in 1770, American statesman and deist Benjamin Franklin wrote of him, “I knew him intimately upwards of 30 years. His integrity, disinterestedness and indefatigable zeal in prosecuting every good work, I have never seen equaled and shall never see excelled.”
That’s quite a commendation of a preacher of the gospel from a rejecter of the gospel.
The apostle Paul often speaks of the reputation of the people to whom he ministers and writes. And on one occasion, that reputation was particularly striking and significant. Paul was not only sending a letter to an individual leader in the church, but he was also sending back a runaway slave with that letter and asking the recipient, Philemon, to forgive the slave Onesimus for his leaving.
The ability of Philemon to forgive would be dependent on his spiritual character and maturity. So Paul reminds Philemon of his reputation and of what God had worked in him:
- Philemon had love for the other believers that was the natural outworking of his faith in Christ (v. 5). He was fulfilling what Christ had called the disciples to do in the Upper Room (Jn. 13:34-35).
- Philemon was one who refreshed the other believers around him (v. 7). His gracious acts of love and fellowship stirred the hearts of the other believers to stimulate them to further service of Christ.
- Philemon had a reputation of doing the right and godly thing (vv. 8-9). Paul could have ordered Philemon to do what was right in forgiving Onesimus, but he knew that he could also appeal to Philemon to do what was right without ordering him, and was confident that Philemon would act in a way that would honor Christ.
So Philemon was reputed — both inside and outside the church — to be someone who loved, was an encourager, and faithful to the Lord. That’s a worthy commendation.
What’s your reputation in the church? Are you bold enough to ask someone today (someone who will tell you the truth) what your reputation is with others?