Willie Brown - Philemon - Orick Convention 1959

I would like to speak a little this afternoon about that little letter which Paul wrote to Philemon. For some time this letter has been a very great help to me. It seems that in each letter Paul wrote, there was some outstanding truth that he was anxious to emphasize. As far as I can see in this little letter, the lesson that I have tried to learn is the need of being gracious and patient in approaching a situation that might be difficult. There are in all our lives, in the churches, and in all our activities in the gospel, difficulties at times, and this will be true until the end of the long, long road. How are we going to approach them? Half the battle is won in our approach to difficulties. 

Before I speak along this line, I will just mention one or two things at the beginning of the chapter that appealed to me. In the first two verses, we have five characters mentioned: Paul, a prisoner; Timothy, our brother; Philemon, dearly beloved and fellow laborer; Apphia, his wife, dearly beloved; and Archippus, probably their son, a fellow soldier. I am sure that the apostle Paul was not writing these things in a superficial way. “Paul, a prisoner.” When he saw the Lamb of God in Stephan some years before this, and when he was so enraged that he was putting the children of God in prison, he didn’t know that one day he would be there himself for Christ’s sake and the gospel. One thing that I have enjoyed very much is this: Don’t get down under your circumstances. Don’t succumb to your difficulties whatever they may be. As far as I can see, I think Paul and Timothy were together in prison. It is very nice to have a companion when you are in trouble, and it isn’t difficult for me to picture that father and faithful child in the gospel praying together, reading together, and talking together. They knew this converse which the world has never known. The bed wasn’t very good; the food wasn’t very good and probably not very plentiful; no fellowship meetings, no conventions, no letters; cut off from the nearest and dearest on earth, the people of God; but not cut off from God. Oh, that we might learn these days how to get the very best out of the service of God. Paul was a diamond, and he was shining in the dark. Diamonds shine in the dark very nicely. The thought came to me that we could go to convention and come back again and go for ten, twenty, thirty, or forty years, but yet there would not be that growth and development in our lives that God longs to see and there would be those ugly spots on our garments. How is God going to purify us? “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth…” That is one way in which we can be purified. A number of years ago when we were laboring in South Africa amongst the diamond diggers, a man brought a diamond to us one day and put it in my hand. He said, “Look at this diamond.” It was nearly as big as a lump of sugar. He said, “I am very sorry for one thing. It is a good stone, but it has a spot on it, and instead of it being worth $50,000, it is only worth $2,000. I am going to drop it into some acid (a drop of that acid would go through your hand) hoping that the spot will be removed from that stone so that the price of it will rise.” I am going to ask you a question. When you listen to the message spoken through God’s servants and saints, do you realize at times that God is showing you a spot on your garment? It may be a spot of jealousy, or a spot of envy, or some little thing in the world you are craving for. You realize that it is a spot on your garment, and you know that it doesn’t make you like Him whose garment was without spot and wrinkle. There are spots in all our lives, but if we knew there was a spot on our clothing, we would want to go and get rid of it. One of the purposes of God in bringing us together these days is that we might get rid of these spots. The Bible tells us, “Can the leopard change his spots?” When the leopard lies down with the kid, when the lion eats straw like the ox, and a little child is leading them, and all of these different animals are controlled by the little child. There was one man that embittered the life of David very much, but what did that do? It brought out a beauty in the character of David that he might never have known. Sometimes we might wonder why God allows us to pass through certain experiences. The thing we are praying for is to be more like the Lamb of God and God sends something or someone, perhaps a brother or sister (King Saul was very near David) our way. We all know the spot on the garment of King Saul – it was something that knows no mercy. The Bible says that jealousy is as cruel as the grave. Do you think the grave is ever sorry for all of the people it receives? God opened a door for David. God will open a door for us through even the attitude of someone else, that we might have the opportunity of manifesting the life and nature of our Lord and Master. 

Absalom had a spot in his life. It was a very bad one, too. He wanted to be great among the people. If you were to go to Jerusalem today, just at the top of the Valley of Hinnom you would see a tomb and it is called Absalom’s tomb. I am not going to swear that it is his tomb, but it is a very, very old tomb, and it is commonly accepted to be his. You know what he did – he built that to perpetuate his own name. How often do we pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name?” Is the true purpose of our hearts to magnify and glorify God’s name? I was thinking about that garment that Joseph’s father gave him. He gave him that garment because he loved him and because he served him diligently and faithfully. If we saw all of those brothers sitting around, you would be able to distinguish Joseph by is garment. Amongst the saints and servants of God today, there are some that we can distinguish and it is the garment that they are wearing, given to them by their Heavenly Father. When the brothers saw that garment, what did they do? Did they say, “Joseph, we want to have a little talk with you? How did you get it?” God is no respecter of persons. He will honor those who honor Him. There were spots of jealousy on the garments of his brothers. One thing they were not able to do and that was to interfere with his relationship with God. Could you imagine those men killing a kid and dipping Joseph’s garment in the blood, and then walking into the home and seeing that old man bursting into tears? Why? Because they were unfaithful, they were lying, and the father thought some wild beast had killed him. The brothers knew otherwise. Is my attitude towards my brothers and sisters going to bring joy to the heart of God or is it going to bring sorrow? “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” 

I thought of a man who had a very bad spot on his garment. It is one of the saddest cases in the Bible. He started to reign when he was sixteen, and he reigned for fifty-two years. He built up the Kingdom of God wonderfully, and then one day the sin of presumption came to him. He didn’t know how to fill his place – at least at this time. He got out of touch with God and was strong in himself and he failed miserably. He went into the sanctuary to offer incense which wasn’t his work. The high priest and eighty others had to go and talk to this man because he was the king, and it says that the leprosy rose up in his forehead, and he hasted to go out. He remained a leper until the day of his death. Is that not a warning? Oh, to have the broken spirit, the broken and the contrite heart that God might be able to use us, bless us, and make us a blessing. 

Paul had a very wonderful experience in prison, and this wasn’t the first time that he had been there. He was in jail in Philippi and at midnight prayed and sang praises to God, and the prisoners heard it. It is a nice thing that instead of murmuring and grumbling, there could be a song going forth from our lives. When Mary, the mother of Jesus, saw past the fear and doubt, and the headline of her life was, “Be it unto me according to Thy word,” what did she do? What was and is always the outcome of submission? She took a journey and walked into the home of an old couple, Zacharias and Elisabeth. Did she start talking about a whole lot of things that should never be told? She said, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” If there is true submission to God, there will be a song. A song isn’t composed of one note or two notes – not of high or low notes alone, but variation. It is this that makes the harmony of Heaven to go forth from our lives. It is faithfulness on the mountain top and faithfulness in the valley that will make this song in our lives. “Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well.” 

I would like to talk to you young people this afternoon and tell you a few things I hope you will never forget. Joseph was only seventeen years of age when he was sold into Egypt. Joseph was in prison because of jealousy. Joseph’s brethren sold him. I don’t think anything could be much worse than to think we would sell our brother or sister. When Joseph talked to the butler in the prison, did you ever notice what he said? “Put in a good word for me because I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews.” He could have said that his brothers sold him, but he kept that behind. I would like to try and learn how to keep those little pieces behind that are going to cause sorrow and suffering in the lives of others. Joseph was a wonderful character. 

I thought of some of the prisoners in the Bible. Samson was in prison. The enemy was sorely trying him, and unceasingly trying to wear down his powers of resistance until the secret was revealed. There is a secret, and it is this, “teach us to pray.” We find him telling the enemy, and the enemy had no mercy. He took his eyes out, and he is grinding in the prison. What did he get out of it? What are we going to get out of our own way but sorrow and disappointment from beginning to end? Jeremiah was in prison. We read about that unforgiving servant that owed his master millions. He was a bad businessman, and the thought came to me that he must have been a foolish man, and so have you and I been. When we came to God, we owed Him millions because of our sin and iniquity, waywardness and foolishness. It was impossible for that man to ever pay his debt. Can we pay our debt? All we can do is to plead to God for mercy. He got mercy and so did we. There was a man who owed him a few dollars and he put him in prison. “Forgive as we forgive.” Are you sitting in this meeting today and your brother or sister has done something against you? Well, supposing they have – what have you done against God? We can only have forgiveness as we forgive others, and it is a very important thing that we don’t hold any reservations. The heavens are closed when we have reservations in our lives. That man that would not forgive is sitting in the prison of unforgiveness, and we are there if we will not forgive a brother or a sister. Peter was in prison and God opened the iron door. The faithful children of God were gathered in the home of John Mark’s mother, praying unto God for His servants and the prison door was opened and he was set free. John, on the Isle of Patmos, was in prison. It was there that he got the twenty-two chapters of Revelation. He wasn’t sitting there grumbling and murmuring because things were going against him. How tenderly he writes, “My little children…” He is separated from them, but the heavens are opened and he has a most wonderful time. 

We often used to say that little expression that was used yesterday, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” I have thought of some of the mothers who rocked the cradle. Moses’ mother made a cradle. She had to make the best of what she had, and she didn’t leave a hole in the bottom of it. If she had, water would have gotten in and taken Moses down the river. Let me ask you parents a question. When your daughter or son comes to you and says, “so and so has got this and that”, what are you going to do? Are you going to make a little hole in the side of the ark? We feel very sympathetic toward fathers and mothers because I don’t think this world was ever worse than it is now. It was never more difficult for parents to bring up their children. We need brave fathers and mothers. Hannah was a brave mother. When little Samuel was growing up, did she let him cut his hair like all the other little boys who had short hair? If your little sons and daughters are not like the world, what about it? It is difficult for the boys and girls, but one day they will grow up and they will call you blessed, and you will be very, very thankful. When I was twelve years of age, the truth of God came into my father’s home. I would like to know all the names of all the workers all over the world who owe their salvation to their parents professing before they were born. It seems to me that another generation has appeared and the other ones whom we love to think about “though dead, yet speaketh.” When I was twelve years of age my father and mother decided. I was one of six children, second to the eldest. Many times the spirit of rebellion possessed my heart and I felt that I would jump over the fence, but I didn’t know where I would land on the other side. This is the thing that used to hold me – the prayers and the restraining influence of those who were alone with God and were praying for me and for others. “Oh, that you would show the children, need of living right and true, that they might submit to Jesus, and be numbered with the few.” When I was 16 ½ years of age, I made this surrender at convention. I heard a worker say one time that convention babies were kind of weak babies, but we are all weak. 

When I was over in my native country a little while ago, I went into the home of a woman who is about 80 years of age. She is in her sunset days, lying there, never to get out of bed again. When she was a young woman she brought a little baby to the convention. This was over 50 years ago. The first meeting this little boy ever attended was when he was a little baby, and he was sitting on this platform some time ago. He was helping you people to serve God better. Do you think that God is going to forget that old mother in her sunset days? You and I are enjoying the ministry and sacrifice and service of such men. Don’t forget that mother 55 or 60 years ago and what she did for him while he was growing up. He is an older brother that we love and esteem. There may be some little Samuel’s or Timothy’s or Joseph’s in this meeting today. I would say a thousand times over if any of you boys or girls ever think that your life is going to be spoiled if you begin to love and serve God in your tender years, you are making the biggest mistake that you ever made. The greatest and best little boy the world ever saw was the little boy of Nazareth. At twelve years of age, He said, “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” I went into the bedroom of this old lady, Mrs. Hunter, and I said, “It is so good to see you.” She said, “I am so thankful to God. I cannot tell you how my heart is overflowing with gratitude to God.” I said, “Mrs. Hunter, would you like me to sing you something?” She started to quote, “Our little time will soon be gone, for us eternity will dawn, Redeem the time, oh, watch and pray, Labor for Jesus while you may.” I went over to the organ and played two or three hymns to this old lady. It won’t be very long until she will be in the better land and she is leaving something behind that is an inspiration. She has loved and served every saint and servant of God. She is laying there now with white silvery hair and the sun is very low on the horizon. If you can tell me anything better than this for your sons and daughters, I would like to hear it. 

Not so very long ago my brothers and sisters and I went to a cemetery and as we walked up there, we saw two graves – the grave of father and mother. I remember the day that I said goodbye to Dad, and he was weeping like a child, and I knew I would never see him again. Not long after, I got a telegram telling me that Dad had passed away. In walking down the steps of the post office, I felt I had lost something I would never get again, but there was a bright side to it all, too. When I used to come in from the football field and open the door, I would see father in the corner of the bedroom praying unto God. I do not know if some of you people are tempted to not attend the Wednesday and Sunday night meetings. One Wednesday night, my youngest brother, a baby of one year, was very low, and I remember mother sitting at his bedside weeping because she thought he was going to die. I can see father going up to the bed, looking at him, and turning away. He said to us, “Come here. Let us go to the meeting.” I was only twelve or thirteen years old, but God wrote something on my heart at that time. Is God getting the first place in your life? Father, brother, and I went to the little meeting, and when we came home, I can see father going up to the bed. Brother is still alive, and he has been preaching the gospel for the last twelve years. I have never seen people lose out who are willing to put God first. When Isaac looked up into the face of Abraham that day he said, “Dad, behold the wood and the fire but where is the lamb?” How good when sons and daughters see that every time when you go to pray and every time you go to the service of God you have got a lamb – something to prove your gratitude to God. I would like to think there are brave fathers and mothers, and I know there are. I know there are Hannah’s and Eunice’s. That little boy Timothy knew the scriptures from a small child. The first time Paul and Silas came to that home, he was a small boy, but he grew up under a godly influence. Maybe the second or third time when the servants of God came, he gave his heart to God, and later on when Paul came again, he found out he was a true and faithful child of God, an example in the little church, he took him out into the harvest field to preach the gospel. Perhaps Timothy’s father had no heart for the things of God, but Eunice was a brave soul and brought up a little son. Paul didn’t take all the credit when he writes “when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also.” Timothy grew up to be one of the best companions: most loyal. 

There may be some of you young people who professed at convention when you were twelve or sixteen years of age. Maybe sometimes the devil whispers in your ear what he used to whisper in my ear. “Wouldn’t it be far better if you would go out into the world a little and when you had tasted the bitterness and disappointment of a life of self-pleasing, then you could turn unto God and value the things of God more.” It used to worry me when I would hear my fellow-workers in giving their testimony tell of their religious experience, etc., and I used to wonder what I could tell the world. I am thankful this question has been answered forever for me. “The many standards earth has set, The joy it offers warily, You left untouched, I’d be like Thee, O noble youth of Galilee.” A woman came to me one day and said, “Don’t you think it would be a good thing if children would go a little into the world and taste of it, and then they will come back again?” Would you like to take ten drops of poison and give it to your child? I think it would be a big mistake. Hannah’s little son was different to other boys. I came to the conclusion the other day that Samuel was a convention baby. We don’t hear of him every doing much until he got to Shiloh. It tells us he ministered unto the Lord, but he didn’t yet know the Lord. Some of you boys and girls made a start, and you read your Bible and minister to the Lord, but maybe you feel as I used to feel that you are not getting very near God. When I was eighteen years of age, I sat in a convention meeting and listened to one of God’s true servants speak, and I went away home and never said a word to anyone. I went into my room and locked the door and prayed to God, “Oh, God, if I can have an experience like that brother, I will be willing to pay any price for it.” I took a little step forward, God-ward, heavenward, and I would like to encourage you young people to do this. 

Supposing Timothy and Paul were here today. In giving his testimony, Paul would tell of being born in a Pharisee’s home, of growing up and being raised in this religion of the Pharisees, touching the law being blameless, going to a theological seminary; but when he saw the life of the Lamb of God in Stephen, he fell to the ground and said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” That was the headline of the copybook of Paul’s life. He would tell of going forth from being a false preacher to being a true preacher and he would go on and on and on. Timothy would tell of when he was a very little boy, perhaps five or six years of age, he saw two strange men coming to his mother’s home, and his mother and grandmother being very interested in the message, and they made a start to serve God. We can see that little boy running into the room and saying to his grandmother, “Tell me a story of the Bible,” and we can see his mother, in her struggle, trying to help him. They were putting a background into his life. Some little children have no background. The eyes of your children are like the lens of a camera, taking pictures. They hear what you have to say. Timothy goes on and tells of growing up as a little boy and his mother keeping him from this and from that, and when in his teens the heart of the mother and grandmother when they heard that little boy speaking for the first time of the wonderful things of God. Timothy would tell of the servants of God coming from time to time and then of the time when Paul said, “Timothy, would you like to go out and give your life in the harvest field?” In January of 1916, I said “goodbye” and launched out into the harvest field. If I were to stand and shed tears today, they would have to be tears of gratitude for the wonderful kindness and mercy of God. I owe a tremendous debt to God, to His servants, and to my brethren. When I looked at the two graves of my parents, I walked away and did not shed a tear for “they being dead, yet speak.” We used to sing that hymn, “His glorious face mine eyes shall see; when time has ceased to be, My joy to worship at His feet, Forevermore in Him compete, For all eternity.” Is it worthwhile? What are you going to do about your sons and daughters? What are you sons and daughters going to do? 

Timothy starts out as a fellow-laborer and the first experience he had wasn’t so bright. Paul could say, “I have no man like-minded, who will naturally care for your state.” The testimony of Paul and Timothy is as different as day and night, and yet they are both telling the story of Jesus. The expressions of Paul regarding this young man are wonderful. When I look at my brothers and sisters in Christ, I say to myself, “Is there that wonderful relationship between us, that loyalty? “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus: Who have for my life laid down their own necks…” As you look into the face of someone, is the only desire in your heart, “How can I lay down my life for you?” That will produce heaven on earth. There is a great possibility in every life, provided we are willing to yield and submit to God. Submission is the key that will open heaven. Philemon was dearly beloved and a fellow-laborer. We believe there are Philemon’s amongst the saints of God, elders who love the flock and who are an example to the flock and who are workers with us who are not out preaching the gospel. We believe there is those like Apphia who was dearly beloved, and believe there are those like Archippus who was a fellow-soldier. Don’t blame the other person for not getting the victory; don’t blame circumstances. The greatest conqueror is he who conquers himself. “So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” 

There was a slave working for Philemon in his home. I can picture Onesimus in that home, and I can picture him serving, and I can see him going into the room sometimes and seeing Paul on his knees. I can see Onesimus going in and out and seeing Paul and his companions talking about the things of God – and sometimes talking around the table about the wonderful things of God. Some of the nicest meetings have been while sitting around the table. Why should not we talk about the things that we are going to enjoy throughout all eternity? Onesimus wasn’t professing. He was unfaithful. He had stolen money or something and had run away from Philemon’s home. He went to Rome. Paul and Timothy are having a little meeting regularly in the cell and I can picture Onesimus, a runaway slave, saying to himself, “There is one man that loves me. There is one man that can help me. There is something that makes my mind go back to the footprints of that faithful servant of God that was in the home of my master.” Every time you visit your brother or sister, be you saint or worker, you are going to leave a footprint behind. Are you going to leave your brother and sister nearer God? Is there that godly influence that would help them heavenward? Onesimus made up his mind to go away to the prison to find Paul. I have read that Rome had a population of one and one-half million at that time. It was one of the most wicked cities in the whole world during the reign of Nero, a very cruel man. I can picture that slave walking down through those streets and longing to see Paul. Here was a slave, a soul for whom Christ died, seeking after God. Would you have thought that when cruel Nero put Paul in prison that it was going to be one of the most hallowed places on earth because the story of Jesus would be told to a poor lost slave? Onesimus comes and the cell door opens. Onesimus tells Paul that he is a sinner, guilty, having been unfaithful to his master who was so faithful to him. He could never forget the home of Philemon. Is it too much to imagine that on the floor of the prison, those three characters gathered round and made their supplication to God and God heard them? 

Paul gets his pen and paper and writes a letter to Philemon. He says, “Philemon, I could use authority to some extent,” but rather he wrote, “I beseech thee…” That is the way to talk to your brother or sister when there is trouble. He said, “I beseech thee for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Sometimes I think that sore backs and glad hearts go together. Instead of grumbling and complaining, God gave him a child that will be through all eternity with God. I felt if my pathway be strewn with difficulties and troubles, God help me to be faithful that salvation might be brought to some. Paul said, “He was unprofitable, but now profitable.” He said, “Whom I have sent again: thou therefore receive him, that is mine own bowels.” He said, “You receive him as my very heart.” How do you think Philemon received Paul – as an angel of God. Paul wanted Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a servant, but as a brother. He said, “If he has done any wrong, put that down to my account.” He said, “Let me have joy of thee in the Lord.” “But without thy mind would I do nothing…” I hope that I will learn to have my words clothed with grace. There is one verse that has appealed to me, “the letter killeth but the spirit giveth life.” One of the most killing things in the whole world is the letter without the spirit, truth without the grace of God. People wondered at the gracious words that Jesus spoke. This is what is going to make an impression upon people. I have no doubt at all that when Philemon saw Onesimus, he would have gone up to him and embraced him. “Onesimus, we are having a meeting Sunday morning. You can stay here as long as you like. I don’t look on you as a slave but as a beloved brother.” I wish that I had been in that Sunday morning meeting. Paul could say, “Philemon, I have confidence in you.” 

Paul finishes his letter by saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” We might preach and pray and give money and do everything, but if our spirit is not right, everything is wrong. Joab was a wonderful man. He was not a coward. When there were battles to be fought, he was there. He was quick to shed blood, but there was one thing that Joab never had developed and that was the gentleness of Christ. “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.” When Elisha came to Elijah, Elijah said to him, “What can I do for you?” Elisha said, “A double portion of your spirit.” What a compliment! Elijah told him that if he would see him when he was taken away, he would get it. If you see a person with the Spirit of Christ and you want it, you will have to put your feet in their footprints, and you will get it. 

In South Africa there are a number of friends out on farms serving God, and they have native servants, black people, and they have a very great regard for many of the children of God. Sometimes some of the sister workers go to these farms for a rest after convention, etc. Some of these natives cannot speak English, and they would give these workers a name according to their character. One of the sister workers was given the name, “The mother of meekness.” What are they going to call you in the little church? What am I in the home, with my companion, in the humdrum of life? I am very thankful that in my tender years God touched my heart and I had the privilege of going overseas to some of these other countries where I have seen the beautiful things of God in the lives of His people. We can say with the writer of that hymn, “’Tis better than thousands of silver and gold.”