Philemon 1a; Brief Thoughts

Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus…

The letter to Philemon is set against the backdrop of slavery in Colossae. Philemon was a man who owned at least one slave who had run away. After escaping from his master, the slave Onesimus met Paul and was taught the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Having become a redeemed saint, Paul urged him to return to his former master as a brother in Christ and rejoin the household of Philemon. There is much to be seen in these 25 simple verses. Much that can be examined and delighted in. Leadership lessons, conflict resolution, and how to handle societal injustices are all present in this letter. Much more than can be convicting and troubling to our modern sensibilities. One truth rings throughout these simple verses – the gospel of Jesus Christ changes everything.

To enslave a man or woman is to deny the soul. Slavery is a vicious attack on humanity. God created man and woman in His image that they would live in harmony and rule together over the earth, not each other. Slavery denies this harmony and insists on perverting the very design and image of God. The gospel, on the other hand, sets people free. Mankind has sinned against God, insisting that we can be righteous on our own and chose to reject Him as God. In doing so, we have become enslaved to sin. We are incapable of being righteous on our own and are in need of rescue. God rescues us by sending His own Son, Jesus, to take our punishment and die in our place. Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, and died so that anyone who trusts in Him will be saved from the wrath of God. In Him is life and you can have that life today as a free gift from God! He will set you free from the bondage of sin and death and change you from slave to son. You have only to confess that you have sinned against God, trust that Jesus Christ’s righteousness covers you, and follow Him.

The greeting:

Paul identifies himself to Philemon as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus.” This is unique among Paul’s titles. This is the only letter in which Paul emphasizes his relationship to the world’s system. In every other letter, he emphasizes his connection and relationship to God. In Ephesians and Colossians, he refers to himself as an “apostle.” In Philippians, he calls himself a “slave.” Outside of the prison epistles, his favorite titles for himself are “apostle” or “slave.” Yet, here in Philemon, he sets the tone of his letter by referring to himself as “a prisoner.”

Two things are evident in his self-ascribed title. First, Paul needs no pretentious title or an authoritative position in order to reach out to Philemon. He has the authority because he has earned it by suffering for the name of Christ. Second, He does not need to remind Philemon of His devotion to the Lord. Instead, he purposefully identifies himself by his circumstantial position. Paul is in prison. He is a victim of an unjust system that imprisons and enslaves people.

By pointing out that he is in prison, Paul establishes himself as a victim of circumstance. He is free in Christ Jesus and is no longer a citizen of this world, but he is still in submission to the laws that govern the land. So he is in prison, though he should not be. His imprisonment in unjust, yet he remains in such an unfortunate circumstance. Philemon must note that Paul is a victim of worldly evil and the circumstance that wickedness has wrought.

Slavery is a greater evil even than religious tyranny that imprisons a man. Indeed, the world enslaves people but the gospel sets them free! Like Paul, Onesimus was a victim of circumstance wrought by societal wickedness. He is returning with this letter in hand to submit to the circumstance he finds himself in. But, the gospel changes everything! Onesimus was once a slave, now he must be counted by all believers as a brother! Philemon must not engage in the wicked practices of this life and must, instead, live out the gospel by setting the captives free” (Isa. 61:6). As a follower of Jesus Christ, Philemon is an agent of the gospel and must live that gospel out in this life, defying the circumstance that he finds himself in. Paul lives above his imprisonment, so Philemon must deny his slave ownership in favor of brotherly love and gospel freedom and Onesimus must live above his enslavement.

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Thinking Through Ephesians! A free pdf sample

About 16 years ago I was asked to teach the college class at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, TX on a Sunday morning. It was a large crowd of roughly 1,000 students. My brother was the college pastor associate and had recommended me to teach. I had preached and led small group Bible studies before. I had spoken to moderately large churches, but never a crowd of such significant size and never without a strategic outline or material to follow. I called my brother and asked his advice. He said, “pick a passage of Scripture and teach what it says. No more, no less. Just study what it says and teach it.”

b7a26-bible-on-a-pulpitI taught on Ephesians 5:15-20. Teaching that passage began a mountain-top journey through Ephesians for me. It fast became my favorite book of the Bible. I began to trudge through the text verse by verse, line by line, phrase by phrase until I grasped everything I could. Sometimes I’d get stuck on one verse and write page after page. Sometimes I’d sit on the concepts of the book for a month before I penned a word. All the time, I sought to know Jesus deeply and engage His word and work in my heart and life.

 

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For roughly 14 years I would return to Ephesians every few months and write a little more. Then, a little more than two years ago I was challenged to blog more often. I decided that I would blog every day of the week save Sunday. I started to blog each day through the book of Ephesians, taking the notes I had collected and put them into bite-sized chunks for anyone interested. Somewhere within chapter two, my brother Jeff (who happens to be a great author! you can check out his stuff here: Jeff’s stuff), told me I should consider compiling them into a book.

Cover smallSo, for the last year and a half, my wife and I have edited this work for your joy. This book is the result of a 16-year devotional walk through Ephesians. It has been a delight and joy to write. I hope it is a joy to read as well.

For a free sample of a few chapters and the intro, click here.

To purchase through Amazon: https://goo.gl/fwKDxN

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Thinking Through Ephesians. My New Book!

The book of Ephesians has long been my favorite book of the Bible. I can remember the night that it became my favorite book. After a particularly long day of work and classes at college, I had to deliver some bad news to a friend that I cared deeply for. I tried to honor the Lord as I told this friend that they had been rejected by an organization I was involved in. Looking back, it was not so traumatic. But in that moment of rejection, it felt as though I was delivering a proclamation of terminal cancer. After crying with and sitting beside my friend for a while, I went home. My roommates were either asleep or absent. Seeking some sort of comfort I sat down to read, pulled out a notepad and began to write out my thoughts on Ephesians. I was lost in the beauty and comfort of God’s word. My world was eclipsed by His word, and my soul was lifted.IMG_7029

Over the years I have returned to Ephesians and recorded thoughts about the text. Whenever I was depressed or dealing with stress, I opened this book and wrote. I did not set out to write a book or even to prepare to teach this text. I’ve never preached through Ephesians and I doubt that I will anytime soon. Rather, this work was a result of a deep desire to quell the depression of my own heart. The Word of God has that effect. He is faithful to work in the hearts of believers and He is faithful to pull us out of the pit and place us on the rock (Psalm 40:2).

Cover smallSometime in the fall of our first year as a church (2016), someone at SGF encouraged me to blog. I don’t remember who. It was a passing comment. So I decided to try and blog through a book six days a week. I had years of material through Ephesians, so I started there. After I finished chapter 1, six entries, my amazing author brother Jeff Elkins (links to his work here) encouraged me to consider putting these into a book. As a result, my journey with Jesus through the book of Ephesians is available for you to read.

These are simple thoughts from a simple pastor. While I have an MDiv and have some scholarly experience, this is not intended to be an academic work. This is a simple walk through a book by a normal man who struggles with normal problems but serves an extraordinary God.

You can purchase Thinking Through Ephesians for $9.99 through following links

Amazon.com: https://goo.gl/kShg9M

ebook format ($6.99): https://goo.gl/yWi5C1

Lulu.com: https://goo.gl/ig7YSC

If you want a signed copy or would like to purchase from me directly, please leave a comment or email me at novis_elkins@hotmail.com

I hope you enjoy this work as much as I enjoyed writing it.

 

Who are the people with Paul? Colossians 4:14; Brief thoughts about Luke and Demas

14 Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas.

Who are these people?

Luke – (Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 1:24.)

Luke is often a misunderstood character in church history because of the position he holds as “physician.” In modern times, physicians are men of extreme education who are venerated as highly skilled purveyors of life. However, in the first century, physicians were not such highly respected men. Often slaves served as physicians and the designation as “doctor” bore little more significance than asserting a special responsibility within a master’s household. Some have speculated that Luke might have been a freed slave that joined Paul on his missionary journeys after his master set him free. It is common to speculate that Theophilus, the one to whom Acts is written, may have been Luke’s master. However, fascinating these speculations, nothing can be proved as there is nothing specifically stated in Church history or the Bible.

As a physician, Luke serves as the prototype for medical missions. Moreover, he shows the value of maintaining a physician in the service of missions for the sake of tending to Paul’s ailments. As aforementioned, the medical profession during the first century was not a highly regarded field. Often scorned as useless in favor of idolatry, doctors were considered a rejection of the cultic practices of common Roman religion. While there were some places where physicians were employed alongside temple practices, most were rejected as superfluous in favor of the gods. The fact that Luke is used by God in such a tremendous capacity as Paul’s traveling companion is a rejection of the power of idolatry.

Imagine for a moment: you enter a city and find a temple of idol worship that claims to heal the sick through observance of ritual sacrifice. People are sick and are clamoring for their false gods to answer their pleas. You happen to have a physician who knows that the answer is for them to eat some fruit, take a particular herb, and drink lots of water. People begin to get better as a result of the physician’s advice and now you have an open door to the gospel. The education and talents of a man rejected by the common practices of the world are thereby used to advance the Kingdom of Heaven!

Further, there is no doubt that Luke utilized his education to write both the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His ability to write served to record the history of the early church and the story of Jesus. His ability as a physician, while not specifically stated, was certainly used to keep Paul and his companions healthy, and the surrendering of his gifts to God was used as a part of His mission. God used a talent often rejected by the culture of the time, to advance His kingdom.

Luke remained with Paul through Paul’s imprisonment. His affection for Paul as a brother is evident in his presence with him in Philemon 24 and in 2 Timothy 4:11. While everyone else left Paul in prison, Luke remained. He was devoted to Paul. More than that, He was devoted to the gospel work.

Demas – (Col. 4:14, 2 Tim. 4:9-10, Philemon 24)

Demas is referred to in Philemon as a “fellow worker.” He was part of the cohort of Paul that traveled and served with him. However, somewhere between the writing of Philemon and 2 Timothy, Demas fell “in love with this present world.” No matter the devotion he once showed, his faith did not prove to be genuine. It is valuable to recognize that Demas’ affections were for “this present world.” Demas lacked an eternal perspective and thought it better to achieve in this life rather than the next. Let this serve as a warning. Strive to maintain an eternal perspective, lest you fall away for the affections of this life.

Consider the contrast between Luke and Demas for a moment. Both begin faithfully working alongside Paul. Luke’s life is turned upsidedown and radically changed by the gospel. (Especially if he was a slave as many speculate.) Demas’ ventures into gospel ministry for a time but refuses to let it alter his measure of value. One surrenders everything in this life for the sake of following a gospel call that will inevitably land him in prison or end in death. The other abandons the glory of heaven for the glory of this life. Which one are you? Demas or Luke?

Who are the people with Paul? Colossians 4:12-13; Brief thoughts.

12 vEpaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always wstruggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand xmature and fully assured in all the will of God. 13 For I bear him witness that he has worked hard for you and for those in Laodicea and in Hierapolis.

Epaphras – (Colossians 1:7-8, 4:12, and Philemon 1:23)

Epaphras had a prominent role in the evangelism and teaching in the church at Colossae. His efforts helped to establish the church are mentioned earlier in this letter. Epaphras was a native of Colossian church, so identified here as “one of you.” He certainly served the church well through teaching the grace of God thoroughly and with much affection. His affection for the church at Colossae is evident in his report to Paul in 1:8. Indeed, such affection for the community of faith is vastly increased when the community of faith has responded to the Gospel with love and affection. Epaphras must have felt a great deal of love for the faithful and he must have reveled in the encouragement from such a family as the Colossian church. This is precisely the encouragement that the churches should give to its ministers. Churches ought to so fiercely follow after Christ and exemplify the changed heart of Christianity that their ministers cannot help but speak of them to others.

In addition to serving the church of Colossae, Epaphras was a “fellow minister,” “a servant of Christ Jesus,” and “a fellow prisoner” with Paul. He was obviously one of the men that Paul utilized in the teaching of the church. He was also a man who exemplified Christian service to the extent that he was recognized as a “servant of Christ.” What a tremendous honor to be identified with such a title from the hand of Paul. His imprisonment and difficulties in his missionary journeys proved a testing ground for the fortitude of the brother who went along with him. Indeed, Mark left the missionary team in Pamphylia (Acts. 15:37-40), The Jews followed Paul from town to town attempting to crush his teaching (Acts 16-17), and, after this letter, Demas will abandon Him as well (2 Tim. 4:10), leaving Paul alone in prison. With this refining in mind, consider the honor given to Epaphras. He does not abandon the work and remains faithful even in prison.

Epaphras also had a deep love for the Colossian believers. He is described as “struggling on [their] behalf in prayer” (4:12). The term used for “struggle” is the same word that we derive the English word for agony. An apt descriptive term, Paul cites that Epaphras is in agony, striving and fighting on behalf of the Colossian believers. Such a labor is not foreign to pastors and ministers of the gospel. Indeed, it is common for a minister to labor in prayer and agonize over the souls of those they shepherd. Sleepless nights and severity of prayer are commonplace among pastors and disciple-makers alike. The content of Epaphras’ prayers for the church is that their character would be refined and that they would exemplify the will of God. That is to say, that they would exemplify the character and nature of God, living out His will on this earth. Epaphras’ prayer has nothing to do with their material well being or safety. Amidst persecution and difficulty, his prayer is that they would be faithful and strong. In their fortitude and strength they will live out the will of God, thereby testifying to His great grace and mercy.

The power of Epaphras’ prayer is only heightened by Epaphras’ own disciplined efforts. This is a man who puts into practice the strength he asks for others. May we all be so disciplined in our efforts toward gospel ministry that we are identified as serving the church in this way.

v ch. 1:7; Philem. 23

w See Rom. 15:30

x See Matt. 5:48

Colossians 4:9-11; Brief Thoughts

and with [Tychicus], Onesimus, our faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They will tell you of everything that has taken place here.

10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him), 11 and Jesus who is called Justus.[1] These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Who are these people with Paul?

Onesimus – (Philemon 8-22).

Onesimus was a runaway slave who became a believer in Jesus and connected with Paul. In his letter to Philemon, Paul explains that Onesimus had become useful to the gospel witness and he pleads with Philemon to take Onesimus back as a brother and not a servant. Paul calls Onesimus “faithful and beloved,” the very same descriptors of Tychicus. These brothers are entrusted to deliver the message of God to the Colossians.

Consider for a moment that a former slave who has been transformed by the gospel  is delivering the message of Colossians. This letter is been focused on discovering the Christian’s new identity as it is in Christ. It is quite appropriate that a man who has had such a dramatic shift from slavery to freedom is responsible for delivering a message that speaks of a dramatic shift from slavery in sin to freedom in Christ. Onesimus is a living analogy for salvation.

Aristarchus (Acts 19:29, 20:4, 27:2, and Philemon 1:24)

A Macedonian believer, Aristarchus was one of Paul’s “companions in travel” (Acts 19:29). He was present at the riot in Ephesus and spent significant time with Paul in Ephesus. In the midst of extreme danger, Aristarchus remained faithful to stand by Paul. Further, exemplifying the Macedonian spirit, Aristarchus has given all of himself to the mission of God. He has sacrificed his own comfort and position by following the Lord even to prison. This man is a bold follower of Christ who stands by Paul in some of the most difficult circumstances. Even in this letter, he is a “fellow prisoner.” What a great encouragement to have brothers such as Aristarchus who will serve even in the most difficult of circumstances.

Mark (Acts 12:12, 12:25, 15:37-39, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24, 1 Peter 5:13)

John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, was greatly involved in the ministry of the early church. He was a member of Paul’s missionary cohort early on, until he fell sick and had to return home. He and Barnabas worked to advance the Gospel apart from Paul for a time before they were evidently reunited at Paul’s request in 2 Timothy. Mark’s own journey was one of transformation. He went from being a nuisance to being a valuable part of the mission of God. In his first attempt to live on mission, he was overcome with sickness and then rejected by the leader of the mission. Yet, he persisted and grew as a disciple, faithfully proclaiming the gospel when given the opportunity. So, over time, he is transformed from the sickly and annoying boy that Paul does not want to bother with to being one whose presence is requested because he is “useful” (2 Tim. 4:11).

So it is with many Christians. As we grow in the Lord we often find the journey to becoming useful to be a long and rather slow process. Most Christians are more akin to John Mark than Paul. We seldom have a Damascus road experience that changes us overnight. Most of us must walk through failures and successes and learn slowly. Although we have been changed in a moment, we still must grow into that change as Mark grew.

Jesus called Justice (Only mentioned in Colossians.)

This brother was among the faithful cohort of Paul. We know little about him because he is only mentioned in this one verse of Colossians. We know that he is with Paul as he writes Colossians. We know that he was Jewish (that is what “among the circumcision” means). And we know that he was involved enough to deserve mention in the letter. Beyond that, we can only know Justus through his relationship to the others.

Identifying these men as “among the circumcision” draws the mind of the hearer to the hostile circumcision party that is mentioned throughout Acts. The church at Colossae would have been well aware of the adversarial nature of the Jews. They would have noticed how Paul was frequently followed by wealthy Jewish leaders who wanted to push the gospel message out of the cities of Asia Minor. In his identification of these brothers as “among the circumcision” Paul is sharing a victory with the church! The gospel has converted and transformed even those who were adversarial to it!  The transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends all boundaries. Even the most antagonistic can be transformed to become an encouragement and a fellow worker in the Kingdom of God!

[1] There are some other “Justus” mentioned in Acts. They are not the same as the Justus mentioned here. Both the names Jesus and Justus were common names among Jewish people in the first century and as a result it is easy to conflate the various men with each other.

Colossians 4:7-8; Brief Thoughts

Tychicus will tell you m all about my activities. He is a beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant in the Lord. I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are and that he may encourage your hearts,

At the end of Paul’s letters, he often gives specific instructions to several people who are in the ministry with him. Most of us just fly past these people, but there is much to learn in understanding who these brothers are. It is especially valuable to consider how Paul thought of his contemporaries given the context of Colossians. When we consider our identity in Christ, it is helpful to see who are considered brothers and the character traits that define them. So, let’s take some time and look through these names.

Tychicus – (Mentioned in Acts 20:4, Ephesians 6:21, 2 Timothy 4:12, and Titus 3:12).

Tychicus was part of the group that was sent ahead of Paul to wait for him at Troas during Paul’s third and final missionary Journey. He often served as a messenger for Paul to the churches. Evidently, he was trusted by Paul to deliver messages to the various churches, particularly in Asia Minor. The moniker that follows his name in Ephesians and Colossians is “beloved brother and faithful minister and fellow servant” (v.7).

The term for “beloved” is unique to Christians. It comes from the word “agape.” This is the self-sacrificing love that is exemplified in Christ. It is the love that gives up its own privileged position and character for the sake of others. Tychicus’ character exemplified this and the affection of the church also seemed to reflect this kind of self-sacrificing love. Imagine the fellowship of such a brother – one who is identified as “beloved!”

The second descriptor for Tychicus is “faithful minister.” As a minister of the Gospel, Tychicus had proved to be consistent and faithful. His labors with Paul had served to validate him as a minister of the Gospel of Christ. Unlike Timothy and Titus, we do not have a letter or address to Tychicus would enlighten us to the difficulties he faced. Our limited view of Tychicus allows us only a glimpse at what it means to be a faithful minister. We can be sure that he delivered the messages that Paul sent him to deliver. It is apparent that people enjoyed Tychicus’ arrival and he brought encouragement to the church in his reports (Eph. 6:22). He was seen as an equal and fitting messenger to send to a pastor.

The final title given to Tychicus is that of “fellow servant.” It is so easy to fly past this phrase. Slow down and ponder this for a moment. Tychicus is a “fellow servant.” This man who brought the Word of God was a delight and encouragement to the greatest of missionaries, and was consistently delivering all that he was entrusted to deliver… this man is a “fellow servant.”[i] There is no title of hierarchy. There is no militaristic commendation given him. There is no praise or crown that sets him above those who receive the message he delivers. He is equal to those to whom he is sent. The playing field is leveled in the gospel. Paul is equally submissive to Christ as you and I. Tychicus, this man to whom was entrusted the very delivery of the Word of God, is simply another servant in the Kingdom.

There are no superstars in the Kingdom of God. Only Christ is the exalted One. Only Christ is the star, everyone else is supporting cast. A Christian’s aim is to make Christ famous. Indeed, Christ’s own example is one of humiliation. In Mark’s Gospel He states quite clearly, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In John 13, Jesus shows His disciples that the greatest is the One who has made Himself the least and that they should do likewise. In Philippians 2 Paul heralds the greatness of Jesus’ humiliation and explains that Christians ought to have the same attitude. There is one King in the Kingdom of God. The rest of the Kingdom points to Him.

m For ver. 7–9, see Eph. 6:21, 22

[i] In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul refers to the teaching that he had delivered to the Thessalonian believers as “the Word of God.”

I John 4:7-12