Trust But Verify
Philem. 22 One thing more—prepare a guest room for me, for I am hoping through your prayers to be restored to you.
Paul has been writing to Philemon about the run-away slave Onesimus. He is coming back home to Philemon and Paul is asking that he be accepted back into the household for this household has become one of faith. They are now a local church and are becoming well known as those who are refreshing the “hearts of the saints.” The concern for Paul is whether that grace which is refreshing the saints will reach out and restore the one who had run away.
In this final part of his letter Paul brings up the preparation of a guest room. It helps us to understand that Paul is hopeful that his imprisonment will be temporary but there also exists a possibility that this guest room allows for him to “visit” and check up on the ministry at Philemon’s home. This is just a little bit of added pressure to Philemon to restore Onesimus because if Paul comes to visit and Philemon is treating Onesimus poorly, that would be distressing. Knowing that Paul would like to come and visit would put additional pressure on Philemon to accept Onesimus back into the household.
There is the old saying from the Cold War era, “Trust but verify.” Paul seems to be using this tactic in what he is saying to Philemon. He seems to be saying that he trusts him to do the right thing with Onesimus, but at the same time, he is putting the possible visit in front of him as a fact that he would like to come and verify that indeed, Onesimus has been restored.
This brings us to the point of trusting but verifying in the work of our Christian lives. There is something very practical about this when it comes to discipleship. There is a need for us to be accountable to one another — to verify!
John Wesley in his small group meetings gathered for this very purpose — to verify. People were growing in their faith and yet there was a great need for accountability. Weekly they gathered to answer rather probing questions.
1) How does your soul prosper?
2) What opportunities have you had for ministry and how have you availed yourself of them?
3) What means of grace have you attended?
4) What temptations have you had and how have you dealt with them?
Yes, there was a sense of trust but there was also the verification. These questions boiled down to asking people whether they were truly growing spiritually and probing for the nitty gritty! Are you reading your Bible? How much? Did you go to church last week? How many times? How often did you talk to someone about Jesus? Were you tempted to watch things on your computer that you shouldn’t have?
What would happen if these types of questions of accountability became a part of our small group studies? This is what verification was all about. It was about accountability before one another.
Many churches adopted the concept of Sunday School that came from the era of John Wesley. While John’s intention would have been this type of verification we have moved this to a time to hear a lesson — to receive teaching from the Bible. While that’s not bad, I’ve wondered whether we shifted because it was simply too uncomfortable to spend time verifying! It sounds rather spiritual to gather for a Sunday School lesson — but that’s a whole lot “safer” than being asked difficult questions about our spiritual lives.
This scripture challenges us to think about our need for accountability within the community of faith. This is not something from which we ought to shirk, but to partner together and determine ways in which we may be able to verify together that we are a growing community in the Lord.
Lord, thank you for this challenge today. Amen.