The writer of Ecclesiastes deduced that the entire world was nothing but filled with vanity. Sadly, when we are not in Christ, life is indeed full of vanity. Life is meaningless when we attempt to do it our own, making plans and enjoying the fruit of our labor when our days are numbered. For those who are in Christ, we can rest with remarkable assurance that our lives are not meaningless. We live in the light of God’s beautiful face, and He works through our actions. If there is no transcendent God, then all we do is wander in this land before we are placed in the grave.
Living life with the perspective of Coram Deo (Before the face of God) in mind allows to walk with ease. The transcendent (and immanent!) God provides a context of meaning for each one of us, if we place ourselves within His ongoing story of redemption. A Tabletalk devotional once wrote that “life lived with reference to Him—under heaven—is never an exercise in futility.” Life lived in Christ is a non-negotiable.
Those who are in Christ are called to live in the reality of knowing that they are “under heaven.” This reality ought to stiffen the spine of the Christian, prompting them to become more serious about not only learning the will of the Father but then also performing that will. According to God’s abundant grace, we do not have to grow fearful of missing the mark. We do not have to fear being wrathfully tossed aside when we fail, instead we can rest assured that God embraces us when we fall. His Spirit is there to help us to walk and be conformed into the image of Christ. We must not take this grace for granted, instead we must live our lives in devoted service to our King.
Philemon is an epistle of Paul’s that is not often read. It is stuck there within the canon of the New Testament, wedged in between better known works. Yet, within this book lies a remarkable story. A story that flips the social order of Rome and rightly gets to the heart of the gospel of freedom and equity. Martin Luther frames the story within a larger context of salvation and redemption. Luther writes in his preface to The Epistle of St Paul to Philemon,
This epistle gives us a masterful and tender illustration of Christian love. For here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and, to the best of his ability, advocates his cause with his master. He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus, who had done wrong. Yet he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but he empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon also to waive his rights. What Christ has done for us with God the Father, that St Paul does also for Onesimus with Philemon. For Christ emptied himself of his rights (Philippians 2:7) and overcame the Father with love and humility, so that the Father had to put away his wrath and rights, and receive us into favor for the sake of Christ, who so earnestly advocates our cause and heartily takes our part. For we are all his Onesimus’s if we believe.
This is what Paul’s ministry was all about, being conformed into the image of the crucified Christ. How remarkable it is to rest in the knowledge that the God of the universe emptied Himself and took on flesh, becoming obedient even to the point of death by humiliation. That death then was followed by the resurrection and subsequent restoration of humanity’s relationship with God.
It really is a wonderful book. I encourage you to read and reflect upon the glories of restoration through a selfless act.